Newspapers were inundated with opinion pieces on corruption. In PUBLIC alone, I’ve read seven in the past ten days. As a rule, I avoid fashion themes – why rain in the wet? – but today I can’t resist. I don’t have much to offer. Actually, I only have questions.
A smell of shame hangs in the air, a black sheep from Portugal, a lost case, people going from bad to worse. Historian Fátima Bonifácio summed up the problem as follows: “Portugal is a country mired in corruption.”
“Atolado” is a familiar with grace, which is not meant to be taken literally, as it would be pointless – or populist – to describe Portugal as “muddy ground” or a country of “moral modesty”, synonyms suggested by the dictionary.
Even so, I keep thinking: “blocked” means what? That all officials – from university professors to the President of the Republic – are corrupt? That nothing in the state works without corruption? That all public office holders exchange favors, money and benefits with each other? That we can’t believe nobody and nothing?
I belong to a generation that no longer puts money into driving licenses when GNR tells us to stop. Who do you think today of going to a Citizen’s Shop and putting 50 euros between the papers you give to the employee?
We know it was like that for years. They told us and it is described. In the book Correspondance diplomatique irlandaise sur le Portugal, Estado Novo et Salazar, 1941-1970, by historian Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses, the first Irish business leader in Lisbon, Colman O’Donovan, paints a black portrait of Portugal : “Public officials are ready to accept bribes that the public has become accustomed to paying. The number of accusations of irregularities is enormous, which are not limited to businessmen, but include civil servants, many of whom hold high positions, guilds and other public service organizations.
With the maturation of democracy, small bribes have disappeared. Corners can’t. In the past, they arrived by letter. It was enough for me to leaf through Salazar and Caetano – Cartas Secretas (1932-1968), by José Freire Antunes, for a few minutes to find Marcello Caetano asking the Prime Minister to choose “my friend Dr. Carlos Lobo de Oliveira” for a place at the Administrative Court supreme. Today I imagine the coins are coming through WhatsApp.
I am not saying that in Portugal there is no corruption or that the problem is slight. There is a lot of corruption, corruption needs to be tackled, and experts are not tired – well – of suggesting ways to strengthen prevention.
The best of Público by email
Subscribe to newsletters for free and receive the best news and the most in-depth work from Público.
The difference is knowing – tailor-made – if corruption is the rule, if there is more of it than in the countries with which we have to compare ourselves and if it is increasing. Data is scarce and subjective. This is the first problem: Much of what we know about corruption – besides the high profile media cases – is based on perceptions. The most widely used is Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) – calculated from surveys of experts and entrepreneurs. There, Portugal occupies 30th place, with 62 points out of 100. Below Portugal, there are 160 countries with poorer self-assessments. How do the 62 points compare? Spain has 62, Italy 53 and Greece 48. I am talking about the countries of southern Europe with which we have historical and cultural affinities. In a survey conducted as part of the Varieties of Democracy in Southern Europe project, coordinated by Tiago Fernandes (ISCTE) and Staffan Lindberg (University of Gothenburg) and funded by FFMS, data shows that Portugal, France and Spain present similar and perceived corruption patterns. showy peaks over the past 30 years (1990-2018).
At the top of the IPC rankings are Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and Luxembourg. Canada is 12th and the United States 23rd. They will say: people lie so as not to damage the reputation of their country. In this case, the question remains: if we are not surprised by the perception that exists in the countries at the top, nor by the perception in the countries at the bottom of the table – Libya, North Korea, Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan , Venezuela, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan South and Somalia – why are we surprised by the perception of intermediate countries or the start of the pack?
The Attorney General’s office has factual data: between 2017 and 2018, 2,517 investigations into corruption and related offenses were closed, of which 1,334 were filed, 192 indicted, of which 152 resulted in an indictment (6%). Between 2007 and 2017, we went from 52 convicted of corruption to 117 in 2017. Has corruption or control increased? Do not know. I am not offering a naive look. Corruption in power has been a tragedy since classical antiquity. But it’s good to look at the data. The election season has already started and there is little calm.