By Marc Frank Marc Frank – Thu Jul 30, 4:26 pm ET
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba's National Assembly will set up a powerful new
agency on Saturday tasked with fighting corruption, which President Raul
Castro has called a "deadly cancer" plaguing the communist-ruled
In his regular Thursday spot on state television, Cuba's top economic
commentator Ariel Terrero said the Comptroller General's Office, to be
created through new legislation, will try to ensure that state revenues
are properly used.
The office will replace the Ministry of Auditing and Control and be
attached to the Council of State. It will have sweeping powers to audit
and control all government and economic entities.
"This will ... help avoid or limit the possibility (of corruption) and
respond to corrupt acts," said Terrero, who regularly comments on
economic affairs in the state media.
Raul Castro, who took over the presidency from his ailing elder brother
Fidel Castro last year, has vowed to make the struggling economy more
efficient and productive. This includes cracking down on graft, he has said.
Cuba's campaign against corruption in its society and economy has been a
long one, with what leaders consider high stakes for the future of the
communist system installed after Fidel Castro took power in a 1959
Transparency International, a leading organization in the global fight
against corruption, ranked Cuba 65th of 180 countries on its 2008
corruption index, better placed than most countries in Latin America and
But fighting corruption is not easy on an island gripped by economic
crisis where inequality is growing and the average wage of ministers and
company managers is between $40 and $100 per month including bonuses.
One western diplomat said replacing the Auditing Ministry with the
Comptroller's Office was a "cosmetic" step, as most Cubans, from the
humble to the privileged, struggle to make ends meet, often involving
Diversion of goods to the black market and retail-level theft are so
widespread that many people hawk their stolen wares in front of shopping
Former leader Fidel Castro once warned the country that corruption
played a big role in the demise of the Soviet Union, for decades Cuba's
biggest economic benefactor, whose collapse plunged the Cuban economy
into crisis in the early 1990s.
"Socialist morality must be preserved ... We can't let the idea get
around that we can be bribed," he said.
Current President Raul Castro, who served for decades as defense
minister, has also spoken out often about corruption and its insidious
"The deadly cancer has metastasized from our knees up to here (pointing
to his chest)," he told national leaders in a closed-door speech in
March 2006, according to a source who saw a video of the meeting.
In March of this year, Raul Castro took the dramatic step of replacing
most of his cabinet, in part on grounds they were too cozy with foreign
businessmen and lax in controlling graft beneath them.
Official information on corruption in Cuba is sparse but, in 2000,
Attorney General Juan Escalona, testifying before a parliamentary
committee, reported his office began the prosecutions of 5,800
white-collar criminal cases.
Foreign businessmen report that corruption at the very highest level of
government is rare. But kickbacks are relatively common among state-run
company managers and even more so at government offices where Cubans go
to take care of housing and other problems.
"The other day I went to legalize my home and the housing director said
'you have two choices, pay me $600 or wait two years,'" one Havana
(Editing by Jeff Franks and John O'Callaghan)
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