Ciudadano Inteligente is now .org! The change from .cl to .org represents the official association of our organization to the rest of Latin American, a feat that we’ve been working on for quite some time. Today, our organization boasts a multidisciplinary team from all over the world, who together work to promote transparency and citizen participation; and, to create innovative, powerful web applications, both in Chile as well as various other countries throughout the region. Some examples include Vota Inteligente – Argentina and Developing Latin America, the regional, collaborative initiative to develop civic applications.
Ciudadano Inteligente also counts on its excellent team of volunteers, who play a key role in supporting the applications, gathering information, and researching various topics. With the launching of our new website, we are officially calling on volunteers to participate in our organization, offering an opportunity to get involved in actively promoting transparency, accountability, and citizen participation. Now, students, professionals, or motivated citizens can volunteer their time and expertise in their respective areas, be it research, communications, graphic design, or web development. We will be constantly updating the open volunteering, as the registration form will be online.
As for the new graphic design, we changed our Foundation’s logo to a light bulb surrounded by many points, symbolizing the citizens who make up the Ciudadano Inteligente community. We decided it was the perfect time to adjust our image to include those who carry and inspire our Foundation to do the work it does.
In her blog post “Chao narigón, hola a todos”, Montserrat Lobos, the head of Design, tells us that “this new logo is a constant reminder to all who participate in this community to continue to strive to create more instances of participation and collaboration, to open our data, and to share information, concerns, problems and solutions”.
We’re inviting everyone, including you! Together, we are stronger!
Earlier this year, we received a visit at the Fundacion Ciudadano Inteligente (FCI) from Tony Bowden, a seasoned veteran in using technology for civil society. Tony has spent almost 10 years working in MySociety.org, one of the organizations that served as the inspiration for the founders of FCI when building our Foundation.
Throughout this week in Chile, Tony spent half his workday in our office discussing what we do and sharing his opinions on what our future goals might be. During one of these meaningful conversations, we came across a very important topic: our site Accesointeligente.org (Smart Access) which allows users to make requests for information under Chilean FOIA regulations. It was a must because MySociety encourages and coordinates the development of an open source software, Alaveteli, which embraces the same challenge – making FOI Request an simple task.
Ok, so let’s be more specific. The function of Alaveteli is the same, but the reality if faces (as in many countries when requesting public information) is different to ours. In other places, simply sending an e-mail to a public institution is all it takes to request information, where as in Chile it is necessary to fill out forms, either online or on paper. That’s why we weren’t able to use a great software like Alaveteli, even though we are completely aware of its existence.
It has been 18 months since the first cornerstone of Alaveteli was laid down, and thus far the platform has proved to be very successful, with more than ten implementations working around the world. Surely this success was what motivated the founders to hold a meeting for all those who wanted to be involved with Alaveteli. We were invited to talk and hear. Talk about what we’ve done in Chile and hear about Alaveteli capabilities.
The event took place in Oxford with two days of very stimulating conversations. The attendants had a very strong desire to achieve Freedom of Information in an easier and more accessible way for citizens.
One particular thing that caught my interest was the ability of Alaveteli to be used as a tool to pressure for information in countries that don’t even have a law for Access to Public Information. In these countries (eg: http://tuderechoasaber.es/ in Spain and http://www.queremossaber.br in Brazil) , Freedom of Information Access advocates started working with Alateveli without having a clearly defined channel, or any previously agreed upon terms, not even clear responsibilities within the governmental agencies. However, this did not seem to matter when they put the site up; the questions started being asked! But, what happens if one has to fill in forms, on or offline, like in the case of Chile? These FOI advocates don’t seem to mind. If they believe that the best method is via e-mail, then that’s exactly how they’ll do it. They do not necessarily adapt the tool to their reality, on the contrary, they use the tool to shape how they think their future law should work.
When I said earlier that Alaveteli was an open source software, I was not being completely accurate. Alaveteli is 40% code and 60% community. Many “hands” have contributed to Alaveteli and every one of those is greatly valued when improving the software. In FCI, we realized this and were inspired to join and contribute with our technology, particularly in those jurisdictions that include web forms. In return, our users would benefit from the improvements that this community has made to the application in all aspects of usability that our team had not been able to refine due to a lack of time.
