Looking global: TAIs and corruption in Latin America

In some respects, Latin America is very similar to Africa. Both regions have troubled political histories and have a transparency and accountability initiative (TAI) landscape dominated by citizen-led organisations. Notably, the development of many countries in both regions is hampered by endemic corruption. There are thus lessons to be learned for African TAIs and their funders from the successes of groups in Latin America in dealing with this issue.

An anti corruption protest in Brazil

An anti corruption protest in Brazil

However, it is important not to over-emphasise the similarities. In other respects, the regions are very different. Latin America has a much wider income distribution across countries, capturing some of the world’s fastest growing middle-income economies to one of the world’s poorest in the case of Haiti. Given this, there is also a much wider variation across the region in ICT penetration with the average level significantly higher in Latin America than Africa. Moreover, the policy environment in Latin American countries is on the whole more hospitable to citizen-led TAIs. In some ways, Latin America’s TAI landscape can be seen as a hybrid of Africa and India, surveyed in a previous post.

Latin American TAIs have led the way in developing innovative ideas to address some of the region’s most pressing issues. One of the biggest political issues across the region is corruption. Corruption is therefore an interesting case study to understand the potential and constraints of TAIs in the region.

Initial state-led platforms – e-procurement platforms such as Chilecompra in Chile, Compranet in Mexico and PanamaCompra in Panama and the publishing of officials’ personal assets online – were successful in increasing the officials’ compliance with the rules. Cross-country evidence shows that government purchase prices have fallen since the implementation of these schemes. In Argentina, the publishing of officials’ personal asset records has led to 96% compliance with regulation.

These state-led schemes are increasingly complemented by citizen-initiated monitoring platforms. A particularly interesting example is Guatemala Visible. Organised crime has historically exerted a large influence over the state in Guatemala. Guatemala Visible monitors appointments and selection processes for key positions with the judiciary, prosecutor’s office and other institutions known to be under the influence of criminal gangs. The organisers claim that, in its three years of operation, the platform has been responsible for reducing the influence of these groups on the state. In Mexico, Subsidios al Campo monitors distribution of agricultural subsidies to the role of public money in corruption and patronage. The project has even seen beneficiaries of corrupt handouts return the money granted to them.

However, despite active civil society involvement, corruption remains rampant in many countries in Latin America. As in Africa, the success of TAIs can be limited if the state is not supportive or not effective. Good practice public e-transparency measures and citizen-led TAIs in Mexico, for example, are undermined by the fact that the state’s reach does not extend to the whole country. In Guatemala, good legislation and active civil society are not complemented by effective enforcement due to a lack of political will.

Consumer information platforms are also a growing trend in Latin America to correct the imbalance of power  between consumers and service-providers and the corruption this causes, both in the public and private sector. In overcoming corruption, information is king.  The Mexican government publishes extensive information on market prices, appropriate tariffs and prevailing interest rates online. In Chile, Reclamos is a crowdsourcing platform which allows consumers to rate Chilean companies and government agencies allowing consumers to make informed decisions and avoid corrupt organisations.

In Latin America, as in Africa, TAIs have not proved to be a silver bullet in addressing corruption. However, the Latin America cases above do showcase some interesting approaches to addressing corruption. Given the right context, they could make significant dent on corruption in both regions.