In many ways, Colombia is a modern success story in the implementation of democracy. The nation is a strong emerging market and a beacon of light in Latin America, a region currently gripped by political instability. For decades, the Colombian political establishment has proven quite resilient, and the nation stands as a model for neighboring countries seeking to follow its lead. However, in negotiations over the peace deal recently approved by the Colombian Congress, the country has been forced to confront its divisive, often violent history, and is on the verge of a pivotal moment as it seeks to implement the deal’s terms.
The nature of the deal and its approval process has raised many concerns that certainly have merit. These reservations were the reason the deal was rejected in Colombia’s popular vote. However, the fact is that the revised agreement has been approved, so Colombians should pivot their focus toward initiatives that will help ensure the continued, effective implementation of the deal and protect Colombia’s democracy. An aggressive crackdown on cocaine production and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals are good places to start. However, above all else, Colombia must begin the implementation process by eradicating corruption from both the public and private sectors if the peace deal is to succeed.
For Colombia, this is easier said than done, as corruption in the country runs deeper than bribery and surface-level collusion between government officials and private sector representatives. The nation’s struggle with corruption is a longstanding area of concern; one that began decades ago and has permeated nearly every aspect of society. Impunity, a concentration of power at the executive level, and a lack of transparency have given rise to widespread corruption in Colombian government, and urgent structural changes are needed to achieve lasting reform.
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To eradicate corruption, Colombia should start by increasing the investigative powers of its National Electoral Council, ensuring the financial independence of all oversight committees, and reviewing legislation governing campaign finance.
In Colombia’s fight for peace and transparency, it would do well to remember that corruption is not exclusive to the public sector. Recently, more than 40 people were implicated in a corruption scandal involving Odebrecht, a multinational corporation accused of contributing millions of U.S. dollars to political campaigns across Latin America in exchange for project contracts. In addition to current public officials, Odebrecht’s transgressions involved numerous C-suite executives and companies in line for construction projects under Colombia’s 4th Generation infrastructure plan.
Such scandals undermine the integrity of democracy and can lead to serious disillusionment between governments and their people. In fact, the Concordia Research Index shows that corruption of this nature impedes civic engagement and the health of democracy in developing countries. Unless Colombia enacts clear, concise, and hyper-aggressive legislation combating corruption, its people will remain divided and skeptical of those in power, and peace will continue to prove elusive.
Of course, the Colombian government cannot effectively implement the peace deal or eradicate corruption on its own. Support from the United States and other regional actors in these processes will be crucial to lasting peace in Colombia. However, the country must take charge of its own future, and oversight of the implementation process must arise organically and of its own accord.
Here, the public-private partnership model is quite applicable. Colombia should consider creating an independent, impartial body comprised of leaders from the public and private sectors to oversee the implementation process and prevent corruption. Such an institution could leverage the leadership of the public sector with the resources of the private sector, and might prove valuable in creating consensus and approval among social groups concerned with how the peace deal will affect the nation going forward.
In the wake of one of the biggest corruption scandals in history, Colombia has a unique opportunity to seize this moment and reject business as usual. Through partnership and substantive reform, it can make major progress in eradicating corruption. Forums like the Concordia Americas Summit in Bogotá on Feb. 21 represent a unique opportunity to develop meaningful partnerships, and we look forward to fostering collaboration for a better future in Colombia and beyond at the summit in Bogotá.
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