Corruption in check


Roberto Abdenur, Executive President of the Brazilian Institute of Ethics in Competition (ETCO)

Against an evil that pervades all strata of society, we need powerful medicines, or better, vaccines. When there are no vaccines, as against the evil of corruption, which has a direct impact on the socioeconomic development of countries, the path to prevention lies in simplicity, transparency, clarification and punishment.

Simplicity can be the key to overturn arguments of those who practice tax evasion, illegal trade or informality. The complexity of the Brazilian tax system, the size of its cargo, the bureaucracy and the long process to pay taxes have been a pretext and a factor for corruption and tax evasion. Numbers help the perfidious arguments: in Brazil, companies spend an average of 2.600 hours per year to pay taxes, compared to the world average of 277 hours, according to the Paying Taxes 2013 ranking, prepared by the consulting firm PWC, in partnership with the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC).

Transparency is the basis of democracy and the greatest antidote against corruption. In recent years, Brazil has established changes in the relationship between governments and the population, largely as a result of pressure from representative sectors of society. New laws, such as that of Fiscal Responsibility and 8.666 (of Bids), show that the country has been investing in increasing transparency. Other initiatives reveal hopes for greater transparency in dealing with public affairs, such as the Federal System of Access to Information, the creation of TVs Câmara and Senado or the project that creates Ethics Councils in Legislative Assemblies and Municipal Councils.

Clarification results from efforts by governments, institutions and civil society organizations to raise public awareness of the importance of ethical behavior in all spheres. Both minor corruption, often tolerated, and the involvement of public officials in major scandals are essentially the same misconduct.

For a good part of the population, however, this relationship remains intangible. Purchasing pirated or counterfeit products, when there is evidence that they are, to resort to bribes instead of taking a refresher course for drivers with excess points in the driver's license or instead of paying any type of fine, letting yourself be carried away dark business advantages. This is all corruption. Often tolerated. Often not even perceived as such.

Minor corruption often involves well-intentioned citizens who consider that there is no other way out when they encounter a malicious public agent. But there are also many cases of well-intentioned public officials who come across people with malicious intent, for which only bribes are resolved. Fighting corruption is the duty of all of us.

But a large number of Brazilians have, as Minister Ellen Gracie Northfleet, former president of the Supreme Federal Court (STF), a dualistic attitude towards corruption. On the one hand, the denunciation that abuses prejudgment. On the other, lethargy condescending to certain non-republican practices.

The consequences of this indulgence are serious for the economy. The Global Fraud Survey 2012, by Ernst & Young, shows that 84% of Brazilian executives interviewed in the survey consider that corruption is widespread in the business environment. The index is higher than the global average (39%) and that verified in Latin America (68%). But respondents stated that they do not agree with this situation and want to improve the business environment. For 90% of them, there should be more sanctions against fraud and kickbacks.

Finally, punishment proves that society does not tolerate such deviations in conduct. The feeling of impunity has been identified as one of the main factors in the high levels of perception of corruption in Brazil. The study Perceptions of Corruption Index 2012, by the NGO Transparency International, places Brazil in 69th position among 176 countries. At the top, as least corrupt, are Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand. At the bottom of the list, Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia.

In this sense, the approval by the Senate of the Bill of Law of the Chamber (PLC) 0039/2013 (PL 6826/2011), on July 4th, without changes, is encouraging. Certainly in response to the popular demonstrations in June, the Senate included on its priority agenda the vote on the bill known as the Anti-Corruption Law. It allows punishing companies - and not just their representatives, individuals - who commit acts against the public administration. The text guarantees the compensation for the damage caused to public coffers by acts of improbity.

Proposed by the Executive Branch, and with federal deputy Carlos Zarattini (PT-SP) as rapporteur, the bill was sanctioned by President Dilma Rousseff on August 1, with three vetoes. Because of these vetoes, it will go through Congress again. For Zarattini, Brazil is one of the three countries of the 34 OECD members that do not have a specific law to punish corruptors. Hence the importance and urgency of the approval of the Anti-Corruption Law.

Corruption constitutes an obstacle to economic development, especially as it subtracts resources from public policies, increases public spending, causes distortions and imbalances in competition between companies, stimulates tax evasion, causes legal insecurity, encourages crime and gives room to a certain culture of leniency with transgressions.

Only with simplicity, transparency, clarification and punishment, in addition to strong institutions in a democratic environment, will we be able to break the gears of corruption and create the society we aspire to. The fight against corruption must be one of the pillars in the construction of the values ​​that can lead Brazil to the place of deserved prominence in the world panorama.