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A global wish for honest leaders

Shift in thought

Can there be a #MeToo-style campaign against corruption? One region shows that a cross-border movement is possible.

In this March 26, 2017 photo, people march against corruption and in support of the Car Wash investigation on Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
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  • The Monitor's Editorial Board

The prime minister of Norway made a welcome suggestion at this year’s World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. She asked that a #MeToo-style campaign be launched against corruption.

“We need to see who is taking money, who is bribing others, and show that this is unacceptable in all our societies,” said Erna Solberg, one of the co-chairs, who are all women, at Davos.

The #MeToo movement does indeed have three key aspects that inspire imitation: It is largely grass roots. It is global in scope. And it started with empathy (or “me too”) for a set of victims, specifically those who have experienced sexual misconduct.

In recent years, many countries, from Romania to South Korea, have seen popular uprisings against corrupt rulers. These national movements did not go global. Nor did they come with a catchy hashtag. Yet they were all grass roots. They reflect a rising expectation for honesty and transparency in government.

If there is any cross-border movement against corruption, it is in Latin America. Several countries such as Brazil and Guatemala have demonstrated dramatic shifts in public thought against graft in high places. One reason is that a regional construction firm, Odebrecht, has been caught bribing officials in several countries. Another is that Pope Francis has visited Latin America twice with an anti-corruption theme. “This is a battle that involves all of us,” said the head of the Roman Catholic Church on his latest visit.

And a survey last year by the watchdog group Transparency International revealed that 70 percent of people in the region believe ordinary people can make a difference in fighting corruption, which is defined as the abuse of public office for private gain.

Brazil has made the most progress in exposing corruption, even up to the presidency. “Impunity is no longer the rule,” writes Sérgio Moro, the judge overseeing the so-called Car Wash investigations that have felled dozens of top leaders, in Americas Quarterly.

Lately, Argentina has taken the spotlight. Since the election of Mauricio Macri as president in 2015, and after a renewed mandate in 2017, the country has seen social and economic reforms that reflect a popular demand against corruption. At least five prominent former officials, including a vice president, have been charged with corruption.

“People showed in [the] 2015 and 2017 elections that they were tired of decay, inefficiency and corruption but ready and hungry for a different and effective recipe for individual and national progress,” states Laura Alonso, the head of Argentina’s national anti-corruption office, in the same publication. Mr. Macri’s reforms are built on “a sustained social demand,” she adds.

This year, Argentina assumed the presidency of the Group of Twenty, a club of wealthy countries that has helped set higher global standards against corruption over the past decade. If Argentina can use the experience of Latin America to propel this cause into a truly global movement, then perhaps Norway’s prime minister might get her wish.

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