Today everyone talks about corruption. When we hear about cases like the Toga Cartel, PAE, Odebrecht or the recent OCAD Paz scandal, the first thing we do is to label it as “corruption”. And although that isn’t too far from the truth, it is also fair to say that there are many doubts about how to identify a case of corruption.

How do we recognize that an event is an incidence of corruption and not a mere breach of a duty, the denial of a claim or right, or a case of injustice? What can you do if you identify some of the symptoms of corruption?

The Anti-Corruption Institute has chosen to receive complaints from members of the public who have witnessed or know of a possible case of corruption. Through the study of these complaints, we have noticed certain mistakes that can cause confusion amongst the public about what can constitute being called ‘corrupt’. Many others, despite being able to identify it, do not know what to do in order to obtain more information or collect evidence that can be used to initiate an investigation.

The disease of corruption can be prevented and, with it, avoid the unfortunate economic, social, political or any other consequences for civil society. For this, the circumstances and/or situations that may involve acts of corruption must be made known.

For lawyers or people with legal knowledge, corruption exists to the extent that, for example, crimes are committed against the public administration, such as embezzlement, extortion, bribery, the improper conclusion of contracts, influence peddling, prevarication and abuse of authority, among others.

This means that if a certain behavior can be typified by any of the above crimes, then it might be a case of corruption. This will allow lawyers to effectively play the role of a specialist doctor who identifies the disease and its proper treatment.

Now, in the case of the so-called “ordinary citizen”, it is not enough to know the terms of the crimes to be able to identify corruption, but one also has to identify the symptoms of this disease. In this case, they are effectively acting as an emergency doctor, a triage facility at which the first investigations can be carried out and the patient can be found to be sick or not, the potential severity of the condition and ascertain whether it is necessary to see a specialist doctor (read: lawyer) who could intervene in the case.

As an emergency doctor, it is essential that you can identify and show some of these key symptoms or signs that warn of or increase the suspicion of a positive case for the disease of corruption:

  • Generally there is a repeated connection between individuals or companies and entities or public servants.
  • There are financial ambiguities (doubtful invoices and payments, deficiencies or errors in financial reports).
  • There are usually conflicts of interest between associated parties.
  • There is a reiterative profit forthe same person when making decisions.
  • Deficient products or services are approved, or there is a high cost overrun compared to the market price.
  • A single bidder is put forward for a high-value tender and wins the bid.
  • A public servant might become suddenly and exponentially richer for no particular reason.
  • Public information is concealed, or it is difficult for members of the public to access.
  • A multi-million dollar contract is awarded to a company with a dubious reputation at a national and/or international level.
  • Millions of resources were invested in works and today it is a white elephant without knowing who is responsible.
  • If one or more of these symptoms can be identified in the same case, we may have identified a case of the disease of corruption.

Now, as civil society we have the moral right and duty to investigate and collect as much information as possible which can then be shared with the relevant, competent authorities. This means that the emergency doctor -the public- must refer the case to a specialist -an expert in law-, such as the Anti-Corruption Institute, so that a more in-depth study of the disease can be made, it can be formally diagnosed and its severity can determine the treatment.

The main tool that can be used by anyone as an emergency physician to obtain more information from the patient is the right to petition. Through this, you can approach any authority and to enquire about the symptoms. To do this, the doctor must ask in a concrete, respectful, precise and clear way about the key aspects that may show the existence of the disease and then monitor it.

It is suggested that among the questions to be asked you could consider:

  • The resources: how much work or State activity is taking place and where does it come from? How has it been carried out and how much has been carried out thus far?
  • Is there a responsible public official who is in charge of supervising the project, monitoring the resources, meeting the targets?
  • What is the goal set out in the investment or  development plan? These instruments serve as a basis for public entities to determine why resources are being invested in said project.
  • Deadlines: what is the project schedule, what are the deadlines, and what is the percentage of delay to the project when compared to this?
  • Characteristics of the contracted good or service: what are these characteristics in order to be able to compare with what, in effect, is taking place? For example, the width of a track, or the type of material that must be used.
  • The authorities must respond within the terms established by law and must be substantive, clear, precise and consistent.

This means that anyone can identify corruption as a disease that afflicts our country so badly and they can play a part in nvestigating its causes, monitoring its treatment and identifying those responsible. You can count on the Anti-Corruption Institute to deal with this endemic problem, and together ensure  that day by day we find the cure for this evil.