Foreign Policy Blogs

The Effects of Legal and Illegal Corruption: The U.S., Canada and Venezuela Compared

Many Americans feel that their current system of government is unable to get anything done in any meaningful way. Conflicts between interests in the U.S. government has blocked essential legislation from being passed, and interest groups in the political system thrive off preventing the president from passing many of his key policy initiatives. While compromise is certainly needed in the United States at the moment, the American political system has done a good job in identifying and eliminating corrupt practices and in promoting policies that reflect the core ideals of the American people. When there are questions of unfair or corrupt practices in the United States, the country is able to address the issues. While many issues are not technically illegal, the U.S. will maintain the authority to challenge for equality. Any less is simply a detriment to society. The best recent example was the absurd and inequitable wait times in some areas of the U.S. that voters had to endure in order to vote in the last election. Hiding behind non-existent, inequitable or unjust laws cannot be tolerated when there is a clear breach of confidence in a society. In the end, no matter what their backgrounds are, all Americans have the same right to vote as anyone else in the country. Discouraging their rights to participate in an election is now something commonly seen as a stain on American democracy.

America’s neighbors are not strangers to conflicts in their political systems. In the Canadian Province of Ontario, the last regional election resulted in a scandal where the Provincial government that has been sitting for over 10 years wasted over 500 million dollars in order to win two seats in the last election. Information revealed this week showed that the costs of a policy move to cancel the construction of two power plants was likely done in order to secure the votes of those two seats during the election. After the opposition challenged that the government simply moved the power plants for votes by using public funds, the sitting government closed all business in the legislature in order to stop the ability of the opposition to bring inquiries onto the sitting Premier of Ontario and his party at the time. During this downtime, the governing party removed their leader and others who had direct links to the movement of the power plants, and reopened when they saw it fit to do so. After, they claimed the 500 million dollar bill only costs 40 million, but it is apparent that the government used public funds to needlessly change a policy decision to win a majority in the parliament and that they likely knew of the real costs in the process.

While claiming that using this policy move was not part of their campaign plan to be re-elected and was not illegal, there is a clear violation of the customary laws prevalent in all Commonwealth countries and the legal tradition of equity when one political party can use a large amount of public funds in order to be re-elected to their own benefit. Clearly the legislature should have never been allowed to be closed and one party should not be able to have such a large financial advantage using public funds for their own political party. To maintain the legitimacy of the political system, charges ranging from corrupt practices to criminal charges should be laid on any member of the current or past government that knowingly used public funds and lied to the costs of the amount in order to be re-elected. In a legal test, any reasonable person in that position as a government minister or advisor during an election campaign would clearly know that it is unjust and illegal when one party in government has the intent of using a policy decision in the middle of an election campaign in order to secure their seat. After the last U.S. election, there was a condemnation and acknowledgement of the errors of allowing voting wait times so long that it affected American democratic values. In Ontario, an acknowledgement of the issue should be met with charges and an election. The outcome of a large scandal is that a ruling party will always be seen as corrupt in every action they take, whether it is true or not. Democracy must be reaffirmed before a society can progress, and legality must be paramount over the issue so that equity prevails and ends the ability of corruption to continue.

To see how a political system works when there is no transparency in a government’s decisions and the ruling party is seen as lacking respect for legal equity and the confidence of society, we must look at this past week in Venezuela. After the last election, Nicolas Maduro won by a very thin margin and the opposition in Venezuela took to protest the vote, and have been protesting fervently since Hugo Chavez was officially replaced. The lack of confidence in the Venezuelan political system comes from many years of Hugo Chavez and actions by his government to solidify Chavez and his presidency beyond the powers of the legislature and Judiciary in Venezuela. Claims by both the government and opposition of violence and intimidation being used is so prevalent that a recent discussion in Venezuela’s National Assembly lead to many ministers being physically beaten in a brawl on the floor of their congress. Venezuelan politics is a reflection of how power can be abused and maintained by all parties claiming guilt over their opponents. When all political groups in a country are painted as bad as the worst ones and the government denies traditional balances in their political system, there are no mechanisms that provide for transparency and inquiry into legal and illegal actions by government ministers. In broken democracies, elections can be the only form of equity when the lines between legal and illegal are no longer respected. Without a true balance and respect for legal norms and traditions along with an equitable government and a mechanism to clear out corrupt practices, a healthy democracy cannot truly exist. The valves that exist in democratic and fair government systems to defuse tensions must always be respected in order for a society to progress. It is to the benefit of very few people when a legal system will support inequitable acts simply to legitimise corruption and end progress in our society. The legal system is an outcome of democratic values, to promote inequity in a legal system is to lack an understanding of democracy as a whole.



Richard Basas
Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration


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