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Social Entrepreneur Confronts Twin Honduran Demons Violence And Corruption
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
In 1998, Kurt Ver Beek had been living in Honduras for nearly a decade when he and four Hondurans founded the Association for a More Just Society, initially with the primary goal of delivering aid to vulnerable families. Quickly, however, they realized that little progress could be made without addressing the violence and corruption that then plagued and continue to plague the Central American country. Fighting those twin demons became their mission.
By 2012, Honduras had the highest homicide rate of any country in the world. Evidence was building that corruption and violence were closely related.
The son, Rafael Alejandro Vargas Castellanos, of the president of the National University, Julieta Castellanos, was murdered by two uniformed policemen who were attempting to steal his car. The Association for a More Just Society helped to investigate and advocate for the prosecution of the guilty in that case.
Dr. Kurt Ver Beek; ASSOCIATION FOR A MORE JUST SOCIETY
Over the next several years, AJS led the formation of a coalition called the Alliance for Peace and Justice, which included the Catholic Church, protestant churches and other NGOs. Using the story of the university president’s son, the alliance began advocating for a purge of the police force.
In 2016, a local Honduran paper broke a shocking story picked up by the New York Times, reporting that the police chief himself was involved in a 2009 assassination of retired general Julián Arístides González Irías, the top anti-drug enforcement official in the country.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández vowed to purge the police and formed a commission to lead the effort. Four of the six commissioners came from the Alliance, including two from AJS. As a result, 5,000 police were purged from the ranks of 13,000 and 10,000 new officers have been trained to replace and bolster the force.
Concurrently, AJS has tackled a government-wide anti-corruption effort that culminated in what is called simply, “El Convenio” or the agreement. The pact created a process for AJS to measure objective performance criteria in three general areas across eight government ministries, including public safety, education, health and infrastructure.
The three areas of focus in each ministry are 1) procurement, 2) human resources and 3) management by results. At first glance, it seemed little more than a battle of the bureaucracies—fighting red tape with more red tape.
Keila Garcia; DEVIN THORPE
Keila Garcia, the director of governance and public management for AJS, explains that as mundane as procurement and human resources may sound, this is where most money is spent. See my conversation with Keila in the video player at the top of the article.
Straight out of Corruption for Dummies, you’ll see how to manipulate the hiring process to return political favors, funnel money to your family and friends and yourself for good measure. Similarly, the book (whose existence I invented) explains how to invoice your government agency for “fun and profit without the troubling work of actually providing any valuable services.”
If these functions are instead managed according to best practice, over time much of the rest will naturally fall into line. The third area, management by results, is intended to quantify the performance of a ministry objectively.
The first data was gathered in 2015 to establish a baseline. The result was not pretty. The ministries scored an average of only 33% on their initial assessments. Over the past three years for which reporting is done, scores have improved to 63%. Seven of the eight government units measure improvements—only the health ministry did not.
Garcia attributes the performance of the health ministry to the turnover in the top job. She describes a revolving door in this highly politicized ministry. Each time a new leader enters, the effort of much of the organization must be reset to align with them.
The property institute, by contrast, showed the greatest improvement among the government units measured, jumping from a score of 20% to a score of 80%.
During my visit to Honduras, I met with two officials from the property institute, including Henry Merriam, who serves as a volunteer on the governing board and Gloria Lizzeth Mendoza, a project coordinator.
The agency determined that in 2014, 100% of the land titles it issued had errors. In 2015, the agency dropped the error rate to 33%, issuing a modest 2,203 titles. By 2018, the agency had increased production to about 10,000 titles for the third year in a row with zero errors in the most recent two years.
This result comes largely from replacing politically motivated hires and outright nepotism with competent professionals trained for their work.
The extraordinary cooperation required for AJS to perform objective, independent assessments of government agencies with the sort of transparency required for the results to be meaningful speaks highly of the government officials and their intention to serve the public good.
It isn’t always smooth. In a public meeting where results were provided, an offended government official reported threw her chair in exasperation. The process would be worthless, however, without the independence that can create acrimony.
It is interesting that the property institute and ASJ both see the process as a big success. The result isn’t just more land titles. Without a functioning title system, one economic analysis suggested that the country lost 1.5% of GDP annually. Imagine trying to acquire land for a new business without being able to establish satisfactory title to qualify for financing. Whether that is for a neighborhood kiosk or for a factory owned by a multinational corporation, the stifling effect is the same.
Low income families are among those who stand to benefit the most. Many live in homes built on land with uncertain claims to ownership—even if the property has been in the family for generations. A process that recognizes what is called adverse possession in the United States has been established in Honduras and families are now receiving title to their land.
Through the efforts of AJS, the twin demons of violence and corruption are being reduced. Though the country maintains a higher homicide rate than much of the world, it is dropping. While public perception of corruption remains agonizingly high and actual corruption remains a serious threat to the country, AJS can demonstrate measurable progress. Credit is due Kurt Ver Beek who has lived for three decades in Honduras, working closely with a team of Hondurans that now tops 100, to make the country better for everyone.
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The post Social Entrepreneur Confronts Twin Honduran Demons Violence And Corruption appeared first on Your Mark On The World.