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A new culture of accountability and transparency

An important challenge against corruption is taking root in Latin America and the Caribbean said Huguette Labelle, Chair of  Transparency International, at a conference titled “Beyond Words and Paper: Why the Americas Must Act Against Corruption.”

In her remarks on November 28 at OAS headquarters in Washington, DC, Labelle underscored the high socioeconomic cost of embezzlement, adding that the poor are most harmed. Raising consciousness about the problem has been the first step in fighting corruption, she continued, and getting civil society, governmental authorities, international organizations and the mass media interested in establishing new customs and transparent practices in the hemisphere.

Labelle also stressed the importance of increased accountability, establishing formal democratic systems in the region, public information and disclosures policies, the courage of journalists and judges in publicizing and taking on cases of corruption and mafias even after receiving threats, as well as increasing dialogue and concern about the topic in the political agenda and among the general public. These changes mark a significant change from the situation only 15 years ago, when it was impossible to talk about corruption because it was a taboo topic in the region, she said.

She said that there are many leading roles in the fight against corruption, but the role of civil society is by far the most important. Citizens have to be the first ones to demand accountability from their leaders, she emphasized.  “We need to create conditions to empower citizens through transparency - open the books for people to see.”

But there are big challenges to overcome before transparency can function effectively. For example, Latin America and the Caribbean still lack solid judiciary and financial systems, Labelle noted. Because of that, people are still dissatisfied with their governments and the corruption indices continue to increase in the region, even though Transparency International has spent more than a decade fighting against corruption.

Labelle continues to press for the full implementation of the anti-corruption agenda so that it doesn't lose momentum, now that the XII International Anti-Corruption Conference, a biennial conference organized by Transparency International and held on November 15 -18 in Guatemala, is over. In that conference, Inter-American Development Bank President Luis Alberto Moreno, urged the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean to fight corruption and offered the IDB's help to guarantee transparency in mega-infrastructure projects, many of which are financed by the Bank.

At the Guatemala meeting, Labelle again emphasized the importance of civil society participation in fighting corruption and applauded the recent commitment of the IDB to lead an engagement to implement international recommendations on transparency in the region.

IDB president Moreno said, “You can be certain that the IDB will be a steadfast ally of governments that wish to convert the recommendations made in the conventions into reality. We have the resources, we know the region, and we are more than willing to face this challenge together.”