The Maduro government has good reason to direct its attention towards corruption. While it is endemic in countries dominated by extractive industries, and while the Chávez government was long criticized as corrupt, the issue has increased in importance in recent years as the social and economic progress of the 2004-2008 period seems to have stagnated. Even among government supporters there is a sinking feeling that things should be better than they are and that corruption is to blame.

Venezuelan polling firm Datanalisis just released data from June showing perceptions of the government’s work against corruption are worse (-57%) than any other issue except for crime (-66%). Furthermore, a model Datanalisis uses to hierarchize issues according to how much they help or hurt Maduro’s job approval shows that perception of corruption is the most potent negative issue.

On July 9 Transparency International (TI) released the results of its 2013 Global Barometer which surveys the perceptions of average people. According to the survey 57% of Venezuelan respondents think that corruption has “increased a lot” in the past two years and 83% said corruption is a serious problem in the public sector. 57% of respondents said that the government’s efforts in fighting corruption were ineffective.

Venezuela ranks 165 of 176 countries in the TI’s corruption perception index which surveys expert’s perception of corruption.

Transparencia Venezuela, the local chapter of TI, has welcomed the government’s renewed focus on corruption but has questioned the effectiveness of its strategy. In June they put out a press release that urged the government “to translate this push [against corruption] into public policies supported with adequate resources, technology and knowledge.” They particularly criticized the fact that this initiative was being carried out by a new, secret organ within the Executive Branch, rather than by strengthening existing institutions.

The country is seeing how acts of corruption have been taking place under their noses. We are happy that the president has realized this but the fight against corruption is much more complicated than this. The investigations cannot be put in military hands, nor carried out by secret presidential organisms. The organization that is in charge of these investigations should do so under the principles of transparency, autonomy, and security that the fight against powerful and dangerous enemies requires.

They put forth six recommendations to put the country in line with international best practices.

  • Return corruption investigations to civil justice rather than military intelligence.
  • Guarantee resources and security to the investigators, police and judges in charge of corruption cases.
  • Investigate the corruption networks within which these seven individuals [that have been arrested] were immersed, including their superiors, and take actions to address institutional weaknesses that permitted these acts.
  • Investigation and prosecution should be carried out by the Judicial Branch not the Executive Branch
  • Due process for those who are implicated to make sure this does not turn into a witch hunt.
  • Release the declarations of patrimony that all Venezuelan public employees have to file.

More broadly, the press release pointed attention to TV’s 99 point anti-corruption plan for 2013-19 released at the end of 2012.

The lack of public information on the corruption cases the government has recently taken on, the fact that the government has not taken on bigger cases, and the improvised nature of the initiative leads TV director Mercedes de Freites to be skeptical of the government’s efforts.  “We still have not seen any important decision that would make us believe that the government has decided to truly fight against corruption.”