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Transformation Is More Than Just Change

MEXICO

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Corruption cannot be beaten with weapons, pistols, police, or prosecutors. So what remedy can we possibly apply?

This and similar questions have been in the minds of millions of Mexicans as every day they take in new reports of acts of wanton corruption. People that were once respected and who occupied positions of honor are now found to be "on the take." When will this story ever end?

Corruption is a direct product of the injustices that we all comment on, all the time and everywhere. It is not just in politics where this takes place. It's also in business. In sports. In the academe. In churches and in the family. Corruption is all around us, and it is the source of the poverty with which we are so well acquainted. This, in turn, is a direct motive for the thousands who opt for a life of narcotrafficking. For those who sell pirated products. It generates indifference, destroys trust in our leaders and the bureaucracy, along the many other social ills that frustrate us in Mexico.

According to Bank of Mexico data (Banxico) and the World Bank, the cost of corruption in Mexico is equal to nine per cent of the Gross Domestic Product, some 347 billion pesos (~$18.7 billion US) per year. Those pesos could be applied to necessary infrastructure projects, for combating poverty, or other programs the government paused this year due to budget strains.

Corruption, then, has stalled the nation's progress, but it has accelerated the progress of certain people: those that flaunt the riches of Mexico. According to the OCDE, 10% of Mexicans control 40% of the country's wealth, while the poorest 10% control only 1.4% of the resources. This produces a profound inequality that grows with every step the country takes.

Due to the project I direct here in Mexico, called Thrive Without Bribes, I travel through the entire country, and I know of what I speak. These are not stories I read in some news outlet or magazine. I have witnessed them in Tamaulipas, in Morelos, Baja California, and Mexico City. All our cities have potholes in the streets, just like we do in Ciudad Juarez.

In every city, the public hospitals lack medicine and sufficient beds for the sick. The elderly bemoan their miserable pensions. Public schools are in deplorable condition. Our education system is such a fine embarrassment that of all the OCDE countries, Mexico is last in indices of achievement. Why is this so? Because of the shameful corruption that we suffer and that turns us into victims. The corruption a core of individuals have used to amass fortunes that have wounded millions of Mexicans.

Corruption indeed costs each of us something, about 14,000 pesos per year ($750 US). According to IMCO, INEGO and other organizations that measure corruption, in Mexico some 200 million acts of corruption take place every year (as reported by mienstrastantoenmexico.mx). Whether we wish it or whether we are even aware, money is taken out of every Mexican's hands by corruption each year.

The exact statistics can be questioned. Different sources have differing numbers. But the corruption is real. Mexico occupies seat number 123 out of 172 countries in the corruption rankings of Transparency International.

Every attempt the government claims it has taken to combat the problem has so far ended in failure. Why? Because corruption cannot be fought by decrees, or laws, without ethics or morals. Attempting to do so is merely to flail against the wind.

A magistrate of the H. Superior Justice Tribunal of the State of Morelos commented to me that the law "is the minimal expression of morality that is required to permit society to function." It follows that the constant violations of the law are then a lack of morality. Ergo, no one respects the law.

The Secretary of Public Works, Arely Gomez, recently made a statement that caught my attention because it was the first of its kind from an official who heads a secretariat of the government. She said, "To put an end to acts of corruption requires a cultural change and a holistic focus." But I must ask, what does she mean by this?

She did not elaborate, and so we might speculate that she is thinking of deep  change in legal structures but also socio-cultural changes. Mexicans are not all in agreement that the problem of corruption is linked to culture. But in fact in culture we can find well established principle of the dreadful axiom "He who does not bribe does not thrive." We have grown up with this mantra. We think about it all the time. It is a fundamental part of the cost of doing business of all kinds. Corruption flows from all parts.

And so, yes, a deep change is what is required. But what we are really after is transformation, which is not a word I have heard as part of any proposal or holistic solution. Transformation is totalitarian. It means that he who steals, steals no more. This is an outcome of a personal decision - freely taken, a result of thought and conscience - to cease participating in corruption. This is a task for real men and women, not for the weak-willed or cowardly. It will take people of character and no one else.

The "Thrive Without Bribes" program, which is presently preparing judges and magistrates of the H. Superior Justice Tribunal of the State of Morelos, is working to contribute to this program of change that Secretary Arely Gomez spoke about. Thrive Without Bribes is working toward a structural and foundational change in order to fight corruption. In a word, we want transformation. That is the heart of the matter.

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Daniel Valles is a journalist and commentator based in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and a regular contributor to The Media Project. He can be reached on Twitter at @elmeoyodlasunto and by email at elmeollodelasunto@gmail.com.

Photo credit: Flickr user Victor.

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