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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 27-04-2019 10:15

Corruption as a constant form of destruction

We are accustomed to hearing of misdeeds and not a lot about repairs or any kind of substantial progress. Just look any way, anywhere, and the evidence of funny business can always be found. It is a national form of business.

There are historical and socially sound reasons for considering corruption to be one of the worst crimes that men and women regularly commit. Perhaps the main reason for this argument, which many might find flawed, is that corruption sometimes even leads to death. And yet there is also a historical and social inevitability about the fact that corruption always grows. It never shrinks, except maybe during some brief passage of political expedience where a governor or mayor feels that some show of discipline must be made (or at least seen to be made). Other than that, campaign promises are mostly worthless. Of course, they might be of worth sometimes, possibly when some gesture is made by a head of state so that he/she can be seen to be efficient. And yes, of course there are occasions when even the smallest of crackdowns on corrupt activities is to be welcomed and found to be encouraging, but the hopes they might lead to bigger and better form of justice and, if need be, punishment, are seldom rewarded. The reason for this may be that punishment, at least in Argentina, is not usually seen to have happened.

This convoluted argument was sourced during a northern visit to Chaco, where I was told about a technical college (ENET 21) which is a 94-year-old secondary school, and has about 1,000 students. The school has been under repair since two years ago. For the first wave of repairs, the central government sent up 45 million pesos. Great. For the second stages of repair the planners asked for a budget boost of 95 million pesos and this year the cash was sent. Roofing and tiling and waterworks had to be repaired. A patch of new tiling had fallen off the wall, so the tiles were replaced, although they were a different colour. There were no samples left over from the original tiling order so an odd colour was pasted instead. Complaints, by teachers and students, were rejected with remarks that the fresh tiling, of a different colour, had been placed as a favour, because a second repair was not in the original contract. Nobody even suggested that leftovers from the original stock might have been stolen. There was no budget calculated for a school bell either, so students have to be called personally or keep to the times of their own class times or recess. Oh, and the workshop classes cannot be held because the electricity fuse box to feed or cut off light to the workshops has not been installed. So all the machines on which the boys and girls are trained cannot be operated. Hence, teachers qualified for technical classes gather their teenagers and put them through a talk class or a Q&A, and then every student goes home with attendance certificates because they can’t be failed for what went wrong in the building.

The cashflow and the delays? Well, there’s no clear explanation for any of it.

The situation of schooling in the provinces – bar stand-out points such as Córdoba, Entre Ríos, Tucumán, and some other places – has been crying out for attention and new management for the past quarter century. Former president Carlos Saúl Menem’s education minister, Susana Decibe, was appointed in 1996 to break up the national education system into provincially run entities. That was done to allow for apparent budget cuts in the capital. Teachers’ unions ran a three-year protest demo against it, but got nothing. Fernando de la Rúa came into office in 1999 for a quick two-year stint and also did nothing.

Some people might call that mismanagement. But it seems more like corruption aimed at smashing an education system – and then not replacing it with anything significant.

Anyway, we are accustomed to hearing of misdeeds and not a lot about repairs or any kind of substantial progress. Just look any way, anywhere, and the evidence of funny business can always be found. It is a national form of business.

In another field, before long, and with the next elected government celebrating their success, we’ll be hearing a lot about the Sarmiento railway line out of the Once terminal station that will run into Wild West suburbia. The new train underpass (Soterramiento, in Spanish) so far shows that 7,000 metres of underground tubes have been built from Haedo to Liniers, and another 11,000 metres remain to be built by 2023.

This is all part of a new line that will travel from Caballito to Castelar. Tenders were called for in 2007, and the friendly Odebrecht gang came running in for a slice (the Brazilian group has sold its share to the partners for US$4,000 million). The tunnelling machine was installed in 2011, but it only cleared very few metres as a show of achievement by the previous government. Nobody from that band of suspects seemed to be very committed beyond showing off a project that would only provide cash to a few. The construction of the new railway line started in earnest in 2016. If those who had started the project back in 2007 during the previous government had resisted the attraction of easy pay-offs, we might have seen progress then.

Instead, we saw death. While corruption raged above ground, much faster than the train tunnel below, we had that horrific disaster at Once on February 22, 2012. The death toll of 52 has not been explained or satisfactorily compensated and most of the 800 injured were left to get on with the life they had. Some members of government within Julio De Vido’s former realm went on trial and were sentenced.

These are just a couple of tasters of the sorry tale of Argentina. And now we even have to be watchful for the clean and clear functioning of the courts. There is not an encouraging outlook, seeing as the government does not investigate enough and only sees its benefits in blasting the past, not in providing a sound resolution to a nationwide problem. We could look into the works of Formosa governor Gildo Insfran, 68, who has been in office since December 10, 1995. One wonders how he did it. But there ain’t enough space for him here.

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Andrew Graham-Yooll

Andrew Graham-Yooll

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1994-2007).

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