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Transparency Talk Is Cheap for Chile’s Politicos

By: Malgorzata Lange - @MalgoLange - Oct 16, 2014, 7:51 pm

EspañolTransparency has been the buzzword in Chile for the past two weeks, as it has begun to appeal to politicians of all stripes. However, if recent events have made anything clear, it is that 26 years after the end of Augusto Pinochet’s reign, the emperor still has no clothes.

Two principal events brought about the debate, so let us dust off Aristotle and examine the politics of the “common good.”

The first involved an investigation into tax crimes, which opened a Pandora’s box of larger political fallout. The investigation led to the discovery of illegal financing for the conservative Democratic Independent Union (UDI), in a case now famously known as Pentagate.

The second, although seemingly unrelated, was no less uncomfortable for the ruling political class in Chile. It came during a university talk given by Comptroller of the Republic Ramiro Mendoza. Speaking off the cuff, he made reference to a “bunch of inappropriate and stupid things” Chile’s government and private business are currently engaged in.

Without repeating the comptroller’s assessments, both events speak to the fact that “something smells rotten in Chile” — and it’s not the chickens and the latest collusion in the Chilean market.

The tax case came to light when an investigation into crimes stumbled on an even larger problem: a seemingly direct flow of funds between prominent European financing institution Penta and Chilean electoral campaigns and political parties (especially trade unionists).

Aside from economic interests, both groups have forged a bond of friendship, a common history, and above all a still-misunderstood loyalty. This relationship has harbored practices that, from a health and political-system standpoint, are simply perverse.

Window Dressing of More Laws

Generally speaking, participants in the debate call attention to the shortcomings of the electoral law, the lack of efficient oversight, and deficiencies in campaign-finance laws that enable abuse. However, we must take our reflection to a deeper level to answer the question, why is it that only through tougher laws and oversight that we can guarantee correct and reasonably decent conduct from our politicians?

Faced with imperfect legislation, it seems that the basic civic virtues of honesty and integrity become unattainable and impractical in politics. Apparently, we should not expect these values to be honored unless laws make them obligatory and enforce them explicitly. That is the discourse that politicians present to us, without realizing how pathetic it is.

Chile’s politicians speak happily of the common good, their desire for transparency, jobs, public service, and their social commitment. Simultaneously, they accumulate political baggage that soon reveals the real reasons behind their actions and stances.

For now, the faces on television are marked by astonishment. Suddenly everyone is disgusted yet hardly surprised: “It was expected,” “the law wasn’t perfect,” the excuses proceed. Everyone knew about the undercover spending, we hear, but now those tied to it express remorse and regret. How can we be so naïve as to believe that?

The second case stems from the eloquent words of the comptroller of the republic. Aside from the debate being deftly redirected toward whether the comptroller should have said the things he said given his title, the critical takeaway is that a man in his position said what he did.

Mendoza has been a staunch critic of the policies and reforms of the new government, but also of the style of the Chilean political class. He has pointed weak and inefficient institutional practices, including a lack of control towards and debauchery with the privileged members of the private sector.

Following the news of the past few weeks, we suddenly see how political actors shake, speak with humility, wish to lead reform, and profess their love for transparency. This movement makes one suspect that politicians espousing the need for reform are in fact wary of inquires that might dig too deeply into the origin of their own campaign funds.

In any case, while words such as the common good, love, and public service return to the rhetoric of wasteful spending — so loved by politicians — we shouldn’t expect any Socratic stances anytime soon.

Translated by Peter Sacco. Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

Malgorzata Lange Malgorzata Lange

Malgorzata Lange is a native of Poland who lives in Santiago de Chile. She holds degrees in political science and international Relations, and is a PhD candidate at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. She is also a radio panelist on international politics issues. Follow @MalgoLange.