In the conference, we showed our willingness to create a unit of Accesso Inteligente that integrates 100% with Alaveteli and that can manage both e-mail as well as webform requests simultaneously. The community celebrated our intention, as it would eventually be useful for Spain and Brazil. They are therefore discussing their laws and the web form in the debate with their governments.
We are hopeful that this integration will be secured within the upcoming months. We are anxious to provide citizens with a better service to access public information. Stay tuned for updates!
Making my way home on a Thursday evening rush hour is always a busy affair; I and swarms of commuters head to the two opposing metro exits to continue our journey home, although this evening, there is an air of unease as everyone is herded like cattle to just one exit. I casually turn to the available exit and assume that this is just an inconvenience due to maintenance, a typical happening in the city of over 6 million habitants, Santiago, Chile. As we arrive at ground level of Universidad Católica metro station, I stand still as people start running for shelter while covering up their mouths with their hands or clothes. My immediate reaction to this is to, of course, follow everyone else. I tried to judge the severity of the situation but this was a tough feat as all the facial expressions showed a rainbow of emotion. Young people wore nervous smiles, some were angry due to the interruption in their already busy schedule and the rest looked afraid and intimidated.
I hurriedly asked a girl standing next to me what was going on, she simply replied, “Oh, just student protests”. Tear gas being sprayed over the streets and large, overbearing riot vans swerving from left to right was now being considered a usual occurrence. Having seen the snow-ball effect of the London riots last August, it made me evaluate the two different reactions of both the English police force and the Chilean “carabineros”. Is an aggressive of passive reaction more or less successful to subdue protests that result in violence?
The protests that have been taking place from 2011-12 in Chile, mainly in Santiago, are so students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to receive the same standard of education. The silent protest that occurred last August 6th in Tottenham, London was a show of disappointment that the family of Mark Duggan, who was shot by a police officer, were not informed of his death within an appropriate amount of time. Both these protests differed in size and purpose however both resulted in violence. This violence then became the main talking point for the media and it overshadowed the main purpose of the protests all together.
This then brings me on to the reaction of the two police forces. Many in England voiced their disappointment of the more gentle approach taken by the police towards violent rioters however if you’d seen the aggressive nature of some of the ‘carabineros’ towards the masked rioters in Santiago, you may think twice about fighting violence with violence. Considering the other key factors that add to aggressive behaviour during protests, I feel that the ‘carabineros’ show of aggression towards protestors is only going to worsen the predicament. Heat, alcohol, crowded spaces are all triggers of this kind of crude behaviour. The way in which the government reacts to these protests is the ultimate factor that determines how the protest will unfold. Ultimately, it is the public that end up paying more taxes to cover the high cost of the repairs needed after such copious amounts of violence takes place.
These aggravating factors and the satisfaction and status for young people to go against law enforcement in both England and Chile are all together catalysts for disaster. The impression I seem to get from both the violence in England and in Chile is that those creating the violence are using the protests as an excuse to release their anger towards law enforcement whether it is rational or not. If we are going to behave like animals then surely we should be treated and controlled like animals?
In all cases undoubtedly, the protest leaders here feel that the negativity of the violence overshadows the purpose of their protest and also affects its integrity. Other ways of protesting have been tried in Chile, for example the kiss-in which shows the opposite of violence. However was the Chilean government taking sufficient notice of this gentler protest? Where is the happy medium between violent chaos and kissing marathon? With Piñera’s promise of making education his number one priority, you have to wonder if the violence of the student protests has helped to show the severity in this situation. Obviously, I have to appreciate that the stage of development of both Chile and England are not the same however the hostility between the two police forces and the Chilean and English public is still just as apparent. Are violent actions such as the use of tear gas and water cannons, and swerving vans all over the road the most successful in subduing the chaos? Should we fight fire with fire?
