Family Affairs
A story from Guatemala

In an effort to stamp out nepotism in local government, Guatemala passed a law in 2002 making it illegal for mayors to employ family members in public office. However, there was one citizen who saw that the law wasn’t being enforced. Juan* had reason to believe that his local mayor had hired around 10 relatives, including the mayor’s wife, sons and daughters.


Juan took his concerns to his local Controller General Office, which audits the assets, expenditures and payrolls of public officials and institutions. Here Juan was reportedly told that pursuing the case was unlikely to bring about change, and that he would only be putting himself at risk in doing so. Juan also approached his local journalists’ association, which refused to help for the very same reasons.


Upon reading about our chapter in Guatemala, Juan turned to them for help. On Acción Ciudadana’s advice, he wrote to the mayor’s office, requesting copies of its employment contracts. The mayor’s office allegedly ignored Juan’s request, so Acción Ciudadana contacted them again, and this time they provided the documentation.


Juan returned to the Controller General Office, but says they refused to accept the contracts as proof of nepotism. He says they claim they checked the payroll at the mayor’s office and found no one related to the mayor on it.


At this point, Acción Ciudadana decided to take the case to the capital and helped Juan report his findings to the Controller General Office in Guatemala City. Acción Ciudadana also later followed up the case with them to ensure that they had audited the mayor’s office in his home town.


While this was a positive step, it brought Juan some unwanted attention. He claims that while en route to the Controller General Office he was pulled off a bus by armed men, bundled into a car and driven into the forest, where he was robbed and told to abandon the case. Juan has also reported being confronted by men with guns on a separate occasion, who threatened to kill him if he continued causing trouble.


Despite this, Juan bravely kept pursuing the case. Following their investigation, the Controller General Office called for the removal of the mayor’s five closest relatives from office. To ensure that the mayor complied, Acción Ciudadana took the story to the local media. Five of the relatives soon stepped down.


*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.


Transparency International provides free advice and legal support to victims and witnesses of corruption in almost 50 countries around the world. To date, more than 95,000 people have sought help.

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