Elda Valim lives in the resource-rich region around Cuiaba in Mato Grosso state, Northern Brazil. She grew up listening to her mother talking about her great grandfather, a violent man who had a transformational encounter with Jesus. This turned him away from conflict towards peace and justice.
Her mother’s memories of her great grandfather providing education and support for the poor farm workers and their families had a big impact on Elda. She studied and became a socio-economic auditor and researcher. Taking work in the financial industry and government she began to investigate systems and reveal unjust practices.
Elda is a recent graduate of Tearfund’s Inspired Individuals programme, which identifies, develops and connects Christian leaders from around the world who are changemakers in their communities. She is motivated by her faith to seek justice for marginalised groups. To do this she works for a number of organisations as an advocate and activist fighting government corruption.
We asked Elda a few questions about her work, and ways in which communities and churches can tackle corruption.
What is the goal of your work?
We want to help and encourage people who are living in poverty to work together to improve their situation, and that of their communities.
How can citizens make an impact, faced with an all-powerful government?
We have been conditioned by the press, which is controlled by politicians, to think that improvements in our communities can only happen through elections. But the good news is that a tool called social auditing can greatly improve the quality of life in our communities.
What is social auditing?
Citizens can form an association and monitor public budgets without being elected or appointed to public office.
The idea is to create mechanisms to prevent diversion of funds and wasteful spending. This is done by monitoring the purchases of goods and services, mainly from invoices issued by companies. We already have legal access to this information.
However, we still need to fight for the end of financial secrecy. This prevents society from monitoring tax collection and therefore aids tax evasion.
‘When a volunteer feels involved in a project and sees the benefit of their activities in the lives of others it gives them a sense of purpose.’
Does social auditing have other impacts?
Social auditing can reduce corruption in elections. If citizens do not allow a politician to enrich himself illegally while governing, he will not have millions to spend on election campaigns. This may enable more ethically-minded people who want to work for the good of society to seek positions in government.
Confronting injustice is also the best therapy against depression. A sense of hopelessness can be caused by constant exposure to unfair acts by governments. When a volunteer feels involved in a project and sees the benefit of their activities in the lives of others, it gives them a sense of purpose. This can result in happiness, even in the midst of chaos.
View the Global Corruption Index map by Transparency International
Why does corruption have such a devastating effect on people’s lives?
Corruption is a more socially accepted crime than violent crime because the perception is that the corrupt do not kill, they only steal. Then people begin to realise that because of corruption people are dying waiting for treatment in the healthcare system, for example.
That is why fighting corruption is so important. Corruption is at the root of poverty. It contributes to the deaths of our young people every day in gang wars and makes societies increasingly unequal and violent.
When I hear that Christian countries are corrupt it reminds me of the giant Goliath defying the army of the living God. And I think, how long will we have to hear such things being said? But with few people you can do an excellent job. You can use transparency as if it were the sling and auditing as if it were a stone. In this way the church can overcome corruption with its economic and political power, just as David overcame Goliath.
How can churches get involved in fighting corruption?
I believe that church participation is key to controlling corruption. We need to shift the culture from apathy to participation in decisions that affect the community. People think that it is a complicated job, but God himself moves people to this activity and enables them.
Initially the role of the church is to pray for those who take on the stressful work of confronting governments. The church needs to recognise that this is a very important ministry in corrupt and violent countries.
If the congregation has an auditor then he or she could serve God by teaching their community how to do public auditing. They could summarise the audits and share them with the community. It would be a cultural revolution in our countries, and it would help us to control widespread corruption.
Find out more about the various ways to do advocacy: https://learn.tearfund.org/en/themes/advocacy/how_to_do_advocacy/
Read our beginner’s guide on how to do advocacy by tracking government budgets