How corrupt is Colombia? It’s almost a throwaway question. Those of us living here are continually hearing about the corruption in the country and how it continues to stifle growth, businesses, progress, public works, politics, in fact just about every facet of Colombian life. Transparency International, the worldwide body promoting transparency, accountability and integrity at all levels and across all sectors of society has released its yearly report entitled the Global Corruption Barometer.
How does Colombia fare?
Frankly, all things considered, not very well.
With the world’s most innovative city in Medellin, with a President who set out to tackle corruption as one of the key policies of his government, with Bogota’s mayor elected on nothing more than an anti-corruption ticket, you might be forgiven for expecting more from Colombia.
As Kevin Howlett of Colombia Politics said: “That things are getting worse should sound alarm bells in the presidential palace. Juan Manuel Santos has staked much of his reputation on pulling the nation up by its bootstraps, forcing it to eat at the table with the big boys. He wants Colombia to be seen as a member of an emerging elite.”
As much as I want to make a constructive criticism so that perhaps there is a way forward, I truly believe that corruption is so deeply engrained into the fabric of Colombian society that it’s just a matter of fact reality.
I cannot speak for others; I can only mention the corruption that I have encountered in Colombia in my 7 year tenure.
- Renewing my business license in the Oficina de Planeacion in Mompos, I was asked “how much I generally paid” for the document. This document is free.
- Pulled over in my car near to Plato, Magdalena, I was subjected to a rigorous search when the police officer found nothing awry with my paperwork. He suggested quite openly that we could speed up the process by a “colaboracion”.
- I have watched taxi drivers on numerous occasions on the route between Magangue and Cartagena had over their license with bills folded into the slip.
- On the road between Mompos and El Banco, failing to have the receipts of purchase for two bedside table lamps bought in Bogota, the police required a “fine”.
- I am continually being informed that the reasons for the delay in the paving of the “national highway” between Mompos and El Banco is because the money has been robbed by consecutive building firms contracted to do the work.
- In an interview with a politician representing the department of Guaviare, he informed me that he could acquire lands “on the cheap” so that we could plant African palm.
Now, all of these sound petty, and it will have not have escaped your notice that the towns of Cartagena, El Banco, Magangue, Mompos and Plato are all in the Costa. I know that the Caribbean region is corrupt just as I know that there is corruption in Bogota and in Cali and in Manizales. It just happens that I spend a great deal of time in the Caribbean and so my experiences are geographically focused.
But, just imagine all of these petty little acts of corruption taking place on a national scale. The mind boggles at the amounts of money that must change hands. And this is pesky corruption, nothing like the alleged actions of disgraced former Bogota Mayor Samuel Moreno and others in real positions of power.
Hardly the type of information and negative publicity that the Government bodies involved in promoting and attracting international investment to Colombia wish you to see.