During his State of the Nation address before Congress on March 1st, President Mauricio Macri dedicated a large part of his speech to criticizing the way in which the former Kirchner administration had attempted to deal with corruption.
“Corruption kills, as it was demonstrated by the Cromañón and Once tragedies, and the ‘death roads.’ Corruption can’t nor should be left unpunished,” he said.
Because of this, he announced he will send several bills to Congress to tackle this issue in an attempt to have a more “transparent” government.
This series of laws includes a bill to reduce criminal sentences for people involved in corruption scandals who come clean, a law granting access to public information and one allowing for assets to be seized from corrupt officials so they don’t lose value while the accused are being tried.
The new head of the Anti Corruption Office, former PRO National Deputy Laura Alonso, will spearhead the project. Macri’s government’s idea is to have the agency focus on improving public policies instead of pursuing corrupt officials as the former government used to do. This task, they say, will be left up to judicial prosecutors.
So, let’s take a look at what these bills are all about:
The Repentance Law
This law would imply less harsh corruption sentences for those who cooperate with the government by giving information on corruption rings or organizations. How? People collaborating with the government would not be seen as having committed the crime but only having attempted to do so.
The law also considers giving more benefits to those whose information helps prevent or stop the crime they’re being accused of, or to bust other corrupt organization members who would get an equal or higher conviction than them.
Anti Corruption Office Head Laura Alonso said that providing benefits — which already exists for people who provide information in cases that investigate terrorism and human trafficking— could attract people “with a lot of information that could take down corrupt organizations.”
The bill’s goal is to speed up the process to seize assets that have been acquired as a product of corrupt activities. Why? Right now, the government has to wait for corruption cases to end before getting a hold of the assets that have been bought with public money. The problem is that, since it usually takes a long time for cases to get a final sentence, seized assets that could otherwise be auctioned off by the government can lose value.
As an example, we could point out that a 1 million dollar yacht that belonged to former Transportation Secretary Ricardo Jaime is currently stuck in Uruguay, awaiting for a federal judge to determine whether Jaime bought it with embezzled funds or not. So, how would the government get around this with the new law? According to Infobae, the bill proposes to have a parallel, shorter case just focused on seizing assets in order to avoid these sort of situations.
This bill’s main goal is to get Argentina into the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD) an organization currently comprising 30 countries that collectively produce 60 percent of the world’s goods and services. In order to join the cool kids’ club, the OECD requires Argentina to have a law that punishes international bribery. Why? It allows the country to go after local businessmen who pay bribes outside the borders and/or public officials who take them, a necessary requirement to increase transparency and enforce a more aggressive fight against corruption.
To fulfill the OECD’s requirements, the bill would introduce two new measures to the one that’s currently in effect: First, it would extend the reach of the law, enabling people, and not just businesses as it does now, to be held responsible for these type of crimes. And second, it would give more power to the Federal Justice, allowing judges to try a public official for a crime committed out of the country without having to prove it had effects on the country, as they currently have to.
Unsurprisingly, the king of corruption cases, Ricardo Jaime, could also be affected by this new law, as he’s currently under investigation for the bribery scandal that has Brazil going down in flames. According to the investigation, Jaime may have stashed some money Brazil’s National Development Bank allocated the country to fund several public works.
Access To Information Law
During his State of the Nation address, Macri announced his administration will send a bill to Congress to pass a law granting all citizens access to public information, the goal being to “have a transparent State that’s open to collaboration.” He also manifested the need to modify the law by which the State currently acquires goods to “end corruption and improve efficiency.”
The measure had already been announced by Modernization Minister Andrés Ibarra, who said the overall objective is to have a digital platform for all three branches (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) in order to finally achieve transparency. The project would also have private companies that receive public funding report on how they spend the money the government gives them.
This is set to bring back a more in-depth system for public officials’ sworn declaration of assets. The new law would compel officials to report their spouses’ assets as well as theirs, and report the gifts they receive as a consequence of their jobs.
The bill will also attempt to restrict the number of members from a single family the State can employ and regulate the crossover of public officials from the public to the private sector.
This is relevant due to several accusations of nepotism against the former government, especially during last year. Perhaps you remember the controversy that was sparked after Delfina Rossi, daughter of former Defense Minister Agustín Rossi, was appointed board member of Banco Nación. After defending her designation during Cristina Kirchner’s presidency, Rossi, who had no banking experience per se prior to her appointment, resigned from her post when Mauricio Macri took office. She claimed she could not work for a government whose policies she did not agree with.
The new government has had several nepotism accusations of its own. Last week, Modernization Minister Andrés Ibarra found himself in the spotlight after it was revealed he had appointed his wife to the government’s radio and television agency without following the proper legal procedures.
To get these bills passed, the government will have to face groups of deputies that strongly oppose the initiative. When it comes to the Repentance Law, for example, Macri’s Cambiemos co-founder, Civic Coalition’s National Deputy Elisa Carrió, has already made it clear that she is not a fan of this proposal, and neither is the peronist sector of Congress.