Collaborating to monitor abuse of power: why it matters and how it can be done

Paola Mosso

In the past few years, Latin America has been hit hard with corruption scandals.The alarming Lava Jato scandal revealed how companies used networks of offshore entities across the region to launder money and fund bribes. In Peru alone, the Odebrecht company confirmed to the US Department of Justice that they made corrupt payments to Peruvian Government officials – amounting to approximately USD 29 million – between 2006 and 2015. In an independent assessment, investigative journalists at Ojo-Publico actually discovered payments for over USD 45 million. Payments purportedly involved the former President, Alejandro Toledo, and two former Heads of State, including Pedro Pablo Kuszynski, who recently stepped down in the middle of a political crisis.

Why should we care about Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs)?

As we witness abuses of power and influence expand from local to international contexts, as in the case of Lava Jato, and as we go through election periods across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2018 and 2019, we find ourselves in a critical situation. Corruption is morphing into new forms, and there are looming opportunities for it to grow. This leaves civil society seeking new ways to fight corruption as old ways grow stale and insufficient.

Monitoring of those who have access to state funds and who are prone to abuse of power – often called Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) – is one form of action emerging as key. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank recommend this tactic to address major cross-border scandals.

While useful, monitoring PEPs does not come without challenges. Based on conversations with civil society actors who are mapping power, in-depth desk research, and group discussions at regional transparency and accountability events, we identified two main challenges and goals for monitoring PEPs:

  1. Coordinating actors from different sectors so that they can strategically work together
  2. Adding nuance to the conversations around PEPs, by focusing on more than the technical and data aspects

Where did we all start?

With the support of the Influence Mapping group, we co-designed an event with Ojo Público that would bring together different experts from the region. Together we would discuss: i) how political influence works, ii) what key methodologies can be used to investigate political influence, iii) how to carry out advocacy around it and iv) how to co-create solutions to mitigate corruption.

To accomplish this, we co-designed and facilitated a two-day sprint, convening eleven experts from across Latin America to explore how political ‘influence’ develops and grows, what enables it, and how we can use data to investigate it.

We collaborated with: Andrés Snitcofsky, Cargografías (Argentina); Dora Montero, Consejo de Redacción (Colombia); Eduard Martín-Borregón, PODER (Mexico); Ernesto Peralta, Borde Político (Mexico); Gabriela Flores, Japiqay (Peru); Hernán Padilla, IDL-Reporteros (Peru); Justine Dupuy, FUNDAR (Mexico); Marina Lemini Atoji, Abraji (Brazil); Nelly Luna A., Ojo Público (Peru); Suchit Chávez, Plaza Pública (Guatemala); and Susana Arroyo, Hivos (Latin America).

The group of experts developed regional and national methods to explore influence, which could be applied to their own work and replicated in others. Together, we worked toward achieving three objectives as we designed these methods:

  1. Build on existing work. We shared and discussed participants’ experiences and past projects related to influence monitoring and mapping.
  2. Connect the dots. We dissected participants’ experiences – as they manifested in norms, standards, campaigns and models – to identify trends and complementarities in approaches.
  3. Create systems, not data. The group created processes that included human and contextual elements, going beyond just working with data.

What can we learn about monitoring PEPs?

Our biggest takeaway was that there is no one way to go about monitoring PEPs and understanding their influence. Perspectives and experiences of those in this work will vary, and their approaches are different but complementary. Given the complexity and scale of understanding political influence, there is also no linear path to follow.

The experts crafted four different methods by which individuals could monitor PEPs, advocate around key issues using PEPs data, and communicate their findings to others. Each of these four methods is unique in the process it follows, but they all share qualities like flexibility, inclusiveness and awareness of context. We will share these methods in an upcoming blog post.

In the process of documenting these methods, participants felt that they were part of a creative experience of exchange and dialogue. They left the event not only with a set of methods to use in understanding PEPs, but also with a shared understanding of existing and future projects to explore influence. Participants brought this knowledge back to their organisations together with a deeper appreciation for the diversity in this space.

What are the next steps?

To continue the conversation, we’ll be publishing the methods to explore influence developed by the regional experts. We’ll also be sharing ways to get involved and learn more.

Stay tuned!