Corruption in Colombia

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Corruption in Colombia is a pervasive problem at all levels of government.

Colombia currently ranks 83rd of 168 in the Corruption Perceptions Index of 2015, tied with Benin, China, Liberia, and Sri Lanka.[1]

Different factors have contributed to political corruption in Colombia including drug trafficking, guerrilla and paramilitary conflict, weak surveillance and regulation from institutions, threats and harassment to whistle-blowers and a widespread apathy from society to address unethical behavior.

Impact of corruption[edit]

Between 1989 and 1999, corruption in Colombia is estimated to have cost the state 1% of its GDP annually.[2] In addition to the economic cost of corruption, other aspects of Colombian society have been affected such as the loss of credibility in politicians and the Colombian government, as well as the discouragement and demoralization of society at large to participate in anything related to politics.

A 2005 study published by Transparency for Colombia (Transparencia por Colombia) assessed the index of integrity of governments, assemblies and comptrollers at the departmental level and concluded that none of those dependencies scored an appropriate level of integrity.[3] 51% were prone to high or very high levels of corruption.[3]

Colombia's modern corruption takes place mostly at the level of business between politicians and officials with private contractors and companies. The lack of ethical behavior on both sides, private individuals or organizations and politicians have resulted in a culture known in Colombia as "serrucho" (saw), in which it is almost the norm for individuals to bribe politicians in order to be granted contracts and where politicians add commissions and extra costs for their own benefit. Other sources of corruption come from the result of privatization of government owned institutions in which the profits are used by individuals for their own wealth.[4]

According to Transparency for Colombia, the country ranks 70 in the Perception of Corruption index. However the problem of corruption is a high priority to only 2.9% of the people interviewed versus violence which is a high priority to 31.49% and unemployment which is a high priority to 20.7%.[5]

According to a study by the Universidad Externado de Colombia, corruption is one of the main factors that render doing business difficult in Colombia. 91% of entrepreneurs consider that some business owners that pay bribes. 16.92% say that a businessperson will offer a bribe and out of the 28.4% of entrepreneurs who were asked for money or favors by a government official, only 8.52% reported it to the authorities in an effective way.[5][6]

Current levels of corruption have increased steadily since 2009 and continue getting worse as the Attorney General and the comptroller discover corruption at almost every level of government from local to national. In September 2009 48.000 government officials including 800 mayors and 30 governors were being investigated for corruption. The issue of corruption has not been isolated to one political party with accusations[from whom?] of corruption across the political spectrum from right-wing conservatives in the Party of National Unity, to the left-wing Democratic Pole.[citation needed]

The discouragement of the society with addressing the many cases of corruption in Colombia also stems from the well known immunity. Only a small percentage of officials investigated for corruption are likely to suffer legal consequences. In addition it is difficult for the judicial system to handle many investigations at lower levels. At the top, politicians avoid prosecution by political maneuvers and loopholes, sometimes under the protection of their own political party. An example of this is the attempt of the Party of National Unity to pass a bill that would protect its politicians involved in the parapolitics scandal.[7]

Colombia's corruption is also the result of a long coexistence between the drug trafficking and a rush of society to achieve easy wealth, thus rendering every aspect of society vulnerable to corruption, from politics, to agriculture and sports.

The concept of bribery is embedded in Colombia's society and the culture of "bite" (mordida) or "saw" (serrucho) are part of a subculture with its own language and expressions that are so widespread to almost make it the norm.

Corruption within institutions[edit]

Many institutions in Colombia have been the subject of administrative corruption. Large institutions that span across industries are example of major cases of corruption including: Ferrovias (national railroad administration), Caprecom (health care), Foncolpuertos (ports authority), Termorrio (energy), Dragacol (civil engineering), Chivor reservoir (water supply) and contracts with foreign companies such as Mexican ICA for the pavement of streets in Bogota are just a few.

