THE BLOG

A Word to the Wise on Corruption in Honduras

If you ask anyone in Honduras what the biggest problem is in their country, the chances are that person will say, "Corruption." Yes, there is the horrible education system and the constant strikes by the teachers. Of course, there is the high crime rate and all those murders -- an average of 20 victims a day. Yep, there's the horrendous health care system and the fact that hospitals never have enough medicines and working equipment. Yeah, there's the pitiful government administration and the fact that many public employees almost never get paid on time and in full. There are the water shortages and the power shortages. The roads, highways and bridges are in a constant state disrepair. The drug trafficking, those nasty gangs.

But, in the end, most Hondurans will point to corruption as the single-most greatest problem Honduras faces -- corruption in all sectors of society, but particularly within government institutions... all the way from the top ministerial posts to the public employees at the bottom rung of the ladder.

If you ask any of the four presidential candidates -- Juan Orlando Hernández, Salvador Nasralla, Mauricio Villeda, and Xiomara Castro de Zelaya -- what their priorities will be should they become the next President of Honduras, no doubt they will say, "I will fight corruption and make sure that corrupt people are put in prison." This is particularly true of Mr. Nasralla and Mr. Villeda, who have made dealing with corruption the hallmark of their governing plan. The problem, of course, is that all of these individuals believe corruption is the central problem (or at least among the top three problems) in Honduras.

Unfortunately, it is precisely this belief that is the problem... because until the four candidates and the Honduran people, as a whole, realize that corruption is a "symptom" of a dysfunctional government (and society), then they will continually miss the mark with their "solutions," and corruption will continue to prosper and grow in Honduras.

All the candidates talk about not hiring or appointing people who are corrupt. All of them insist they will not tolerate corrupt people within their administration. All of them emphasize they will prosecute corrupt people to the full extent of the law. All of them talk tough, a good game. But talking tough won't solve corruption in Honduras, neither will putting a few people away. The jails and prisons are already overflowing with criminals, and there's not enough money to build new ones. So where would the candidates propose we put all those new criminals they plan to prosecute? And creating anti-corruption commissions to investigate cases of corruption? Well, they're a joke, window dressing.

No Honduran leader has been able to effectively deal with corruption, not because this social phenomenon is difficult and complex (which it certainly is), but because presidents, ministers, members of Congress, business executives, office managers, and others in positions of decision-making authority insist on tackling the problem with top-down approaches, rather than dealing with the underlying issues that give rise to most corruption in the first place. When it comes to corruption, Honduran leaders have remained loyal followers of the adage (attributed both to Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin), "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Dear Juan Orlando, Salvador, Mauricio, and Xiomara... please listen carefully. When it comes to corruption, top-down approaches will not work. It doesn't matter how competent you may think you are, how honest, how ingenuous, how unique, how committed, how tough. It doesn't matter how wonderful and talented of a team you think you have behind you. The only hope for reducing corruption in Honduras lies with bottom-up approaches that first deal with the problems that encourage, force people to steal, cheat, manipulate, lie, and commit fraud. The most obvious place to start is Honduras' system for paying salaries and wages. In developed nations, where corruption is only a minor problem, people get paid.

Ever since I was nine years old and started delivering newspapers in Norfolk, Virginia, my employers have never missed paying me. Never. Not when I worked earning $1.75 per hour wiping off tables, cleaning bathrooms and sweeping the parking lots at Hardee's. Not when I worked earning $2.20 as an orderly at Halifax Memorial Hospital. Not when I worked as a room service waiter at the Hyatt House when I was in college. Not when I worked as an intern and later as a legislative correspondent and aide in the U.S. Senate. Not when I worked as a defense market analyst with Jane's. Not when I taught dance at Arthur Murray. Not since I've been working as a space market analyst with the Teal Group.

I've always been paid for the time I put in. I've never had much money, but I've always had enough to live on without worrying about having the basics. At least 70 percent of the people in Honduras cannot say the same thing. This is wrong.

Juan Orlando, Salvador, Mauricio, and Xiomara... if you happen to become the next President of Honduras, you must first fix the government's broken system for paying its employees. You must ensure that all public workers get paid on time, every time. No excuses. Until this happens consistently for six months to a year, you should not receive a single penny of compensation for your work, and neither should any of your ministers, ambassadors, or members of Congress. You and all of the guys and gals at the top should feel what it's like to do without salaries for months at a time. Perhaps then, you might be able to fully appreciate what hundreds of thousands of Hondurans must constantly endure.

Juan Orlando, Salvador, Mauricio, and Xiomara... if you happen to become the next President of Honduras, you must also find a way to ensure that businesses -- large, medium and small, as well as both domestic- and foreign-owned -- throughout Honduras pay a fair wage to every single one of their employees. If there is a set minimum wage, then you must guarantee that it is being paid to everyone. Plus, you must make sure that that wage is a "living wage". It's up to you and your team of advisers to determine what that means.

Your failure to fix the salary and wage payment system in Honduras, and radically alter the dynamic of how people get compensated for their time and effort, will end in a failed Presidency.

Until Hondurans are relieved of their overwhelming fear of how they will manage to feed, house and clothe themselves and their families another day or another week, there will be no end to corruption in Honduras. The most honest, hard-working, good, and gentle person can be driven to the most extreme measures in order to survive and care for his or her family. If you do not believe this, then you've lived an overly pampered and isolated existence. The idea that "the end never justifies the means" is usually true, but much less so in Honduras, where there is so much greed, injustice, and incompetence among those who are getting fat at the expense of three-quarters of the country's 8.5 million people.

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