Reasons for Hope: Reforming State Institutions

  • September 30, 2019

When AJS started working to make Honduras a more just society, we quickly realized that fighting corruption was essential to protecting the poor and vulnerable. Inefficiency and intentional misuse of public resources robbed education, health, and legal services from those who depended on them the most. We knew that an improved Security Sector would create a police force equipped to guard citizen safety and reduce violence, and working with the Education and Health Sectors would improve Hondurans’ access to quality education and hospitals. Still, for many, corruption seemed unshakeable.

In the words of one AJS employee, “If you had told me when I started working at AJS that we would try to transform state institutions, I would have said that you’re crazy!”  

However, our work with government institutions has shown us that transforming systems is not as far-off of an idea as it seems. AJS has always sought to promote improvement in institutions, but this work became even stronger in 2014 when AJS signed a “Transparency Agreement” with Transparency International and the Honduran government. This agreement allowed us to perform a systematic review of Honduras’ most important institutions to help make these institutions more effective. 

How do we evaluate state institutions? First, we complete a thorough evaluation of each institution in areas such as their productivity, transparency, human resources, inclusion of vulnerable groups, citizen treatment, and use of statistics. By reviewing their procedures and practices, we are able to see the strengths and weaknesses of each institution and give them a performance score. We make this information available to the public, and then we offer concrete recommendations and technical assistance to implement those changes. 

At first, Honduran institutions scored an average of 33%, revealing the ways in which many of these institutions were failing to serve the Honduran population. But after five years of AJS evaluations, the average score has improved by 30%! While there is still much work to be done, this improvement gives us hope it is possible to reform state institutions, which ultimately, positively impacts Hondurans’ lives.

The Property Institute is in charge of delivering land titles to Hondurans. When we started evaluating the Property Institute, it received a score of just 19%, revealing the huge problems that existed. For example, we reviewed 5,000 land titles submitted to the Property Institute, and every single one of them had irregularities.

After the Property Institute implemented AJS’s plan for improvement, none of the land titles had irregularities! Additionally, several employees were arrested for acts of corruption,and new procedures were instituted to help families with their land titles. In 2018, the Property Institute scored 80% in its evaluation. Ultimately, AJS’s transparency evaluations are creating lasting change and building trust for the Honduran people.

As one public official from the Property Institute said, “In the long-term, these exercises of accountability and social auditing generate social impact that citizens can feel,…protect the population’s property, and give [citizens] legal security.” For example, AJS’s work in this important institution helped save over 400 families in one community from unjust eviction.

Change in state institutions is creating real impact for Honduras, and the improvements we’ve already seen remind us that transforming systems is possible. 

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