A study by the UN found that globally the cost of corruption by official employees is ten times the cost of illegal acts such as common felony. In Colombia the problem is so big and widespread that "nobody knows what to do about it". Recent studies of criminal behavior in the country indicate that while the rate of crime grew annually in about 39.7%, the criminal behavior by officials at the government local and national grew 164.1% and despite this increase there are few convictions. The levels of administrative corruption are so high that as of 2011 the media reports of such felonies overshadow the stories on terrorism or armed conflict.[8]

Politic scandals[edit]

Colombian corruption scandals are often related to the conflict that has affected Colombia for 50 years.

  • The Proceso 8000, the legal investigation to the events that happened in the middle-1990s, when the president of Colombia, Ernesto Samper, was accused of receiving money from drug lords for his electoral campaign.[9]
  • The Colombian parapolitics scandal, which debuted in 2006, revealed links between politicians and paramilitaries. Supporters of Álvaro Uribe's government are involved in this scandal.
  • The Yidispolitics Scandal, caused by declarations of the Colombian ex-representative, Yidis Medina, in which she claims that Colombian government offered her important jobs and money if she voted for the approval of Uribe's reelection.[10][11]
  • The 2006 DAS scandal, in which the now-defunct Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (Administrative Department of Security) illegally wiretapped the telephones and other communication lines of Supreme Court magistrates, judges, senators, journalists and other prominent figures perceived as opposition to the Álvaro Uribe administration.
  • The 2011 DIAN (Office of taxation and customs) scandal in which the administrative staff plotted ways to steal millions of dollars from the Colombian taxpayers through a complex system of fake companies and legal loopholes.[12]
  • In 2011 a number of mayors in different departments misused money that was supposed to help Colombians that were affected by floods. Instead of using this money for the victims this officials used the funds for political campaigns and personal matters.[13]
  • In September 2011 former mayor of Bogota Samuel Moreno was convicted for irregularities in contracts with private businesses, under a scandal named "contract carousel" by the media.[14]
  • In February 2014 a massive corruption network within the Colombian army was exposed. High-ranking military officers siphoned money and took bribes in order to grant contracts. Some of this senior officers took bribes up to 50% of the cost of the contracts they awarded. Other elements of the military were taking money that was intended to be used for military supplies [15]

See also[edit]

A world map of the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International



  1. ^
  2. ^ Gómez, Santiago Alejandro Gallón; Portilla, Karol Gómez (September 2000). "El fenómeno de la corrupción y su influencia en la economía colombiana entre 1960 y 1999" (PDF) (in Spanish). OCASA. 
  3. ^ a b Romero, Gina; Hernández, Nicolás (2005-11-22). "OCASA – Seminario transparencia en la gestión pública". OCASA (Powerpoint presentation) (in Spanish). OCASA. Archived from the original on 2014-09-29. 
  4. ^ Montoya, Aurelio Suárez (4 December 2007). "Historia reciente de corrupción en Colombia: el ejemplo de Pereira : Indymedia Colombia". Indymedia Colombia (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 14 September 2008. Retrieved 2014-09-30. 
  5. ^ a b "La Corrupción en Colombia" (in Spanish). Transparencia por Colombia. Archived from the original on 23 March 2012. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Corruption: Colombia’s biggest problem is only getting worse". Colombia News - Colombia Reports. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  8. ^ "Corrupción en Colombia". 2 August 2004. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  9. ^ "Colombia President's Aide Linked to Drug Money". New York Times. 27 July 1995. 
  10. ^ "Libro revelará los sobornos, promesas y presiones para aprobar la primera reelección de Uribe" (in Spanish). Caracol Radio. 2008-07-02. Retrieved 2008-04-20. 
  11. ^ "Votar la reelección me mató". Norbey Quevedo. El Espectador. 2008-03-28. Retrieved 21 April 2008. 
  12. ^ "Procuraduría citó a audiencia pública a ex directores de la Dian". El Tiempo (in Spanish). 15 July 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2011. 
  13. ^ "Investigan a 17 alcaldes por mal uso de recursos para invierno". El Tiempo (in Spanish). 7 September 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2011. 
  14. ^ "Samuel Moreno, a la cárcel por el carrusel de la contratación". El Tiempo (in Spanish). 23 September 2011. Retrieved 23 September 2011. 
  15. ^ "BBC News - Colombian leader 'outraged' by army corruption claims". BBC News. Retrieved 16 December 2014.