Geo-Economics and Politics

How Latin America is getting to grips with corruption

Eduardo Leite
Chairman Emeritus and Senior Partner, Baker McKenzie
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Latin America

There seems to be no shortage of headlines at the moment alleging corruption and misconduct across Latin America’s leading economies. Would this be an indication that corruption has reached an all time high? Or is this an indication that the key elements of democracy, free press, independent prosecution and the rule of law are working effectively? I chose the latter.

It is also clear that attitudes are hardening. What may be considered by some an accepted part of doing business in the region has gradually been recognized as a major impediment to progress and prosperity since Latin America has emerged as a leading destination for global investment. The region and its people have ambitions for modernization of systems and structures, and this is shown, among others, by the introduction of new laws and regulations designed to help tackle these conduct challenges more effectively.

Recent measures, such as the Anti-Money Laundering legislation launched in Mexico in 2012 and the Anti-Bribery Law introduced in Brazil in 2014, are necessary steps toward curbing corrupt practices, but in order for Latin America to truly prosper, a spotlight must be placed on tackling the more deep rooted tolerance of corruption and its true cost to the region.

At the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2015 we are addressing both the means to eliminate corruption as well as the economic and social development costs that impact businesses and communities across Latin America.

The starting point should be a public, private and societal dialogue about the cost of doing business, the waste of public resources, as well as the social and economic exclusion produced by misconduct and deviation of public resources. In addition, there must be a realization that as the rule of law and its enforcement are undermined so is public trust in institutions and leaders.

To remain competitive in the global economy, a new era of leadership in Latin America based on integrity, transparency and compliance must emerge and change the existing culture of tolerance among many public and private sector managers and the public in general.

Anti corruption requires a shared responsibility among all leaders in society, and as new regulations and models for transparency are introduced, there must be a general sense of accountability and obligation to ensure that we are all moving in the right direction.

Latin America has benefited from some boom years. But  continued long term economic growth will depend on its ability to follow high norms and standards of doing business. With expansion and modernization comes increased scrutiny. Ultimately, the threat of rampant corruption, real or perceived, could delegitimize the regulatory framework of our markets, prompting business leaders, entrepreneurs and investors around the world to look elsewhere.

To ensure the region’s long-term success, the historical tolerance of corruption must be eliminated while new strategies for oversight and responsibility are introduced and upheld. That approach has to start with the right tone at the top – from the leaders in our markets both in the public and private sector.

The World Economic Forum on Latin America 2015 takes place in Riviera Maya, Mexico, from 6-8 May.

Author: Eduardo Leite, Chairman of the Executive Committee, Baker & McKenzie, and a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on Latin America 2015.

Image: A worker checks currency sheets during a media visit to the Casa da Moeda do Brazil (Brazilian Mint) in Rio de Janeiro, August 23, 2012. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

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