Puerto Rico needs the will and determination to fight the serious corruption problems at all levels. This evil, which has tragically increased in our government, deprives the island of funds, rights and credibility.
Despite laws and regulations to fight corruption, a U.S. Department of Justice report reveals that 375 officials and citizens have been convicted of corruption in Puerto Rico in a decade. We need the political will to fight this evil, but eradicating it is also everyone´s responsibility.
The federal report ranks Puerto Rico 10th among federal jurisdictions with the most convictions for corruption. The states that outnumber the island on the embarrassing list have more inhabitants. For every 100,000 inhabitants, the island had, on average, the second-highest rate of convictions for corruption, after Washington D.C. These credentials add to the mistrust affecting both the release of disaster relief funds and investments on the island.
The seed of corruption is not exclusive to the political class, but those who carry that seed reach high ranking positions due to vices in the election system that remain unaddressed. Political investment attacks the system's defenses designed to fight that evil. It turns our democratic system into a machine to peddle influence and buy favors.
Corruption is a form of violence that begins with contempt for ethical values, the basis of a fair society.
For example, at the individual or domestic level, it comes as energy and water theft, or fraud to receive services that don´t apply to them. At the community level, the dynamics of despotism gains ground, which prevents participation without accountability. It also happens in the nonprofit sector when funds are diverted from their original purposes. In the private sector, it emerges when processes and compliance are omitted to increase profits. This is one of the doors through which corruption gets through the government.
Many cases of government corruption reveal a dichotomy in which those who are called to protect public assets turn their backs on their mission to favor unscrupulous businessmen. But government corruption also happens on a small scale, in employees bribing citizens who need to solve problems, or in those who take the people´s materials and funds.
According to the United Nations, corruption, bribery and tax evasion cost developing countries about $ 1.3 billion each year. That money is taken from people who are socially and economically vulnerable. Such rights violations are very clear in cases involving the embezzlement of funds aimed at providing health care, education and housing to the most vulnerable.
That is why reducing corruption is part of the objectives proposed to meet the international goal of having strong institutions to achieve sustainable development. These agreements recognize the urgency of creating effective and accountable institutions at all levels. They include guaranteeing access to public information and for decisions to be made in an inclusive, participatory and representative way so that they address the needs of the people effectively.
Just when the island’s lack of credibility is jeopardizing its future and is exposing it to criticism from the highest levels of the federal government, fighting corruption must be everyone's priority.
The government has to show, without excuses, that its decisions are supported by reliable data, and that data must be available to citizens. Likewise, citizens have to watch closely on those who serve in agencies, and those who aspire to public office and their donors.
It is a democratic right to know who handles people´s assets, how and in what way they do it. And it is our duty to refuse to be an accomplice to the tricks of corruption in our daily activities.