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The Carter Center's Transparency Project

By Dr. Shelley McConnell, LACP Associate Director

The Carter Center embarked upon a new program in 1998 to reduce corruption in the Americas. We partnered three countries - Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Jamaica - whose leaders requested we help them develop and assess specific anti-corruption tools.

Costa Rica provided an opportunity to work in a Central American country where democracy was deeply established, indices suggested there was comparatively little corruption, and opinion polls showed citizens thought their country should bolster transparency to help preserve the rule of law.

As a South American country where corruption had helped cause the fall of a government, Ecuador posed a more serious challenge. The potential for meaningful progress was evident in President Mahuad's strong commitment to transparency, and by the variety of civil society organizations dedicated to fighting corruption, including a national anti-corruption commission based in the 1998 constitution.

In Jamaica, we worked to support legal initiatives that the parliament had undertaken to strengthen declaration of assets and freedom of information. In the process, we drew insights into a second legal-political tradition in the hemisphere.

Corruption's varied levels and forms in these countries reflected the problem's complexity and demanded tailored anti-corruption initiatives designed in consultation with each government and civil society. The Center requested that the leaders from each partner country name a liaison who could work with the Latin American and Caribbean Program (LACP) staff to assure sustained, high-level attention to fostering transparency.

Costa Rica's journey toward reform
After meeting with Costa Rica President Miguel Ángel Rodríguez in June 1998 at The Carter Center, President Carter and former Ecuador President Osvaldo Hurtado visited Costa Rica to learn more about its national consultation, through which the government sought to establish a broadly supported agenda of reform.

This concertación process targeted corruption as a key policy reform area, developing a series of suggested reforms to promote transparency and bring Costa Rica into full compliance with the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. President Rodríguez spoke about those reforms at our May conference (see the summary of his remarks in this report), and we published his comments on the Web. We also commissioned a study of the concertación process, the suggested reforms, and the degree of their implementation, to better understand how to support such national processes.

We accompanied President Rodríguez's transparency advisor on visits to Ecuador, where he met key government and civil society officials to discuss the two countries. We currently are working with Costa Rican nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to hold a workshop on how civil society can monitor public contracting, a project funded in part by the Tinker Foundation.

Ecuador's initial plans take hold
In Ecuador, President Mahuad pledged to President Carter that he would develop a national anti-corruption plan. We consulted with the Mahuad government accordingly. The plan debuted in Atlanta on May 4, 1999, at the Transparency for Growth conference. Our next task is to help Ecuador implement it.

In addition, we helped build the capacity of government agencies and civil society organizations fighting corruption. We worked with Ecuador's:

  • Commission for Civic Control of Corruption to win a grant to bring current and former anti-corruption commissioners from Hong Kong and elsewhere to discuss a strategic development plan for that new, constitutionally based body.
  • National plan coordinator to locate a consultant to help devise an Internet-accessed public contracts database and promote competitive bidding.
  • Development of a civil society commission to monitor the privatization of electricity, acting as a "friend of the process." As a result, we will meet periodically with the commissioners to learn about and promote their progress, and mediate any difficulties.

To accomplish these tasks, our staff visited Ecuador six times during nine weeks, and President and Mrs. Carter visited Quito, Ecuador's capital, with Council member and former Bolivia President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. We also placed a field representative in Ecuador during three key months to maintain a strong network and bring these projects to fruition.

Jamaica's charted course
Our engagement in Jamaica differs, centering on improving that country's legislative efforts by:

Commissioning a well-known barrister and democracy expert to write an annotated guide of Jamaica's existing legislation against corruption.

Asking the former chair of the University of the West Indies Department of Government, who also is a current independent senator, to evaluate the declaration of assets law before Parliament, compare Jamaica's anti-corruption commission with others worldwide, and conduct a comparative study on access to information legislation pending in Jamaica.

Uniting Jamaican anti-corruption specialists with experts on these issues at Harvard, co-sponsoring a conference on practical strategies for fighting corruption in Latin America.

Bringing civic leaders from Jamaica to Atlanta for the transparency conference. Since then, these experts and leading citizens have worked together in Jamaica, discussing ideas from these conferences with Prime Minister P.J. Patterson. They also have organized to publish the studies that The Carter Center commissioned. Oliver Clarke, publisher of a leading Jamaican daily newspaper, decided to include transparency on the agenda of his annual Think Tank seminar and invite another conference participant, the former commissioner of Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption, to participate.

First year's outcome
The Center's initial year of work on transparency helped raise awareness about the corruption problem and potential solutions, and the LACP will maintain this effort. In addition, we will seek to wed our understanding of transparency to our election monitoring. This objective will help us to develop new tools for assuring electoral transparency during election campaigns and resolving disputes following an election.

These concrete beginnings convey that countries can eventually win the battle against corruption with international support and local commitment. There is more to do, but a host of multilateral organizations, governments, NGOs, and policy analysts are working together in new networks to reduce corruption and build transparency. Using its convening capacity, The Carter Center gathered these specialists at the Transparency for Growth conference, fostering an exchange of ideas that may have far-reaching effects.

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