A Conversation with Ana Luiza Aranha

Congratulations on being awarded the youth research Edge award at the 2018 OECD global anti-corruption and integrity Forum! can you tell us about the topic and main findings of your research paper entitled a map of corruption control flux? Why did you choose this topic, and why do you think you were awarded the prize?

The main topic is how accountability institutions in Brazil work together to control corruption cases. It was studied from a nontrivial perspective of corruption: Corruption means failed accountability, which means failed democracy. An effective web of accountability institutions fulfills the important role of reinforcing democracy and its basic inclusive condition.

For the first time in the country, I launched a map of corruption control flux with a focus on the institutions at the centre of Brazil’s anti-corruption agenda, including the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office, Federal Police, Office of the Comptroller General, Federal Court of Accounts, Federal Justice and the Ministries. In the literature, the argument is that despite recent institutional improvements, the final result of this web in terms of coordination is weak. From the data I collected, I concluded that Brazil’s web of accountability institutions is able to coordinate and articulate itself in order to hold public officials accountable (something new in the country), but not in a homogeneous way across all institutions (something the literature has missed).

The topic chose me. The idea behind the PhD was: Brazilian institutions are able to find corruption in municipalities, but then what happens in terms of investigations and punishments? There was a widespread notion that judgements and sanctions were slow and virtually non-existent in Brazil, but no one had measured this before. I believe that my research is ground-breaking in that it proposes a new way to measure corruption – connecting it with democratic principles. It was a huge effort, following the trajectory of more than 19,000 irregularities in six accountability institutions, from 2003 until 2015.

My research takes on the challenge of thinking about corruption in an applied way: how to measure it from public justifications by mayors to accountability institutions; and how to map the links and synergies among accountability institutions aimed at controlling corruption over time.

During your career, you have been engaged in gender equality issues, particularly during your time as a researcher for the Women’s studies research center of the Federal university of Minas Gerais (Brazil). Why is gender equality important to you, and how do gender equality issues impact the anti-corruption movement?

During my bachelor’s in Social Science, I joined the Women’s Studies Research Center at my home university, focusing on the gender gap regarding corruption: why women are perceived as less corrupt than men. In 2010, I won a competitive award for promoting gender equality, from the Brazilian government and the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

The topic of gender equality frames my way of looking at the political world and identifying inequalities and injustices. Political scientist and feminist, Iris Young, especially her arguments about social perspectives and democratic principles, shaped the theoretical discussions in my PhD.

Gender inequalities are part of social inequalities and I relate these inequalities with corruption. Corruption means exclusion: I am excluded from social policies that affect my life (a hospital that was not built, an unsafe road built with poor quality materials, etc.). But I am also excluded from a political point of view: I was excluded from political decisions that affect my life. The public interest – understood as something contingent and open – was not the point of departure for these decisions. So, I suffer a dual exclusion: as someone entitled to have access to public goods, but also as a citizen entitled to be ruled by democratic rules of decision-making.

As such, women can be especially affected by corruption: given their vulnerable position in society, when rulers choose corruption they set women further away from access to social and political decision-making. Empowering women is important not because they are more or less corrupt than men, but because they are entitled to be equal citizens in a democracy.

You completed a research internship at IACA in 2016. how did the internship support you in your professional development?

After my PhD, I searched for opportunities to contribute to the international debate around corruption issues. The research internship at IACA was a career-changing experience. I discovered what I wanted for my professional life: to bridge the gap between academia and the world around it. This was the “missing link” in my career.

At IACA I learned that I could use my theoretical and research knowledge to help shape current policies and debates. It set my goal: to have a successful career committed to integrity and anti-corruption issues at an international level. IACA opened the door for me, and I fully embraced the opportunity.

Working at IACA meant that I could meet researchers and professionals working closely with anti-corruption and integrity issues all around the world! I also learned that even with a PhD, there were some skills missing if my goal was to work for an international organization, so I decided to take a Project Management course at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Interning at IACA was a turning point for me to pursue more skills.

During your research internship at IACA you supported the development of the international master in anti-corruption compliance and collective action (IMACC). What are your memories of those days, and what are your thoughts on the IMACC master programme which started its first class in 2017?

At IACA, I was part of an amazing team. I was responsible for identifying institutions and groups active in the anti-corruption field, and I can say that the programme IACA put together is the first of its kind and is the best anti-corruption course for the private sector.

Adapting to Vienna was quite a challenge – I do not speak German and I was completely alone, but the work really kept me focused. And I also had fun! I played soccer in an “IACA staff versus Master students” game (a lot of pressure for a Brazilian).

I even consider myself an informal IACA “ambassador”. Brazilians see on my CV that I did the internship and ask me about the Master’s and internship and it’s always my pleasure to answer their questions.

You have been involved in the anti-corruption field for a few years. is there anything that you would like to have known earlier on that might have helped you in the early years of your involvement? do you have any words of encouragement for early career professional pursuing a path in anti-corruption and compliance?

If I could go back to my PhD studies, I would apply for more internships at international organizations during vacations. Especially because many of them require that you be a student during the internship. These internships allow you to understand if you like the field and what type of institution you would like to work with.

I would also say, don’t be discouraged by rejections. The path is not always clear. Apply for positions that seem interesting to you – the job of your dreams will not come knocking at your door. And don’t be discouraged by bureaucracies regarding visas and immigration.

What are your professional priorities and goals for the coming year?

Now I am back in Brazil and I am trying to help my country face its long-standing corruption issues. It’s not that it has not evolved – we have laid groundwork for institutional changes in accountability institutions, for example – but there is still room for improvement.

I am aligned with the general perception of the OECD event: corruption is not only about punishments and it should not be based on super-ethical human beings. Of course, these issues have their place, but searching for heroes and villains will not bring us anywhere. I am working hard as a researcher, both at Fundação Getúlio Vargas and at the national chapter-in-formation of Transparency International (TI), to understand corruption in Brazil and to find best practices to help rebuild trust in public institutions and ensure systemic changes.

At TI Brazil we are building an Anti-Corruption Knowledge Centre that will coordinate researchers, professionals, and practitioners, aiming to be a focal point of integrity research in the Global South. I support the monitoring of the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal number 16 in Brazil which covers anti-corruption and accountability issues. I also contribute to research about compliance for state-owned enterprises, judicial integrity, local government, political party transparency, and the links between new technologies (such as blockchain) and corruption.

In the long-term, I would love to work at an international organization with a focus on fighting corruption and promoting integrity. I will continue participating in international events and conferences to better understand how we can have a holistic view of this phenomenon.

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