A few weeks after the launch of Inspector de Intereses — a Chilean website that allows citizens to map money trails in politics — the team at La Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente, the organization behind the site, had an interesting visitor. At the doorstep stood a member of parliament, carrying a stack of papers which outlined his interest in various corporations. He had received the team’s letter inviting him — and his colleagues — to update his records, and here he was, ready to do so, in person no less.
That eager senator wasn’t alone: about 20 percent of Chilean parliamentarians took the opportunity to update their records. In a country where conflicts of interest are not regularly discussed or acknowledged, this was an interesting shift, a change in culture and in process that was a part of Ciudadano Inteligente’s strategy to make more transparent the link between money and power in Chile.
La Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente (the Intelligent Citizen Foundation) is a Santiago, Chile, based nonprofit similar to the Sunlight Foundation in the US or MySociety in the UK. Founded by Felipe Heusser, it is committed to using technology and transparency to help create better informed, responsible and responsive citizens.
In theory, Chilean the law requires that politicians both disclose their corporate interests and abstain from voting on issues related to those interests (as well as those of their family members, up to three levels of affinity). In practice however, that law has not been taken too seriously. Indeed, not only do many politicians fail to disclose companies in which they or their family have interests, those that do often scribble them on the backs of pieces of paper. Scraps of illegible paper hardly comprise a system that creates confidence. This is where the Inspector de Intereses project comes into play. It documents the corporate interests of Chile’s national politicians with the goal of exposing (or preventing) conflicts of interest when votes related to those corporations, such as legislation on mining or agriculture, take place.
What struck me in speaking with Heusser is that Ciudadano Inteligente doesn’t just have a cool app on its hands — they have, and are executing on, a theory of change. The end game for them is to illuminate the relationships between money and politics, and ultimately they want to promote new legislation to regulate political donations. This lesson alone is worth remembering over and over again. Sometimes we get carried away with how technology can create an app or website that will expose a problem, but there is no larger strategy, no sense of how to actually change the situation. There is almost a belief that simple exposing the problem is sufficient, as once exposed, people will demand it be fixed. Such transparency is an essential step, and sometimes is creates the right conditions for change, but the history of social, political and environmental campaigns are littered with examples where awareness-building was not sufficient. The best lesson Ciudadano Inteligente may have to teach others is understanding that websites like Inspector de Intereses are not just an end unto themselves, but also a tool for achieving a political objective. And in order to be effective, you have to understand how you are going to use that tool.
For Ciudadano Inteligente, the case of developing stronger disclosure and campaign finance rules started with getting hard, reliable data on who has ownership stakes in what companies, and how they are currently voting — in other words, to gather and investigate the evidence to determine whether there really is a problem, and if so, how it can best be addressed.
And of course, getting that data wasn’t easy. Heusser recounted for me the three databases his team pulled together to create the engine that drives Inspector de Intereses: First, the government-supplied database of all corporate interests disclosed by MPs; second, a database they pulled together from the public register, register of commerce, and public sector record, to build what Heusser terms a “family tree of data,” similar to the one that powers TheyRule.net; and finally, a dataset that combs through each politician’s voting record.
The first dataset, although purchased from the government, was woefully incomplete, so Ciudadano Inteligente sent letters to every MP in Chile, explaining the project and inviting them to update their records. There were errors in the data — thanks, Heusser says, to the quality of government data reporting and not to Ciudadano Inteligente’s work — but because of the response rate they got and the thoroughness of their efforts to correct flaws, the entire project enjoyed strong protection from would-be critics.
What immediately became apparent to the project team upon reviewing the data was that 40 percent of MPs were not disclosing their assets at all. This alone was enough to garner them a fair bit of media coverage.
Heusser warns, though, that while the story was initially picked up by some online news sites, they didn’t get as much traction as they’d hoped. However, nothing helps with media like good opposition, and in their case the leader of Chile’s extreme right-wing party attacked the project publicly which resulted in the mainstream media becoming much more interested.
