Active citizenship vs corruption: Colombian case

By Nicolás Lara, Economics Student, Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Nowadays corruption is a big topic across the world. It is easy to check on the internet and you will see news related with corruption scandals in Brazil, Korea, or Venezuela. However, there is not much space for reportage about how people are actually trying to control and stop corruption.

Colombia, as other developing countries with high levels of inequality, has high levels of corruption. For instance, according to the Corruption Perception Index (2016), Colombia is ranked 90th over 176 countries, very close to Indonesia (91st), Argentina (95th), Peru (100th), the Philippines (103rd) and Thailand (104th).

As citizens, what can we do? If we want to change our societies, we cannot just wait for a messianic solution. Even if our institutions are captured by an elite that promotes inequality and in that sense corruption, there are still some tools that we can apply. The world needs active citizens who are able to participate not just in elections, but also in political and social movements, NGOs and civic associations. In fact, there have been appearing new studies that conclude that citizens who are part of organized civic associations have more possibilities to control corruption.

Five months ago, a group of young citizens in Colombia had been promoting a popular referendum (Consulta Popular Anticorrupcion) with seven measures that would create some parameters to control corruption. According to the Colombian legal system, the group initially had to collect 1,700,000 signatures supporting the referendum, only then would the political authorities have the obligation to hold the referendum. Thereafter, people would have to vote for or against the referendum; and if the majority of the voters would support the measures, the seven proposed measures would become part of Colombian legislation.
The seven measures proposed are:

1. A decrease in wages for members of the congress. At present, they earn approximately 9,000 US dollars per month; with the measure in effect they would earn 5,600 US dollars per month.

2. Politicians charged with a crime related to corruption, and later found guilty, should face imprisonment, without obtaining any special treatment.

3. Public contracts should be done with standards, which will help prevent political clientelism.

4. The public budget should be open to public; the government has to create public, open discussions where citizens can know how the national budget is spent.

5. Members of the congress have to show every year their income tax declaration, in order to know if they earn money apart from what the congress provides.

6. Members of congress should report to citizens how they vote in congress, and which law projects they support.

7. Congress members can be re-elected for 3 terms maximum, each term is for 4 years (In Colombia there are some congressmen who have been in office for more than 30 years).

Across Colombia volunteers are collecting signatures and explaining to the people how just one signature can potentially change Colombia. There has been a huge support during the first few months – they had collected around 2 million signatures by June, but the goal of the group would be to collect at least 3 million signatures by July.

It is clear that Colombian society is tired of corruption and that the population tries to do something to put an end to it. We cannot sit idly while every year corruption scandals emerge. Complaining on Twitter or Facebook about politicians is not enough, voting during elections is not enough. A real democracy is supported by active citizenship.

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