Corruption in Ecuador: Correa investigates himself

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Administrative opacity is the main characteristic of the Ecuadoran government. Upon reaching power in January 2007, Rafael Correa announced a “revolution against corruption” as one of the central themes of his new Government. Since then, not only has this ‘revolution’ shown no results, but it has dismantled the weak institutional anticorruption mechanisms that did exist, turning them into empty shells. The anticorruption budget has also decreased considerably.

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After eight years in office, the perception of corruption in Ecuador, as measured by German NGO Transparency International, is unfavorable to a Government that talks of “clean hands.” In 2014, Ecuador was listed at number 110 of 174 countries in the NGO’s ranking of government corruption. Chile and Uruguay, countries of the same region, were listed at no. 21. By 2013, Ecuador had risen to 102nd place. Transparency International noted that Ecuador’s higher corruption ranking was mainly due to a rise in police salaries and the launch of the National Plan for the Prevention & Fight Against Corruption 2013-2017. As with all other Correa-ist anticorruption initiatives, the National Plan was a complete nonstarter.

The story of Correa-ism and corruption begins only five weeks after he came to power. In February 2007, President Correa created the National Anticorruption Secretariat. This was a controversial initiative because, in addition to short-circuiting the Civic Anti-Corruption Commission which had been operating since 1998, the Secretariat was designed to investigate the corruption of public officials; a plan comparable to asking a cat to take care of the pantry. The Secretariat’s remit also included following court trials; and designing, monitoring and evaluating anticorruption policies and strategies.

Ten months later, Correa established a National Constituent Assembly, which abolished the Civic Anti-Corruption Commission and replaced it with the Council for Citizen Participation & Social Control. With an overwhelming majority in the Constituent Assembly, Correa-ists were free to design institutions according to their own purposes. The new Council, controlled by Correa, was given precedence over the National Anticorruption Secretariat, whose powers were diluted. In six years, the Secretariat suffered three fundamental overhauls and was managed by seven different officials of ministerial rank: from Anticorruption Secretary to the Secretary of Management Transparency and then Undersecretary.

Internal fractures influenced these decisions. In 2010, for example, Ruptura de los 25, a youth movement allied with Correa-ism, was the driving factor in a restructure. Led by Juan Sebastián Roldán, Ruptura de los 25 investigated Vinicio Alvarado, the powerful Secretary of the Administration. Vinicio Alvarado and his brother, Fernando Alvarado, managed huge accounts used by the Government for advertising and propaganda. It was no secret that Vinicio Alvarado had been using these advertising companies since 2007. In her journalistic blog, Mariana Neira detailed the investigations made by the press into the Alvarado businesses. The result was that the Secretary of the Administration assumed the management of the body that had been investigating him.
Walter Poveda, Minister of Agriculture, was also denounced by Roldán for signing 14 allegedly overpriced contracts in 2008, taking advantage of 32 flood emergency projects. As a preventative measure, The National Court sentenced Poveda to prison during the investigation. But a judge later released him, stating that no reports had been received from the Comptroller General to support any prosecution for embezzlement.

For six years, the Anticorruption Secretariat operated without divulging the number of complaints it had received and investigated. In 2011, its Director reported 1412 cases; 442 within his jurisdiction and 970 from other State sectors. He also spoke of a backlog of 3,500 cases between 2008 and 2010, but didn’t clarify what had happened to them.

If nothing was known of the Secretariat, worse was to come when the Government’s ‘fifth power’ was introduced in the 2008 Constitution to deal with the fight against corruption, officially from 2009 onwards. The Council for Citizen Participation appointed the Attorney General, the Public Defender, the Public Prosecutor, the State Comptroller, the Ombudsman, all superintendents (from the shortlist issued by the President) and, through tenders, members of the National Electoral Council, the Dispute Tribunal and the Judicial Council. Of course, not only does the Council fail to investigate, it also fails to veto friends of the Government, whose candidacy for official office has been publicly criticized. This was the case with the current Attorney General, Galo Chiriboga; and with officials from the National Electoral Council and the Electoral Tribunal, accused of forging documents.

The deinstitutionalization of the fight against corruption has reached such a point that the Government, in acts befitting a circus, every so often announces corruption in its own ranks. Let’s look at two examples. In 2008, Sports Minister Raul Carrion was accused of unjust enrichment, charged with 12 counts of embezzlement by contract.

In his annual report on May 24, 2015, the President announced another corruption case. He gave no names, but hours later Jorge Glas, Vice President of Ecuador, claimed the Government had been “betrayed by militants” in its party. He went on to accuse Congressmember Maria Esperanza Galván of requesting a bribe of $800,000 from a company in exchange for contracts in her province. The Congressmember was immediately arrested, along with others, without complying with the formalities of the case. The President, taking advantage of the scandal he had created, accused the Council for Citizen Participation of not doing its job of fighting corruption. He blamed two Directors of the Council who are members of an opposition party; a completely fallacious argument, as the other five members, who do the majority of the work, are from the ruling party.

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List of corruption scandals spread on social networks.

On social networks there are lists of scandals involving former and current officials who have never been cleared; or the cases have been archived by the courts after unconvincing trials which leave the main protagonists unpunished. Justice does not inspire confidence because its governing body, the Judicial Council, is chaired by Gustavo Jalkh, Correa’s former Private Secretary.

The list of scandals includes cases involving the current Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patiño; the Vice President; the President’s cousin, Pedro Delgado (currently seeking refuge in the United States); and the President of the Constitutional Court, Patricio Pazmiño, who has nevertheless been submitted as a judicial candidate at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The case of the contracts between the Ecuadoran State and the President’s brother, Fabricio Correa, has not been cleared up either. This chapter of the story set two precedents: the suing of the journalists who broke the case (Correa demanded a $10m fine); and a statement from Fabricio Correa claiming that his brother was aware of the contracts.

The President created a commission to investigate the case and, according to him, prove his main argument: that he knew nothing of the contracts between his brother’s businesses and the State. The commission didn’t believe him and Correa sued four of its members. The Attorney General, a relative of Correa, accused the commission members of perjury and two of them were sentenced to one year in prison.

Under these circumstances, the budget for investigating corruption has decreased by nearly 50% in 2015, from $32,555.000 to $16,936.241. Two thirds of this amount is for employee salaries.

David Rosero, an opposition member of the Council for Citizen Participation, believes that $2bn is lost to corruption in Ecuador each year.

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