May, 2 2017 (Panampost)
Ecuador is undergoing hectic days. After the ruling party’s presidential candidate, Lenin Moreno, won the election, the future is uncertain. In this context, one of Ecuador’s biggest problems is the clear absence of the rule of law. It has no effective rules that limit the abuse of political power.
April 19, a hearing was held by State Comptroller General Carlos Polit against nine members of the National Anti-Corruption Commission. The Comptroller required each of the nine members to pay US $100,000 and go to prison between six months and two years for slandering the Comptroller in a complaint about possible excess land pricing.
The defendants are academics with a long history of working at the local level, among them the illustrious Isabel Robalino: the first woman elected to the Senate, the first councilor of Quito and one of the first women to graduate as a lawyer and doctor in Law in Ecuador.
The vast majority of public officials have forgotten a small detail: the real rulers of a country are the citizens. All civil servants, from the lowest to the highest level, are there to serve each Ecuadorian.
When members of civil society file a petition because they suspect embezzlement and other irregularities, it is absolutely necessary that the accused public official offer the nation clear accountability eliminating any suspicion. If we allow civil servants to judge the suspicions of civil society, what kind of country are we? What confidence can we give the public regarding the fight against corruption and freedom of expression?
The case of the Pacific Refinery, for which the comptroller and other officials have been denounced, is a very controversial project. It began in 2008, and until last year US $1.5 billion was invested for laying the foundation, consulting, environmental studies, project management, salaries and more. After eight years, the actual construction has not yet begun, as investors are still unable to cover the $13 billion needed to finance it. This project has become the elephant in the room for Ecuador’s economy, since it has grown without having a secure financing.
In addition, the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index highlights the need for rigorous control over the use of public funds. Ecuador is in position number 120, only surpassing Paraguay and Venezuela in South America, possibly due to the corruption scandals that came out in previous months.
The report shows that due to corruption, the range of trust is now between 28 and 35 percent, which places it in the group of countries with a high perception of corruption in the world. Auditing within a country is extremely important. When the money of more than 14 million people goes to state spending, and there is no transparent control of it, there is a serious lack of the rule of law.
The day the sentence was delivered, as expected, the Controller won the trial. However, Polit withdrew the complaint, following a message from the incoming president, Lenin Moreno, in which he urged him to do so. What message do you want to give? That do you handle the judiciary? We already know that. No matter how hard they try to silence other voices, they are more brave citizens seeking a brighter future for the country.
This whole political show set up by the comptroller’s office is nonsense. It would be shameful to do such a thing! How can he sleep at night? Is it actually better to save face to continue enjoying power than to provide an explanation to your fellow citizens? Now the governed want to be the rulers? Perhaps a simple reminder should be attached to all the light poles: public servants work for their citizens, not the other way around.
Jorge lives in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and is a student of Political Science & International Relations. He is currently the Coordinator of the Research Department of the Ecuadorian Institute of Political Economy. Follow him on Twitter: @JorgeChuya