San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Ricans perceive their country as most corrupt in Central America

Just as fighting poverty and going green have become buzz words in political circles, tackling corruption has taken root here as a popular effort as well.

A leading political party rose to power on a platform promising to rid the government of malefactors. Public prosecutors initiated substantial cases against two former presidents on accusations of fraud. And more people, from both within and outside of government, are looking to derail those who have used their power for personal gain.

“We´ve seen a growth in the concern over corruption,” said Jorge Vargas, deputy program director for the State of the Nation, which framed a recent report on the study of corruption in Central America.

According to the study, Costa Ricans have a higher awareness of corruption in their government than citizens of other Central American countries. Twenty-three percent of Costa Ricans surveyed said they are aware of some act of corruption taking place over the proceeding 12 months – which is almost double that of any other Central American country. Twelve percent of Salvadorans said they knew of incidences of corruption and 6 percent of Panamanians answered in the affirmative to the same question.

But measuring corruption is not an easy task, said Costa Rican Chief Prosecutor Francisco Dall´Anese, as it comes in many forms; public and private, large-scale and in modicum, national and international.

The study did measure the per capita expenditure on corruption cases in the justice system and found that Costa Rica registered $28.3 spent on such cases per resident, compared to runners up El Salvador at $19.1 and Panamá at $12.3.

But variables such as the lack of any legal framework to protect witnesses who report acts of corruption and the differences between the laws and legal systems of each country make the figures harder to read.

“When you ask, what is the country with the most corruption in the world? It´s difficult to answer because we don´t know where (the country) is coming from or where it needs to go,” Dall´Anese said, explaining that there are no established benchmarks. “Therefore, we need further study.”

Dall´Anese did say he expects more conversation on the topic in the coming years.

“I think we are going through a transition now, in which corruption will no longer be accepted,” he said.

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