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The Role of Private Actors and Facilitators in Corruption

Marta Erquicia shares the findings of research into what investigative journalism can tell us about corruption in Latin America. Marta is a Senior Regional Coordinator in the Americas Department of Transparency International

Many anti-corruption practitioners and researchers agree on the key role that investigative journalism plays in our societies. Their reports bring governments to account, give hints for controlling bodies to start investigating, and inform citizens on how and where resources are being mismanaged, to name but a few.

 The role of investigative journalists is also fundamental for those interested in knowing how corruption works in reality, and in finding ways to break the corruption cycle. Their work tells us why corruption happens despite laws, policies and institutional bodies that are responsible for investigating and combating it.

Acknowledging all the benefits that investigate journalism brings, Transparency International (TI) has used different approaches to promote it. In the Americas, together with the Peruvian Press and Society Institute (IPYS), TI decided to pay tribute to those reporters that put their lives at risk for the benefits of their societies by launching the Latin American Investigative Journalism Award in the early 2000s.

Through the years, this Award has become a very rich source of material, as it has gathered together the biggest corruption cases in Latin America. We realised that we were sitting on a gold mine and that we urgently needed to use all that material to find out what investigative journalism was telling us on how corruption operates, and if and how corruption trends have changed in the region over time.

To give answers to these questions, Transparency International joined up with the Laboratory of Social Criminology of the Peruvian Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). It was the first time that an external source would have access to the Award´s database, which includes more than 300 corruption cases from 18 Latin American countries between 2000 and 2013.

To do this, the PUCP decided to focus its research on the role that private actors play in corrupt practices in Latin America.  This was chosen because only recently have private actors have been included in the definitions of corruption, and there is little research on their role in the issue. From the 300 cases available, the team selected 149 that complied with the selection criteria set for the study: type of offence, actors involved, and type of corruption. 

In the nearly 150 grand and medium corruption cases that PUCP analysed, there were two main findings:  private actors play an important role in making corruption happen - in at least 80% of the cases there was a private actor directly involved - and intermediaries are central for corruption to happen. In at least 63% of the sample, researchers found a facilitator involved.

Digging deeper into the role of the facilitator, we can see that in most of the cases (81%) the facilitator was a public official. Interestingly enough, 59% had previously held a position in a private institution of the same sector where the act of corruption took place. This brings us to the issue of the ‘revolving door’.

From these 2 main findings the researchers drew three main conclusions that could lead to other research topics:

1)      The criminal investigation system is limited in its ability to detect private actors in corrupt practices. The pre-requisites that companies need to have (compliance programs, codes of ethics, etc.) to interact with the public institutions are only formal entry mechanisms. They are what allow them to make business, and they are by no means control mechanisms. Which then are the limits of the current regulations to detect, investigate and sanction private actors in corrupt practices?

2)      Even if we see a big role of private actors as perpetrators of corruption, the research does not want to draw the conclusion that the presence of more private actors means more corruption or vice versa. Instead, we need understand that private actors are present and dynamic actors in making corruption happen. What type of structure and interaction, and what kind of private and public sector composition, facilitate these practices and elude control and detection mechanisms?

3)      Transparency is a key tool in preventing corruption.  But private actors are not up to speed on disclosing information on their activities. Only having limited information and their being not very accessible makes it more difficult for state institutions to control private actors, or for accountability processes to be put in place. As a result, corruption is not discovered, nor does it reach the justice system or public opinion. How much can the press do in this context?

 You can see the full report (in Spanish only) by clicking here.

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24 Jun 2015

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