A version of this article appeared on the Association for a More Just Society’s website.
It’s Wednesday afternoon, and the back office of the Association for a More Just Society is filled with the faint buzzing of the document scanner and the steady clicking of laptop keys. White partitions divide small, unremarkable cubicles where a handful of people pore over legal texts, transcribe interviews, and edit spreadsheets.
This quiet office scene plays out in the capital city of Honduras, a small Central American country – known in international media not as much for its rich culture or breathtaking landscapes as for its sky-high homicide rate, government corruption, and deep inequality.
The needs of this country have attracted dozens of nonprofit organizations, many of them religious. These organizations fund education and microfinance projects, orphanages and medical brigades; they deliver shoes and t-shirts and gift boxes full of toys. But the work being done in this back office is unique– auditing the government for inefficiencies and corruption, and advocating for public systems that serve, and don’t exploit, the Honduran people.
The Association for a More Just Society (AJS) was founded by Hondurans and Honduran residents who found that development work was falling short in the face of systemic injustices, weak government, and an absent rule of law. They started the organization with the mission to do justice in Honduras through making its systems of laws and government work.
AJS programs focus on two of the biggest problems facing Honduras – violence and corruption. Both are central to their vision of being “brave Christians”, earning justice for those who most need it, even when that means confronting dangerous and powerful people.
The reality is that powerful people in Honduras, in the United States, and across the world are tipping the scales of justice against the poor towards the rich, against the disconnected towards the elites, shifting balances for racial and ethnic and religious minorities. This scale-tipping, these false balances, is corrupt.
That is why anti-corruption work cannot be separated from the more popular forms of aid like providing food, water, medicine and shelter. While aid serves critical and immediate needs; anti-corruption work challenges the systems and structures of society that sometimes perpetuate, not prevent, injustice.
Nearly two thirds of Hondurans living in poverty rely on public services such as health, education, and security. Private schools and hospitals or personal security guards are out of the reach of most Hondurans, and when corruption robs health centers of medicines, or schools of teachers, or police forces of honest cops, the people who suffer most are those who can’t afford to pay.
Improving health and education in Honduras, fixing roads and bridges and water pipes, reducing violence and poverty – all depend on a functioning and just rule of law.
In 2014, AJS and Transparency International signed an agreement with the Honduran government that opened the five biggest government institutions – health, education, security, infrastructure, and tax management – up to AJS’s oversight.
This means AJS is analyzing purchases and contracts, human resources, and data collection of government institutions and auditing them to see if the processes are transparent, efficient, and effective.
“Public goods should be for the common good,” says Keila García, the coordinator of AJS/Transparency International’s government oversight programs. “When we think about corruption, it is the opposite of the values of the Kingdom of God. We as Christians cannot be indifferent to this.”
Whether it’s cataloguing public purchases or scrutinizing government payrolls, García sees social oversight of government functions as a rare opportunity for Christians to be “a prophetic voice” demanding accountability from those who use their position to exploit or steal.
In the two years that AJS/TI has been working under the agreement, she has noticed a remarkable change in the government culture. “They feel pressured,” she says, “They rely on us as a key player, knowing that even when we aren’t there, that we will be there asking for that information and documentation.”
“The Bible teaches us the principles that we must love God and love our neighbor,” says Hector Moncada, an economist and former professor, who is now working with AJS on developing a government-wide analysis of public contracts. “If I can fight for justice by reducing corruption, I am improving institutions which benefit my neighbors and all of society, people I don’t even know.”
When people think of the fight for justice they often think of strikes, marches, or protests. They think of impassioned speeches and massive crowds. This is one face of justice. Another is less imposing. It’s found in attending city council meetings and taking notes. It’s found in teaching people about their rights and registering people to vote. It’s found in recognizing the government’s responsibility to uphold public justice for all citizens, and in times when it fails to do so, holding it accountable.
Justice can be found in this back office in Honduras, deep in someone’s Excel sheet, at someone’s desk– quiet, unassuming, life-changing.
-Kate Parsons is Director of US Communications at the Association for a More Just Society, a Honduran organization that works in the areas of anti-corruption, peace, and public security. Originally from Michigan, Kate is happily adjusting to the rain, heat, and mountains of Tegucigalpa. She writes at www.thepostcalvin.com