But real impact shouldn’t be measured in terms of media coverage. And this is what I love about this project — they have anecdotal evidence to suggest it is changing the way elected officials behave. Indeed, many politicians have, off the record, shared that they and their colleagues are being more careful to be more comprehensive when listing their corporate interests. This is because elected officials are no longer certain what information is publicly available — and will therefore end up in Inspector de Intereses databases. This uncertainty means they err on the side of disclosing more than would be public. As a result, Chilean citizens and journalists now know more about potential conflict of interests than they did before the project launched.
In other words, by creating a set of checks and balances that lives outside the government’s immediate realm Ciudadano Inteligente is able to apply pressure on government officials to change their relationship to disclosure that has a significant impact on accountability. We’ll be watching closely to see what happens next year to that 40 percent of MPs who didn’t disclose any assets.
A few technical details for those of you who are interested in the nuts and bolts: The project’s code is open-source and available on GitHub (though Heusser warns that it’s not exactly plug-and-play, given the specific data structures they were working with); and while they do not currently have an API, they are interested in the possibility of creating one, and are looking into developing a more deployable version of the project with an API that could allow other NGOs to deploy the tool and play with their own databases.
More immediately, they are looking into update the database records again this year.
Disclosure: Heusser was the conference director for Personal Democracy Forum Latin America, a conference techPresident’s parent company hosted in Santiago in 2010.
Personal Democracy Media is thankful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident’s WeGov section.
A Chilean NGO’s online app has revealed that 40% of the country’s MPs have not been registering their assets and interests in full, despite being compelled to do so.
An app that cross-matches Chilean MPs’ register of assets and interests with their voting record has revealed a startlingly low level of openness among the parliamentarians about their interests.
Chilean MPs have been compelled for some time to register their assets and interests – but it was only last year, when a non-government body, the Ciudadano Inteligente Fundacion, cross-matched that data with a wide range of information about MPs’ voting records that it was revealed that 40% of MPs were not registering their full assets and interests.
The organisation has set up a database, that enables members of the public to find potential conflicts of interest by analysing the data disclosed through the members’ register of assets.
“No-one was analysing this data, so it was incomplete,” explained Felipe Heusser, executive president of the Fundacion. “We used technology to build a database, using a wide range of open data and mapped all the MPs’ interests. From that, we found that nearly 40% of MPs were not disclosing their assets fully.”
Publicity about the finding has resulted in greater use of the app, which enables people to map MPs’ declared interests against topics on which they are voting.
The app is one example being highlighted at this week’s Open Government Partnership conference in Brazil. Heusser said the aim is to change MPs’ behaviour and highlight potential conflicts on interests. “And this was all done with a simple app and open data,” he said.
But politicians, like most of us, find it easier to make promises than keep them.
In Chile back in 2010, newly inaugurated president, Sebastián Piñera, was eager to present his country with an ambitious program for change, covering everything from entrepreneurship to judicial reform to mining concessions. The bright, young open government activists at Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente (disclosure: grantee of my employer) wanted to know just how many of those legislative commitments had actually been achieved in the past two years. The answer: half way into Piñera’s term, he’s only been able to pass 24% of what he committed to.
We simply don’t have enough data to compare. My hunch is that most politicians achieve less than 20% of the commitments they make during their campaigns, most of which remain forgotten in the depths of Google and recycled newspaper.
That may soon start to change thanks to a new trend in the online transparency community. The first website I’m aware of that set out to track the fulfillment of campaign promises by politicians is Mumbai Votes, which was first created back in 2004. (You can see Namita Singh’s interview with Mumbai Votes founder Vivek Gilani at the Technology for Transparency Network.)
Then in 2009 PolitiFact launched the Obameter, a compilation of President Obama’s 508 campaign promises, categorized by topic and the current level of fulfillment. (So far Obama has kept roughly 34% of his promises, which puts him well ahead of Chile’s Piñera.)
Last month, in Perú, the transparency organization Proetica — in partnership with the National Democratic Institute, Citivox, and Escuelab — launched Promesometro.pe, the “promise meter,” which encourages citizens to document and monitor the promises of politicians. The Monterrey-based Mexican newspaper El Norte launched its own Promesometro for the 2009 gubernatorial race in Mexico’s northern state of Nuevo Leon.
