Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been convicted on one of five corruption and money laundering charges. He was sentenced to nine and a half years in prison.
The conviction stemmed from a giant embezzlement and kickback scheme centered on the state-owned oil group Petrobras, at the heart of a sprawling corruption probe known as “Car Wash.” Lulu, an iconic leftist politician who rose from childhood poverty to rule Brazil from 2003-2010 would remain free pending an appeal.
The ruling has not only stunned Lula, Brazil’s first working-class president who left office in 2010 with an 83-percent approval rating, but also surprised many leaders around the world. During his tenure in office, the former union leader won global admiration for transformative social policies that helped to reduce inequality and poverty in the country.
The former president is the highest-profile individual to be convicted of corruption in Brazil which for over three years has thrown the country’s economic and political system into disarray.
As the champion of the poor, Lula is among the more than 1000 state senators and other political figures in the 40 plus Latin American countries to be caught with his hands in the proverbial cookie jar, and he will not be the last. In India, 30 percent of its 545-member lower Parliament had criminal charges filed against them for corruption.
In the United States, several high-ranking politicians, at the federal and state levels including governors have been convicted and jailed for corruption.
However, there are lessons to be learnt from Lula’s conviction on corruption and the sentence handed down to the once darling of Brazilian politics. Despite having a new government in office, Guyana is still a corrupt country. There is corruption at several levels of government. It has always been so and will probably remain so because it seems that corruption is entrenched in our psyche and has become part of our culture.
But unlike in other countries where high-ranking officials have been convicted of corruption, those in Guyana with status do not have to worry because only a few low-level officials are being prosecuted.
Very often we listen to the Auditor General reports of alleged corrupt practices in the public sector. We are also fed with information about the misdeeds in certain government departments and agencies, some of which are criminal in nature and are referred to the police. And no one is disciplined, fired or is ask to resign. Within days, incidents of corrupt practices fade away and we go on with our lives as if nothing has happened because they do not directly affect us.
Corruption is rampant in Guyana; it has become normal in society. The recurring theme in Guyana and perhaps in many other countries is that where there are people, there will be corruption. But what is worse is that some are in denial and there is an unwillingness to punish those caught in the act.
We are aware of the problem, but we continue to ignore it by turning a blind eye and go about our daily chores, pretending that it does not exist. However, we should learn the lesson from Lula who entered Brazilian politics and offered hope to the many hopeless, especially the poor. He promised to fight corruption and to bring transparency and accountability to Government, a familiar political rhetoric recited by most politicians.
But today, Lula is convicted and sentenced to prison because the systems in place in Brazil to fight corruption have worked, irrespective of his status.
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