New Civil Society report on Honduras calls for the depoliticization of institutions, uniform regulations and stricter oversight & sanctioning mechanisms to advance anti-corruption efforts

9 December 2021 –

Honduras has made some progress towards developing normative legal frameworks for the implementation of articles of Chapter II (Preventive Measures) and Chapter V (Asset Recovery) provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), but several challenges remain in their effective implementation. This is what a new civil society report authored by Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ) finds. ASJ produced its report, which is intended as a contribution to the UNCAC implementation review process in its second cycle, with technical and financial support from the UNCAC Coalition.

While access to information is one of the strongest corruption prevention areas in Honduras, the politicization of several institutions central to the fight against corruption and high levels of impunity among the country’s elites for corruption offences are only a few of the main obstacles to effectively fighting corruption. The Organization of American States’ Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) worked closed with the government’s Special Prosecutor’s Unit Against Impunity for Corruption (UFECIC) between 2016 and 2020 and investigated several high-impact corruption cases. However, the government decided not to renew the mission’s mandate, the one case that had led to a sentence will be retried, and no apparent advances have been made on the other open investigations.

The official UNCAC review process in Honduras has experienced significant delays. The self-assessment has recently been filled out and a country visit by the peer reviewing countries was delayed several times but is planned for February 2022. Honduras signed the UNCAC Coalition’s Transparency Pledge in 2020, has involved civil society in the self-assessment checklist preparation phase and plans to continue with its commitment to more transparency and civil society inclusion in the UNCAC review process. The self-assessment checklist and full country report will be available on Honduras’s UNODC country profile page once they are finalized.

The UNCAC Coalition is co-organizing a special event on the sidelines of the Conference of the States Parties (CoSP) in Egypt on Monday, 13 December 2021, where representatives from the government, civil society and academia of Honduras will discuss anti-corruption efforts in their country. Find out more here.

Read the full civil society report in English here. The original version of the report in Spanish can be found here.

Main findings

The following are some of the main findings according to topic:

Prevention of corruption and impunity

While Honduras has several laws in place for the prevention of corruption, the main challenge lies in the application of the law, which includes ensuring compliance by institutions and public servants. Honduras complies with international commitments to promote regulations, but its responsibility to ensure compliance falls short, due to political factors, reflected in the lack of will on the part of the authorities. At the same time, the bodies in charge of enforcing policies and regulations lack financial resources and independence when applying the law. The current Penal and Criminal Procedural Codes, as well as the so-called impunity pacts, shield individuals from being prosecuted for certain corruption offences.

Public sector employment

Employment in the public sector is governed by regulations dating from back to the 1960s, and many hires are made outside the Civil Service Law, under the regime of temporary contracts. At the same time, there are a series of special personnel hiring regimes that provide differentiated treatment. The selection of high positions and decision-makers in the fight against corruption (prosecutors, auditors, judges) is highly politicized, lacking a meritocratic scheme, based on the negotiation of the different political forces in the National Congress. This produces serious limitations of independence and aggravates impunity in institutions central to the fight against corruption, which had previously been strengthened when the Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras was instated between 2016-2020 in conjunction with the Special Prosecutorial Unit Against Impunity for Corruption. The latter two bodies managed to prosecute high-impact corruption cases, but their work was interrupted in early 2020.

Codes of conduct, conflicts of interest & asset declarations

Codes of conduct are not applied uniformly -there are several codes- and no real control of their implementation or sanctions are applied. According to the law, public officials must present declarations of conflicts of interest, but according to consultations with authorities in the area of oversight, these are not mandatory and are left to the discretion of the institutions. Moreover, no effort is made to verify the information provided by public servants in their asset declarations and they are of little use for the investigation of illicit enrichment or other crimes.

Political financing

A lack of deterrence, investigation, access to information and sanctions are the main shortcomings regarding political financing in Honduras, which makes illicit money entering campaigns too easy.

Public procurement

Public procurement continues to be one of the main corruption problems in the country. The dispersion of contracting regimes and a lack of institutions that can supervise or control the processes, often leaves monitoring up to civil society organizations or the media. In recent years, a clear link has been observed between corruption in public contracting and concessions, and campaign financing, even with the participation of drug traffickers. The most common practices are directed bidding processes, splitting of purchases and direct purchases where overpricing, influence peddling, bribery and the use of front companies or NGOs to launder transactions are observed.

