A version of this article first appeared on theglobalist.com on September 3, 2016
Beyond Dilma: The New Era of Anti-Corruption Enforcement
The Brazilian President’s removal from office will send shockwaves across Latin America, and possibly beyond.
Over the past 25 years, a vast body of national laws and international conventions to root out corruption have been agreed to. That’s progress.
However, enforcement actions have remained woefully inadequate on many fronts. Now, the pressure to act is rising as citizens in many countries are taking to the streets to vent their impatience and frustration and demand meaningful reforms.
The Dilma case as a trendsetter?
This is where the removal from the office of Brazil’s President of the once popular Dilma Rousseff comes into play. Brazil’s Senate ousted Dilma on a vote of impeachment.
The charges leveled against her of budget manipulation were politically contrived and the outcome was both partisan and contentious. Nevertheless the impeachment heralds a new era of anti-corruption enforcement. Especially because Dilma’s fate was sealed by the mounting revelations of widespread political and business corruption related to the vast cesspool of Petrobras graft.
No more “business-as-usual”
More than one-half of the members of Brazil's Congress are now under investigation or have been arrested as a result of investigations in the affairs of Petrobras, the nation’s largest enterprise. The legal fallout includes leaders on the conservative side of Brazilian politics, not just of Dilma’s Workers Party.
Dilma has not been charged with wrongdoing related to Petrobras, yet she chaired the company’s board of directors in 2010 and her proximity to so many others who have been indicted ensured the outcome of the Senate’s vote.
For the country to find a successful path to the future, it must change its “business-as-usual” attitude. Determined public prosecutors, supported by courageous judges, have emerged as the lead agents for such change.
Brazil up in arms
The unfolding Brazilian political tragedy reflects unprecedented citizen outrage over the rampant abuses of public office. They are largely used for personal gain by many prominent Brazilian politicians.
A nation in the midst of serious economic difficulties, coming off vastly extravagant World Football Championships and Olympic Games, is up in arms. Trust in the leaders of the nation’s government has been broken. Citizens have taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands to call for justice and provide public prosecutors with the encouragement that they needed to investigate the most powerful politicians and businessmen in the nation.
Not just Brazil
A similar scenario has unfolded in Guatemala. There, public prosecutors, supported by frequent public demonstrations, have sent more than 30 politicians to jail, including the former president. New public demonstrations are hounding the current regime.
Similar developments may well be seen in post-Kirchner Argentina, where some three decades of massive corruption by democratically elected national leaders has impoverished most citizens. That is all the more grating on them as the country, given the nation’s natural resources, should be prosperous. Outrage over corruption was key to the election victory of Mauricio Macri as president last November.
Beyond Latin America
It is not just Dilma’s impeachment and the events in Guatemala and Argentina. Public demands for an end to the corruption at the top of the South African government have recently seen unprecedented election gains by opposition politicians.
Excellent cooperation between U.S., Swiss and Singaporean police, supported by courageous officials in Malaysia, are leading to the full exposure of thefts of billions of dollars of public funds in Malaysia. Tens of thousands of citizens marched in protest recently against the government of president Najib Razak, despite the increasingly authoritarian actions of the government.
It was protests by citizens in Ukraine in 2014 that forced a change of government and it has been continuing protests and public activism that has pressured the current government to start taking meaning and sustainable anti-corruption actions. It remains questionable whether the latest actions will succeed, but they are bolstered both by direct pressure for reform by the Obama Administration and by the International Monetary Fund.
To give another inspiring example, look at Indonesia, the world’s third-most populous democracy. Corruption is already being widely billed as the central issue for next year's local elections that cover 101 regions. This is a welcome sign that public pressures to finally secure meaningful reforms gains momentum.
Even in the United States, where more money is spent in election campaigns than anywhere else, there is a backlash now against campaign finance laws. These dubious systems have convinced an increasing number of citizens that it is money, not democracy that determines how the nation is governed.
Calls to radically change the system were a critically important part of the campaign of Bernie Sanders and led Democratic Party presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton, to pledge changes if she is elected.
Bringing “sunshine” into dark corners of business
Over the last quarter century, public awareness of corruption across the world has increased formidably. This is due to the determined efforts of courageous investigative journalists and non-governmental organizations.
This, paired with the “sunshine” into dark corners of business and political dealings made possible by the Internet, has exerted pressures on international organizations and many governments and businesses.
Now, after international conventions and national laws have been put in place to tackle corruption, due to the all-decisive grass roots pressure, a new era of anti-corruption enforcement appears to be dawning.
As I argue in the forthcoming paperback edition of my book, most recent events suggest that in many countries that frustration is now at last leading to investigations, arrests and punishments that represent formidable challenges to corrupt leaders.
It is just possible that these events, especially as they increase in number in different parts of the world, will combine to provide greater hope that rising numbers of corrupt regimes will be replaced by transparent and accountable governments.