August 21, 2020. Even though the pandemic has reduced activities to its essentials, corruption has been rampant in donations and emergency procurements, taking public money that was supposed to serve the people’s necessities. It seems that these corrupt practices are increasing during the health crisis, instead of decreasing. Shortly after the beginning of this pandemic, local press revealed the first cases that suggest corruption, conflicts of interests and lack of ethics. Unfortunately, this is not exclusive to a single country. Like COVID-19, it spreads like a virus that does not find a decisive governmental response.
In El Salvador, different media outlets have shown evidence that link government officials and their families to companies that provided medical supplies or housing for quarantine centers, including the current Minister of Health. Adding insult to injury, part of these supplies were unusable. Meanwhile, the Bukele Administration resists auditing by the special committee created for this purpose, even though the National Assembly approved US$2 billion for emergency response. Citizens are worried with how the pandemic is being used to profit relatives and people close to the executive and legislative branches, and the inefficacy in providing the already modest assistance to those in need and the questionable quality of its contents.
Meanwhile, in Honduras overpriced purchases of medical resources for its national hospitals add on to its long list of corruption cases. Citizens have taken a central role. In the last few weeks, several outraged groups demonstrated in the streets demanding transparency under the slogan #HondurasLoExige (Honduras demands it). Meanwhile, judges are creating the illusion of fighting against corruption, but the courts’ rulings confirm that some cases do not materialize in actions. In this context, it is important to remind the citizens’ right to question public spending, how donations are being used, and which are the funding sources of the public expenditure during this crisis.
In Guatemala, citizens are also demanding accountability. Recently, dozens gathered around at the symbolic public square Plaza de la Constitución, in the country’s capital, to hold the government accountable for the use of 25 billion quetzals (US$3.2 million) approved for emergency response. Cases such as the 9.3 million quetzals (US$1.2 million) that were allocated for food security and ended in blackmail money have moved the public to the streets, expressing their stance against corruption and asking for the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei.
In the meantime, the people of Mexico take note with disappointment of the corruption investigations around the adjudication of public contracts that involve the two last presidents and other government officials. In the U.S., the investigation of overpriced medical supplies purchases barely results in the public’s reaction.
Beyond outrage as a result of learning of corruption cases, the question lies in how governmental agencies responsible for controlling public expenditure, the administration of justice, and ordinary citizens respond. Transparency is a useful tool that must be part of the public management. Governments must put public finances reports at citizen’s disposal. Accountability is essential and the State should create the conditions in order to make it possible because it is one of the pillars of democracy. Civil society organizations educate the public and insist on promoting the citizens’ public conscience that allows us to overcome outrage and move to action. If we aspire for a better region, we must demand transparency and assurance that the budget will be allocated to social well-being.