Next October, Chile will hold general elections to renew mayors and councilors throughout the country, so the parties are already in all kinds of negotiations and discussions to define their candidates. These elections do not generate as much public interest as the elections for members of Congress and the President of the Republic. However, the nature of the functions performed by mayors can be more relevant than those of MPs, ministers, and other high-ranking public officials.

Of course, the position of mayor offers its incumbents an excellent opportunity for personal corruption and enrichment, as well as huge resources for their collectives and electoral machines. A lot of money flows through the municipalities, especially if they are located in the cities and neighborhoods where the richest people live or where the country’s big companies and industries are based, whose taxes are largely administered by the 346 democratically elected councilors.

Although there is a system of trickle-down of resources from the richest municipalities to the poorest, the fact is that it does not resolve the acute inequalities that exist between them. It is clear that the municipalities of the richest districts multiply their resources more than fifty times more than those of the poorer and often more populous municipalities.

Some mayors and councils work miracles to finance their municipal works, but there are also others where the waste is blatant and even irritating for Chileans who have to move around in these areas. The infrastructure, the flow of traffic, the number and quality of parks, squares, and public spaces, but above all the inequalities in terms of security, are in stark contrast. Where the rich live, there are many more police officers and better health and education services.

From a distance, it is clear that corruption can be present in all municipalities, and what has been observed in recent years is that there are mayors who embezzle public funds and others who use their position to receive bribes, even from drug traffickers, a scourge that is now widespread in all municipalities in the country, regardless of the socio-economic standard of their inhabitants. When we talk about municipal councils, we are moved by the recognition that their authority is very high and that their members, although acting in unison, do not have the same powers as the head of the municipality. The law has established this, and neither successive governments nor parliaments have corrected this inequality.

Chileans have always been aware of the abuses and corruption of local government. Anyone who has to go to a municipal office can see how easily their demands can be met if they have a mayor or municipal administrator who is a friend or party comrade. Even to get a job in the municipality itself, which, depending on its solvency, can offer several job opportunities since it is in these public bodies that nepotism or favoritism is most evident.

The issue is the “municipal licence”. All projects, housing, and even permission to set up a newsstand or fast-food kiosk, require the approval of the mayor or another official under his control, such as the director of works. Today, large apartment blocks, hotels and other buildings are being questioned, suspended, or demolished because they have bypassed these permits or because their developers have obtained permits that do not comply with the master plan or environmental standards. It is believed that many of these permits were obtained by bribing mayors and, in many cases, officials in the ministries of housing and public works. These are wasted resources, especially when the corruption involves the judges who have to rule on the illegality of the projects.

The most serious allegations of bribery, corruption, and other practices at the parliamentary level are nothing compared to the multiple vices committed at the municipal level, involving public officials, businessmen, traders, and other social actors, whose most serious cases are only investigated by the courts and prosecutors.

This is why the municipal elections are currently generating so much appetite and compromise, and why it has been necessary to legislate so that mayors can only be re-elected once, which does not prevent them from moving from one municipality to another or other public offices.

From right to left, we now have mayors on trial, suspended, and even imprisoned, but their procedural future is still very uncertain, knowing that they have the most skilled lawyers and their trials often end in statute or inanity. There is even a former right-wing mayor who managed to flee to Europe to escape her certain arrest and conviction. There is also a former socialist mayor of a popular municipality who fell into the hands of a drug cartel. Huge sums of money in his pocket implicate the former mayor of one of the richest municipalities, such as Vitacura, who has just paid a millionaire’s bail to obtain his conditional release.

It goes on and on. It could be investigated how some mayors have been re-elected time and again in remote municipalities that, strangely enough, have more citizens than inhabitants. This could be explained by the fraudulent registration of thousands of addicted voters and supporters who only turn up in these municipalities on election day.

It is undoubtedly a lucrative business to be elected mayor and generally counts with the impunity of the entire political class, which colludes in the same vices. This is why there is already a clandestine struggle within the pro-government and opposition groups to divide up the next party nominations. In such a way that the booty, which is greater than that of many other public offices, is enough for everyone. This is what is known in Chile as the “democracy of agreements” or “civic friendship”, which has quickly enchanted the promising young politicians who have come to correct our bad republican practices.