Guest Post: To Combat Corruption, Argentina Must Insist on Meritocratic Hiring in the Civil Service

Today’s guest post is from Professor Ignacio A. Boulin Victoria of the Universidad Austral School of Law (Buenos Aires, Argentina) and Fulbright Scholar Eliana Kanefield.

Currently, over 3.9 million people work for the public sector in Argentina, constituting nearly 27% of Argentina’s workforce—the third-highest proportion in Latin America and the Caribbean (after only Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago), and well above the regional average of 18%. Working in the public sector in Argentina has substantial advantages, including strong employment security (it is extremely difficult to be fired from public sector positions in Argentina) and substantially higher salaries than comparable jobs in the private sector. It’s thus unsurprising that the competition for public sector jobs is fierce. To take just one example, when the Province of Mendoza created 114 new public sector positions, there were more than 30.000 applicants.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with the multitude of advantages public sector workers enjoy, this system gives rise to a structural problem: the system largely serves politicians’ friends and family. Officially, entry into the public sector is governed by a set of robust requirements and competitive examinations. But this is a façade. In reality, most people who get a job in the public sector do so because they have the right connections. They are usually friends, relatives, or members of the same political party of the person doing the hiring. An example of the clear disregard for the standards and systems in place is that, as of 2017, only 2% of senior management public sector employees had passed the “demanding” entry examinations and requirements designated by the government, and only 6% of these positions were filled through an open and fair recruitment procedure (compared to 90% in Chile). From 2015 to 2017, the proportion of senior public sector management positions filled by people who met the official professional requirements mandated by the job description decreased from 32% to 18%, while the proportion of these professionals who had education beyond a high school degree decreased from 72% to 66%. Admittedly, some of the public servants hired outside of the regular process do have the right qualifications, but even in those cases there’s still the inherent unfairness that potential applicants without connections don’t have the opportunity to compete for these jobs.

This failure of meritocracy worsens Argentina’s corruption problem, in three ways: Continue reading

Guest Post: A “Right to Truth” in Grand Corruption Cases?

Lucas E. Gómez and Ignacio A. Boulin Victoria of the Latin American Center for Human Rights (Centro Latinoamericano de Derechos Humanos, CLADH) in Argentina contribute the following guest post:

Argentina, 1978. In the midst of terror, a group of parents searching for their children finds no answer in domestic justice. Thousands of habeas corpus petitions are rejected by judges. The military dictatorship denies having any clue about them: Videla, the leader of the government, declares: “they are neither dead, nor alive; they are disappeared.” These parents respond with innovative strategies (maybe without being aware of the innovation): They start sending letters of complaint (over a thousand) to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR). The result: the IACHR visits Argentina and issues a 1980 report recognizing widespread human rights violations; the report has an enormous impact both inside and outside of Argentina. Yet by 1990, these parents still don’t know what happened to their children. Despite the return to democracy in 1983, and some trials of military officers and terrorists shortly thereafter, in 1986 and 1987 Congress passes two acts restricting the criminal prosecution of military officers, and a few years later, President Menem pardons both military hierarchies and terrorists, releasing them from jail.

Argentina, 1995. Some of these parents devise a new strategy: Even if criminal prosecution is forbidden, they assert that there is still a “right to the truth”—a right to know what happened to the disappeared. Though Argentina’s Supreme Court rejects the claim, the parents again take the case to the IACHR. Finally, in 1999, Argentina settles the IACHR case, recognizing the existence of the right to truth. This development ultimately led to the re-opening of the criminal prosecutions against military officers: Once information about the atrocities came out, society started mobilizing for justice. The right to truth put in front of people’s eyes the extent and gravity of the crimes, and the identities of both the victims and the perpetrators. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Other Face of Vulture Funds–Digging in the Right Pockets

Ignacio A. Boulin Victoria and Enrique Cadenas, the co-directors of the Center for Law and Development at Universidad Austral in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contribute the following guest post:

It looks like a boxing fight. On the one side, the so-called “Vulture Funds” (mainly the US hedge fund NML Capital, CEO’d by the famous—or infamous—Paul Singer) threaten to inflict serious damage over a whole country’s economy. On the other, Argentina’s government, headed by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, whose administration—like that of her predecessor and husband, Nestor Kirchner—has been dogged by serious allegations of corruption, and whose vice president is currently being prosecuted for corrupt practices. Both parties have made remarkable efforts to win the media battle through propaganda and lobbying, with President Kirchner accusing the Vulture Funds of being “economic terrorists,” and the Vulture Funds denouncing Argentina as “a model of unsoundness” that “refus[es] to pay its debts.” Whatever the international perception, the conflict with the Vulture Funds seems to be helping President Kirchner, whose standing in national polls has been rising during the standoff.

But—though this may sound perverse to many Argentine citizens—from an unconventional perspective it’s possible that the attack of the Vulture Funds may produce, at the end of the day, good consequences for Argentina. The reason has to do with how the Vulture Funds’ attack may expose pervasive high-level corruption, and deprive some corrupt leaders of the proceeds of that corruption. Continue reading

Guest Post: Using FOIA to Get Evidence on Bribe Takers

Ignacio A. Boulin Victoria, Professor of Public Law at Universidad Nacional de Cuyo (Argentina) and co-founder of the human rights group CLADH, contributes the following guest post, proposing a new legal strategy for acquiring information about bribe-taking public officials:

In a recent post, Richard Messick observed–correctly–that although in the last 10-15 years we have seen greater enforcement by so-called “supply-side” countries against bribe-paying firms, “demand-side” governments have not been willing—or able—to go after the bribe-taking public officials. Rick further observes that once a bribe-paying firm has reached a settlement with a supply-side enforcer (say, the U.S. Department of Justice), it should be much easier for the demand-side government to prosecute the corrupt officials on the other side of the transaction. But we see very little of this. Rick attributes the failure to go after the bribe takers to a combination of factors: lack of capacity on the part of demand-side governments, lack of political will, and lack of information about the settlements with supply-side governments.

Those factors are all important, but Rick overlooks one salient fact about these settlements between bribe-paying firms and supply-side governments: often the public settlement documents do not reveal nearly enough information about the bribe transactions to enable the demand-side governments to take action (unless they undertake substantial and costly additional investigation). In the US, for example, the press release announcing the resolution of a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act matter often looks like this: no names regarding who received the money, no precise time concerning when, no specific department within the agency that received the money. Even if the U.S. government has provided more detailed information about the transactions to demand-side governments, the lack of public disclosure means that if the demand-side government takes no action, local activists lack the ability to use “naming and shaming” techniques effectively.

To go after the bribe-takers effectively–and to put pressure on demand-side governments to do so–we need the names, the dates, and the details of the corrupt transactions.  How do we get them?  I propose a novel (and admittedly aggressive) use of freedom of information laws, like the U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Here’s how it would work:

Continue reading