Colombia’s government is set to call a referendum in March of next year to approve a raft of measures that will tackle corruption by overhauling the current justice system, local media reported on Monday.
The proposed reform would see the elimination of the electoral powers of the high court, the establishment of a new investigative body for the prosecution of court judges, the introduction an ethical approach to the training of legal professionals and the adoption of measures to combat judicial congestion.
The government referendum was announced a day after electoral authorities approved an anti-corruption referendum sought by Senator Claudia Lopez, who is running for president two months after the government-called popular vote.
While Lopez’ referendum seeks to reduce corruption in Congress, that of the government seems to curb to to the same in the judicial branch.
Colombia has witnessed a series of corruption scandals surrounding both the legislative and the judicial branch, most embarrassingly one in which congressmen allegedly bribed the Supreme Court.
Colombia’s justice minister last week met with the presidents of the courts to relay the changes that the government wants to put in place, which will aim to cut the traditional links between politics and justice.
A referendum is the best means of ratification as corruption in both Congress and the high courts have severely damaged public confidence in these institutions, Inspector General Fernando Carrillo said in a letter sent to the Inter-Institutional Commission of the Judicial Branch last week.
The Inspector General considers that the appropriate route is a referendum because, based on an intense technical process of debate and construction and a broad participation of citizens, it can unite Colombians in the essential issues of adjustment and allow them, in the short term, to regain confidence in the Judicial Branch.
Inspector General Fernando Carrillo
The government will now present a bill to Congress before the end of this month in which it will request the convening of the referendum and the approval of the respective questions of the initiative with Colombians expected to be called to the polls on March 10 of next year, just days ahead of the congressional elections.
According to the results of a recent Gallup poll, 83% of people surveyed had an unfavorable opinion of Colombia’s judicial system; 72% had an unfavorable opinion of the Supreme Court of Justice and 63% an unfavorable opinion of the Constitutional Court.
Colombia’s political parties con count on even less support than the FARC, the guerrilla group that until a peace deal last year was considered a terrorist organization.
The proposed reform in the judicial system is part of a wider clamp down on corruption across the board in the South American country.
While corruption has been rampant in Colombia for decades if not centuries, the initiative comes in the middle of multiple criminal investigations implicating top officials and political parties.
With the country’s armed conflict winding down, the reduction of corruption practices has become a top priority for many Colombians, according to multiple polls.
President Juan Manuel Santos said he would embark on a “War on Corruption” after taking office in 2010, but has failed to effectively combat the criminal practice that is estimated to cost the Colombian tax payer several billions of dollars a year.
In fact, the very campaign that made him president in the first place is under investigation for allegedly having received bribes from Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht that has been granted multiple major infrastructure projects.