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More transparency means less corruption

What do Ecuador's oil industry, the Chilean Library of Congress, the Colombian housing market and audit courts of Brazil’s states and cities have in common?

All have benefited from projects financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to improve access to information and transparency, with the aim of promoting greater public sector efficiency and reducing corruption. The role of transparency and corruption in public institutions is part of the agenda of the 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC), which begins today in Brasilia.

Corruption threatens economic and social development and democracy in our region. Nearly half of Latin Americans believe democracy has been ineffective at curbing corruption and 44 percent report having paid bribes to public officials.

"Transparency transforms the bureaucratic culture by providing counterweights against discretionary behavior," said Carlos Santiso, chief of the IDB’s Institutional Capacity of the State Division. "Transparency improves efficiency and reduces opportunities for fraud and corruption in the public administration by reducing red tape and maximizing the use of new technologies."

The IDB’s active portfolio of loans to improve governance totals more than $800 million in addition to IDB grants in this area for some $70 million. These operations, which are being carried out in 23 countries, are financing a wide range of instruments and approaches, such as the use of expert networks and multidisciplinary approaches.

The IDB's work in promoting institutions with transparency and accountability focuses on five areas:

  • Targeting transparency, access to information, and opengovernment, where technology is used to leverage and optimize results, as was the case in a project in Ecuador to design and implement transparency information standards.
  • Improving petitions and governmental regulations, including the oversight role of the legislature. The IDB has worked with audit agencies in Chile, Guyana, Nicaragua, and Haiti, and has helped the Chilean Library of Congress better manage inquiries from legislators and the general public.
  • Developing and implementing policies, strategies, and actionplans,as in the case of a national program for the prevention and control of corruption in El Salvador.
  • Promoting greater participation of civil society in the accountability process, including projects with the Ministry of Institutional Transparency and Combating Corruption in Bolivia and $40 million to strengthen the audit courts of the Brazilian states and municipalities. Both operations include components that provide more information to citizens on public expenditures.
  • The development of diagnosticand methodological tools such as the Index for Measuring Institutionality against Corruption (IMIC) and the methodology for the diagnosis, prevention, and control of corruption in public safety programs.

In several instances, small investments have produced large impacts. In 2004 the Bank provided Haiti with a $500,000 grant to review its anti-corruption legal framework, set up an action plan to promote public transparency, and establish an anti-corruption unit. The new unit has investigated major cases, resulting in sanctions and even prison terms for a number of public officials. Millions of gourdes had been diverted from education programs and insurance management, among other examples.