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By Donniell Silva, Director of Programming, Concordia & Matt Mainzer, Programming Intern, Concordia

In 2015, the World Economic Forum reported that Latin American leaders identified corruption as the most pressing challenge to the region. Not only did Latin America rank this as its top priority, but out of the six world regions queried, it was the only region that listed corruption at all. The acknowledgement of corruption’s permeating impact within society and the will to actionably fight its core causes is a needed start, but it is just the beginning of a complicated and collaborative journey towards transparency.

The recent exposure of the Odebrecht Scandal has highlighted the extent to which corruption is actively present in Latin America. As poor as the initial optics may be, almost counterintuitively, the uncovering of large-scale scandals like Odebrecht is an encouraging signal. It indicates that corrupt business leaders and politicians are not only being caught, but facing consequences. More than ever, there is growing opportunity and desire for change throughout the region.

While policy-driven measures on corruption are a necessity, vocal resistance and demonstrative action must also come from civil society to motivate substantive change. The international community witnessed this in practice just this month, as hundreds of thousands of Romanians took to the streets to protest the passing of a law that would have decriminalized what was deemed as lower levels of corruption. As a result, their collective action saw the the decree almost immediately reversed.

Back in the Western Hemisphere, Colombia recently enacted Law 1778, which not only increases potential penalties and the legal jurisdiction of the courts, but also allows for the waiver of fines for companies that self-report corruption before investigations by the government are launched. Steps like these encourage cooperation between government and private business and are essential to the success of anti-corruption measures.

Notions that corruption can “grease the wheel” are incredibly short-sighted. Corrupt practices can cause responsible investors to steer clear in the future; even for entities only concerned with the bottom line, pervasive corruption can create a fog of uncertainty that fades only when the rule of law is clearly evidenced. As important as it is for governments to actively fight corruption from a legislative standpoint, equally important is the private sector’s responsibility to ensure corporate transparency. Cooperation between sectors here is key, not only in actively fighting corruption, but in gaining the trust of stakeholders that sufficient measures are in place and appropriate consequences will be enforced. 

At Concordia, our mission is to identify and act upon ways that the public and private sectors can collaborate for positive social impact. By increasing cooperation, private businesses and governments can accomplish much that they could not achieve alone; fighting corruption is one such example. The Concordia Partnership Index is a tool that measures a country’s readiness and need to engage in partnerships. The Partnership Index can be utilized by businesses to identify potential investment opportunities, and for governments to evaluate areas ripe for collaboration to address societal problems or provide critical services. As perceived corruption can be just as detrimental to a country’s economy and reputation as corruption itself, this is a major consideration in evaluating a country’s readiness score when ranked within the Partnership Index. Improving transparency and reducing perceived corruption throughout society can increase a country’s attractiveness for both partnership building and traditional forms of investment.

On February 21, the Concordia Americas Summit will be held in Bogotá, Colombia, highlighting the potential for public-private partnerships around topics including combating corruption, the implementation of peace, and investing in the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. By convening some of the greatest minds in government, business and nonprofits under one roof, and facilitating candid, constructive conversations on important topics such as these, Concordia aims to have the most action-oriented programming possible, calling for tangible next steps in fostering a more sustainable and prosperous future not only for Colombia, but for the entire region.

The prospects are encouraging. Latin American leaders and their constituents are increasingly demanding more transparent and accountable governance; which is becoming more and more attainable each day. As the Concordia community convenes in Bogotá, we look forward to incubating ideas to combat corruption, and to building partnerships that will foster a culture of transparency, accountability, and integrity.