Irregular distribution of aid, overvalued purchases and lack of transparency in awards are some cases of corruption linked to COVID-19

The COVID-19 has not prevented a persistent virus from continuing to travel Latin America: the corruption. Irregular distribution of aid, overvalued purchases, lack of transparency in awards, these are some cases related to the health emergency that show the good health of illegal practices that have not yet found an effective vaccine.

Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru or the Dominican Republic, among other countries, have suffered in the last four months scandals related to corruption and the coronavirus, which have alarmed governments, international authorities and citizens in quarantine.

So much so that this week, the United Nations has created a Regional Observatory on Drug Prices in Latin America to avoid irregularities in the purchase of medicines and medical supplies during the pandemic.

“Corruption does not only come from soft states, due to the lack of opportunities, or that the laws are not well made and allow room for corruption. All of this can and should be improved. The cultural issue is more complicated ”, highlights Marta Lagos, the director of the Latinobarómetro, in statements to Efe, to explain these bad practices in a region that is almost already the epicenter of the pandemic.

Contaminated Ministers and Governors

The biggest case of corruption of Bolivia in these seven months in the power of the interim president Jeanine Áñez you have all the symptoms of the coronavirus. The transitional Minister of Health, Marcelo Navajas, is in preventive detention for an alleged plot for the purchase in Spain with a surcharge of about two million dollars of respirators for critically ill COVID-19 patients.

The case is under judicial investigation and several officials have been arrested, such as the Bolivian Consul in Barcelona (Spain), Alberto Pareja, who, since this Friday, has been under house arrest by decision of the Bolivian Justice.

The purchase of respirators It came after emergency acquisitions were authorized without the usual formalities to strengthen the health system to combat the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.

This speed in protecting against the virus had and has contraindications. As the director of the organization Transparency International in Brazil, Bruno Brandao, warned, in the current crisis, the governments “are opening up extraordinary public spending and there are the risks that groups with privileged access” will obtain benefits “to the detriment of the people in general” .

Brazil, the second country in the world with the highest number of infections (more than a million) and deaths (48 thousand 945) from COVID-19, also does not escape the pandemic of corruption. Irregularities in the management of public funds to combat the coronavirus have worsened, leading to the arrest of dozens of people across the country.

Corruption during the pandemic has put some of the country’s governors in the spotlight of Justice, such as that of the Amazonian Pará, Hélder Barbalho, and that of Rio de Janeiro. Wilson Witzel, whose official residence was raided by Police in May.

Body bags at a gold price

Another country. Ecuador, very punished by COVID-19 has seen how the bags plastic for corpses They multiplied their price from 12 to 144 dollars during the Guayaquil health crisis. And that’s just a sample: the Ecuadorian Prosecutor’s Office investigates 63 cases of corruption and has carried out raids in 27 cities during the investigations, in its largest case, for the alleged crime of surcharge.

The cases, all of them under investigation and prosecution, have spilled over into the Social Security Institute and politicians such as the prefect of the province of Guayas, Carlos Luis Morales, and like former President Abdalá Bucaram, who is under house arrest, upon finding a weapon in your home.

For the director of the Latinobarómetro, it is necessary “to reform the State to close the spaces, open up to transparency, to create knowledge that prevents it from being impossible for the brother-in-law (of the bidder) to win a tender, it is a procedural problem.”

In this sense, in Colombia, after several cases of diversion of money, an unprecedented common front has been organized between the Comptroller’s Office, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office to protect the resources destined to attend to the effects of the pandemic.

These control agencies have opened this week fiscal responsibility processes against the governors of the departments of Tolima and Guainía and the mayor of Cartagena de Indias for millionaire cost overruns in contracts signed to serve the vulnerable population.

On the friendly side, it should also be noted that the Colombian Special Assets Society (SAE) has allowed assets seized from drug trafficking to be used provisionally to fight the coronavirus. Thanks to a legal figure called “extinction of domain”, which applies to assets allegedly acquired illegally.

Bribes, tolls and bribes

Regardless of political color, the virus goes through the veins of governments and administrations. In Peru, which is the sixth country in the world with the highest number of patients (247 thousand 925 infections), corruption cases have been common since the crisis erupted in early March. In the beginning of June, the anti-corruption Prosecutor’s Office had identified 653 alleged illegal acts by the public authorities committed during the pandemic.

The most significant case has been the scandal of purchase of materials within the National Police, which cost the post to the interior minister and the entire high command of the security corps.

According to the investigation, several officers of the corps had acquired defective protection materials for the agents who operated in the streets controlling the application of the confinement. The purchases were irregular, from opaque companies and with personal ties to the officers in charge of purchasing the products.

This double profile of interested seller and buyer, with politicians and intermediaries looking for extra COVID-19 funds, has occurred throughout the continent. So it seems to happen in GuatemalaFor example, where the Vice Minister of Health, Rodolfo Galdámez, who was dismissed on April 20, is being investigated, having been a government official and provider at the same time.

On a smaller scale, the use of the COVID-19 tragedy has also inundated the Latin American streets. In the first weeks of the pandemic, the shortage of mask and gloves caused the prices of these products to triple and sellers of all kinds increased their income with additional costs, as reported by sectors of civil society.

In this sense, Marta Lagos is very clear: “The most difficult thing is cultural practices. Corruption is installed on all sides. There is clientelism. And the bribery – bribery – is the most difficult thing to eradicate. We must convince that it is a crime, a malicious thing ”.

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