HAVANA TIMES – Cuba’s Comptroller’s office turns five years old and the anniversary is celebrated with the most important corruption trial in recent years, with heavy prison sentences requested for prominent foreign businessmen and top Cuban officials.
The appointment of Gladys Bejerano as Comptroler said little in itself to most Cubans but raised the ears of many politicians who tried to influence President Raul Castro to prevent the official from launching a full-fledged anti-corruption campaign.
After five years of operation the rest of us begin to understand the resentment of government administrators. Ms. Bejerano has sent to prison ministers, deputy ministers, managers and directors, foreign businessmen and many “rich kids”.
The signs of what was to come were not lacking; even President Raul Castro said in a public speech that no Cuban should believe that he/she is above the law, bearing a clear message to the ruling class and their families.
The Comptroller’s office was essential to combat internal corruption, a cancer that had metastasized throughout the body of the nation, to the point that Fidel Castro himself felt the need back in 2005 to warn that the revolution could destroy itself.
Despite the limited information provided about the fight against corruption, this five-year period makes clear that the disease is clearly immune to the ideological training of the political and government cadres and business ethics of some foreign millionaires.
Elements that facilitate corruption
Corruption is certainly not a problem unique to Cuba but the island has a long tradition. Back in 1951, Fulgencio Batista said that embezzlement was one of the three major problems of the country and that “the crisis was not derived because of the crimes committed, but because they were unpunished.”
There’s no way to avoid that some people are corrupted but there are elements that facilitate this. In Cuba, the fertile ground comes from excessive centralization, lack of controls, lack of transparency, and a lack of a vigilant press and bureaucratic oversight mechanisms.
The government promotes changes in all these areas but progresses very slowly. The ministries themselves are reluctantly letting go of some of their businesses and allowing for cooperatives to replace them, but the change is at a snail’s pace.
The huge number of companies in the hands of the government directly affects the lack of oversight and the need to maintain a huge, bureaucratic apparatus that often generates more problems than solutions.
Companies are created to manage other companies as is the case of import firms, further detaching them from the retailer and their customers while generating one more level susceptible to corruption. Officials serving prison sentences have commented that sometimes the supposed cure is worse than the disease.
The oversight of all these activities is very difficult and the State as both judge and jury doesn’t work. At a food company I know, the ministry that it is under warns weeks in advance of the “surprise” inspection it plans to carry out.
Likewise, little progress has been made on the issue of transparency, essential if they want people to participate in any way in the fight against corruption. When citizens cannot demand information from officials it creates a grey area that facilitates crimes.
The press could do a lot to promote transparency but the steps it has taken thus far are still minimal. Officials still believe they can handle journalists at will. Just days ago a newspaper claimed that the director of a hospital tried to forbid them from writing.
The work of the Comptroller during these five years has been very commendable but the cancer will be reborn again and again if the fight against corruption is not accompanied by other social, economic and political transformations in the nation.
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