Ambassador Jean Elizabeth Manes published an opinion piece on the importance of fighting corruption in La Prensa Gráfica (LPG). The article was published on page 53 of LPG on Friday, December 9, 2016. (This text was translated from Spanish.)
“The glass that never fills”
Ambassador of the United States, Jean Elizabeth Manes
We all know what happens when we try to fill up a glass with holes, big or small, or a combination of both. It is illusory to think that at some point the glass will fill if we continue to put water in it. Considering this metaphor as a premise, it can be said that in El Salvador it is practically impossible to have a productive conversation about economic growth without addressing and solving the challenges posed by corruption. Corruption represents holes, large or small, in the glass that is economic development. And the more water or, in this case, the more money we put into promoting economic development without solving the problem of corruption, what happens is what we have seen: more holes appear — because more people are interested in making new holes — and those that already existed are simply made larger and become more alarming.
But also, because those who are stealing funds and earmarking them for their own benefit instead of using them for the intended destinations assume that no one is doing anything, or that no one can do anything, to prevent this from happening. The result, inevitably, is always the same: corruption undermines the ability of governments to help their citizens and undermines citizens’ confidence in their government. Or, as Secretary of State John Kerry said: “Corruption fuels instability by eroding confidence between the people and their government.” As citizens of democratic countries we must demand transparency from the whole spectrum of society — from the public sector, as well as from the private, civil society and political sectors.
For this reason, the fundamental change that we have to achieve to realize economic growth is to plug the holes that already exist and prevent new ones from appearing. This will give governments the ability to act on behalf of citizens. El Salvador is a country with great potential. And, as the United States Ambassador to El Salvador, I am committed to strengthening the ties between our two countries and to advantage Salvadorans with the resources and experience of the United States in order to build a more prosperous El Salvador. But, I am also committed to ensuring that the funds that come from the United States taxpayers generate the impact that we hope will not be wasted by subsidizing the inefficiencies that corruption generates. The funds that we have as partners cannot and should not cover the shortfall that corruption takes. Imagine the impact that international cooperation could have if all resources in the country — their own and others — were invested efficiently. Imagine that all that money actually goes to education, to hospitals, to security; which are the areas where it is really needed.
On the other hand, corruption discourages the changes necessary for economic activity to grow, such as the formalization of small entrepreneurs. It is clear that when there is no trust in the system due to corruption, it is almost impossible to convince 72% of the people who operate in the informal sector that it is worth going to into the formal economy. Corruption in all its forms is a destructive element for any society and undermines our joint efforts on behalf of Salvadorans. Corruption is a problem that affects all citizens and has no political party, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the corrupt practices of the past and present cannot remain hidden. In that sense, important steps have been taken to increase transparency and accountability in El Salvador in recent years. There are now more modern and effective anti-corruption and regulatory systems. There is a public information access law that assists in the prevention, detection and punishment of corrupt practices. There are also civil society organizations that report undue acts and monitor the correct application of laws.
The country has made progress, but much remains to be done. It is urgent at this moment that the signs of commitment to the fight against corruption come from all offices and from all sectors. As I commemorate the International Day against Corruption in El Salvador, I invite all Salvadorans who are working for a better future to renew their commitment to the fight against corruption to build a more just and transparent society. The United States is supporting these efforts. Let’s start closing the holes and filling the glass in El Salvador.
*Original text appeared in Spanish.