Citizenry as a Failing State’s Last Resort

By Edie Cux.

On the morning of June 22, 2022, the newspaper Prensa Libre published on its website that Guatemala’s ranking on the Capacity to Combat Corruption Index (CCC) had dropped. The country earned a score of 3.38 out of 10, which places it among the bottom three nations in the region in terms of the number of policies against that scourge. The nation’s overall score fell 12% compared to the previous year, though it held its rank of 13th, surpassing only Bolivia (with a score of 2.57) and Venezuela (with 1.63).

Guatemala is falling in an endless spiral of corruption and impunity as little by little the Public Ministry and Comptroller General have been hijacked by criminal political networks. These networks have debilitated institutions and gone after independent justice advocates and those who fight unchecked corruption. The State no longer has any independent institutions remaining.

This corruption has its effects. In February 2022, the digital media organization Plaza Pública exposed in one of its articles that “The National Report on Human Development (INDH) 2020 called ‘Swift change: Toward a territorial look of human development’ is some 600 pages long and describes how increases in poverty, a lack of food security, environmental issues, land dispossession and even natural phenomena contribute to the critical conditions that force Guatemalans to emigrate, mainly to Mexico and the United States.”

Furthermore, this alliance of the corrupt seeks to silence the voices of independent journalism. The recent capture of José Ruben Zamora, director of elPeriódico, shows the quick way in which the pillars of democracy are crumbling. These facts show the necessity of the people to react. The citizenry is the State’s last resort.

This is how the fundamental rights of social audit and public information can be crucially important in this historic moment marked by shadows and corruption. It is through these rights that the citizenry can have access to public affairs and expose them. The more corruption is exposed, the more the citizenry’s interest in much-needed institutional changes will grow. It is for this reason that social audit is the ideal tool for exposing the abuses and poor administration of public servants.

But what is social audit? The Practical Guide to Social Audit as a Participatory Tool to Strengthen Democratic Governance, Transparency, and Accountability, published by the UNDP, explains that it is a form of citizen participation that centers on government performance and accountability.

“The central objective of a social audit is to monitor, track, analyze, and evaluate government performance, thus making public officials accountable for their actions and decisions. As an evaluation of government performance, a social audit exercise can be considered a mechanism of social oversight: that is, the control that citizens can exert on their government officials to ensure that they act transparently, responsibly and effectively,” the guide reveals.

Through social audit, the population can improve its quality of life and claim its rights in the face of power. The guide lists some benefits of social audit, like for example how it’s a tool in the fight against corruption, how it strengthens confidence in democratic governance, and how it helps public servants and entities anticipate potential problems that they may face.

The document also clarifies that governments are not always willing to cooperate with or allow citizen monitoring of their activities. In this case, it recommends the development of effective and creative means of communicating the findings of a social audit to call the attention of public servants.

If the citizenry does not wake up and mobilize, either through social audit or peaceful resistance, the country will continue to be condemned to poverty and underdevelopment.

Edie Josué Cux García, a K’iche Mayan lawyer and notary, has been involved in the promotion of human rights, citizen political participation, transparency, and the fight against corruption for over 10 years. He is director of Transparency International’s Citizen Action group, Guatemala chapter.