Private sector transparency

Transparency in the private sector in Honduras has only recently been regulated as a crime with the entry into force of the new Penal Code in 2020, where a legal concept was introduced which will punish corruption in the private sector. Furthermore, in order to strengthen the work carried out by the Chambers of Commerce, civil society organizations such as the ASJ have created mechanisms such as the so-called Open Companies portal through alliances with the different Chambers, with the objective of using the digital tool that allows to search for relationships between partners and companies incorporated in Honduras, free of charge and easy to understand. This aims to provide greater transparency to companies and to identify links between partners, who may have been accused or convicted of some act of corruption, which helps to prevent these people from continuing to operate through other companies. There is no registry of beneficial owners in Honduras.

Access to information and participation of society

Access to public information is one of the most advanced prevention areas, mainly due to a law that has been institutionalized after more than 10 years in force. The Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information, in force since 2006, has been widely used by civil society and the public, and a central electronic information system and an appeals mechanism are in place. Nevertheless, parallel regulations weaken the ATI framework in Honduras and the public requires easier access to transparency portals and to properly disaggregated quality information in open data format for effective social control.

Anti-money laundering and asset recovery

There is a legal framework in place for anti-money laundering and asset recovery, but there are challenges of coordination among the responsible entities, mainly owing to distrust in the handling of information collected due to the lifting of banking secrecy, as in the case of the National Banking and Insurance Commission, where it is difficult to share information. For more than 10 years, the Office for the Administration of Seized Assets has been called into question due to irregularities and inappropriate administration of assets under its custody, which has led to criticism and attempts to reform the legislation. The level of international cooperation is very low, since there are very few requests sent by the State of Honduras for the recovery of assets that are abroad as a result of crimes committed in the Honduran jurisdiction.

Key recommendations

In its report, Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa makes several key recommendations for priority actions to be taken to ensure the full implementation of the UNCAC in Honduras, for example:

  1. Create a real system that contains anti-corruption prevention measures, integrated by the public sector, private sector and civil society actors in order to have this tripartite point of view, as well as the publicity of the actions carried out in terms of access to public information, complaints systems, and capacities acquired in the investigations.
  2. Strengthen the oversight institutions in charge of verifying compliance with anti-corruption policies through greater technical and budgetary capacity, as well as by providing them with greater autonomy and independence in their operation.
  3. Define a strong legal framework of declarations of conflict of interest, since although they are regulated, there is no level of obligation or compliance at the time they are presented by public servants, nor is there a requirement for institutions to do so. Similarly, strengthen the topic of asset declarations, since compliance and sanctions are not being effectively enforced by the body responsible for oversight, verification, and sanction in cases of noncompliance.
  4. Give the Institute of Access to Public Information constitutional rank, as well as promote the depoliticization of the body to strengthen the system of access to information and avoid duplication of functions through the creation of parallel institutions or laws that compromise the Institute’s authority.
  5. Review and amend the Penal Code in the part referring to crimes against public administration, that is, corruption crimes, since, with its entry into force, certain corruption crimes have been omitted. Similarly, repeal the so-called impunity pacts and the modification of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
  6. Strengthen the issue of public contracting in the country through the shortcomings identified in this report and, in turn, generate the necessary advocacy mechanisms so that decision-makers can incorporate them into both regulatory actions and actions aimed at their implementation in practice.
  7. Create a system for the selection of senior public officials based on meritocracy, transparency and inclusion of all sectors in the selection process in order to professionalize the selection and integration of the positions. Likewise, renew the selection system for intermediate and low officials, because the criteria are outdated and no longer respond to the reality of the country.
  8. Establish measures for the private sector to adopt integrity, corporate probity and transparency programs through certifications and a culture of compliance.
  9. Improve anti-money laundering practices by strengthening the technical and financial capacities of the prosecutors’ offices responsible for investigating and prosecuting this crime in order to obtain convictions against persons who are prosecuted for the commission of the crime of money laundering.
  10. Promote the use of the mechanism of international cooperation among judicial officials, so that, through the use of this tool, investigations can be deepened and assets or funds that have been diverted from the public administration abroad can be located more quickly.
  11. Create greater controls from the governmental sector accompanied by the supervision of civil society and the public in general of the operations of the Administrative Office of Seized Goods, since the bad practices in this office have been dragging on for almost 10 years to date and there has been no improvement whatsoever.

More specific recommendations are provided in Chapter VII of the report.

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