Corruption and Costa Rica

Central America has been stereotyped as a region of corrupt and dangerous countries ruled by greedy and ruthless tyrants; an image which is gradually beginning to change as the countries within it have settled down to relative peace in recent times.  Costa Rica has always liked to consider itself apart from its neighbors and free of the taint of corruption.  However, revelations in 2004 that a number of ex-presidents had accepted bribes during their terms of office shook the country’s clean reputation.  Ticos themselves were disappointed if not completely unsurprised.  It isn’t that Ticos heartily disapprove of corruption, but like so much in this tiny nation, it must be kept in moderation.  There is an acceptance that sometimes bureaucratic red tape can be avoided and paperwork can be rushed through for an under-the-table sum, but the legal battle, planning application or other equally lengthy process will reach its conclusion eventually even without it!

Of course it is wrong that a road is built from poor quality material so that those managing the project can line their pockets or that a public official accepts the offered dollar bills to give a gringo without the correct papers an ID card.  The problem is that everyone is just so used to it!  And that occurs in every layer of society, from a traffic cop to a president and it has always been that way.  That’s the biggest challenge in fighting corruption here – it seems to remain at a pretty steady level.  The annual index of corruption published by World Transparency International shows that Costa Rica has had almost exactly the same measure of cleanliness within its public sector for the last twelve years – between 5.3 and 5.6 of a possible 10 points to be awarded.  In 1998, this placed Costa Rica in 27th place out of 178 countries in the world.  In 2010, the country’s position had dropped to 41.  While this remains a high rating comparatively, it possibly suggests that whereas other countries are improving corruption levels, Costa Rica’s are stagnant!  Costa Rica’s closest neighbors, Nicaragua and Panama score 2.5 and 3.6 points respectively with the United States only awarded a score of 7.1.  It is the old story of Costa Rica not performing excellently on a world stage but showing itself to be head and shoulders above the rest of the region!

Complacency isn’t appropriate though.  Costa Rica is heavily dependent on foreign investment and tourism, both of which are suffering due to the weaker dollar exchange rate in recent years.  Foreign investors may be encouraged to bring business here if they knew that corruption was being tackled, as they are frequently the victims of it (some might say the perpetrators too!).   A modern, competitive Costa Rica in the world market will need to a country free of corruption and that can only begin with a population who refuse to tolerate it.

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5 Responses to “Corruption and Costa Rica”

  1. Sanbuenaventuraman says:

    Here in Canada corrupt politicians are never punished, they are just pushed into retirement and given a large pension. The only thing they can be sent to jail for is murder. Costa Rica may have some corruption in government, but there is much more in Canada. It is suspected that Canada’s excessive immigration policies and pandering to minority groups is a political corruption where money is involved.
    Anyone who lives in Costa Rica is a lucky person.

  2. Gary Bushmill says:

    This is a twist as it demonstrates that high handed theft is alive and well! Two of the gentlemen in this video belong to the most important and powerful families in Costa Rica. The arrogance they show lets us know they think they are untouchable and above the law. This is a damning indictment of the social elite in the Switzerland of Central America…perhaps soon to become the Greece of Central America!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gWphldDYYI

    • George says:

      Hello Gary, this is an eye opening video. Thank you for sharing. Please feel free to contribute more information, as we like to remain an unbiased website offering the “good” and the “bad” when it comes advice on living in Costa Rica. Have you already sent this to Tico Times or http://www.insidecostarica.com?

  3. chris hanson says:

    i would like to buy costa rican passport?. how much? i will pay top dollar. contact me please on my email