Of all the new promise-tracking platforms, the most intriguing for me is Arena Electoral, which has yet to track a single promise. But that’s because Mexico has yet to elect its next president. (Elections are in July.) Until then, Arena Electoral has worked with political scientists to develop a methodology to rank the four candidates’ proposals on 11 different issues. It has also grown a community of dozens of Mexico’s most respected civil society organizations and think tanks to participate in the evaluation of the candidate’s proposals. For example, Cencos and Espolea will evaluate the candidates’ proposals related to human rights while CIDAC, IDEA, and IMCO will evaluate their proposals for economic development. The strict methodology and the diversity of thought among all these organizations should help ensure something resembling objectivity. Throughout the campaign, Arena Electoral will create a database of each candidate’s campaign promises and then rank the fulfillment of each of those promises during the next president’s six-year term.
I believe that the demand for promise-tracking software is only just beginning. Carole Excell of The Access Initiative says that civil society organizations participating in this year’s United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development have called for a global registry of all commitments made by federal governments in international fora related to sustainable development. That’s right, a “sustainabledevelopmentometer.” OK, so they’ll come up with a better name.
There are similar calls for a platform to monitor the commitments of governments at the Open Government Partnership. In fact, OpenTheGovernment.org has already launched Open Government Partners as a WordPress-based blog where civil society organizations involved in the Open Government Partnership can leave updates on their government’s progress toward commitments. I’m a fan of launching early, but it seems to me that the site could benefit from studying some of the other commitment monitoring platforms.
Finally, and perhaps the most ambitious promise-monitoring project of them all, the Avina Foundation has launched the Latin America Network of Sustainable Cities to unite civil society organizations in major cities across the region in order to standardize indices that measure a city’s performance on seven major topic areas related to sustainability (for example, “access to water” or “climate change”). They then hope to link the results of those investigations to the commitments by local politicians in order to improve their cities’ sustainability.
So here are my own initial reactions to the rise of promise monitoring. They are probably ill-conceived and mostly off-the-mark, but I offer them with the hope that readers can help improve my thinking.
First, fulfillment of promises isn’t always the most important metric. Rather, we should focus on results. The Chilean project, From What Was Said to What Was Done, emphasizes that 69% of the legislative proposals made by President Piñera didn’t correspond to his original commitments, but what if those pieces of legislation are actually better than what Piñera had originally proposed? (Always keeping in mind that “better” is that most subjective of adjectives.) Just because a politician promises something doesn’t mean that it’s good. Here in Mexico, for example, candidate Lopez Obrador has promised to lower the cost of fuel, but Mexico’s leading think tanks have demonstrated effectively how fuel subsidies hurt the country’s economy, environment, and urban planning. This is what I like about Arena Electoral — it will measure progress toward commitments that have already been assessed by the country’s leading civil society organizations.
Second, these platforms seem to offer an important opportunity to educate citizens as to how legislation is crafted, how it is passed, and how it is obstructed. Both The Obameter and From What Was Said to What Was Done do this in their own ways. The Obameter hires bloggers to post updates to each of Obama’s 508 commitments (lots of work), and those blog posts usually include links to related documents from The White House and the Congress. For example, we’re told that Obama promised to “expand and make refundable the child and dependent care credit.” But Obama had to let go of that promise in order to get an extra year of unemployment benefits for qualified workers and a one-year reduction of Social Security taxes. To bad for those busy parents paying for costly child care, but a boost for the unemployed in return.
From What Was Said to What Was Done relies more on graphics and visualizations, but for each piece of proposed legislation we are given a link to its sister site, Vota Inteligente, which offers a full summary of the bill, the voting results, and the record of the congressional debate — all scraped directly from the official congressional website.
Neither website, however, seeks to show how lobbying often influences which promises a presidential candidate is able to keep and which remain broken. The Obameter, it seems, could benefit from linking more liberally to Sunlight Foundation’s Lobbying Tracker and Influence Explorerwhile From What Was Said to What Was Done could mine some fascinating data from its sister site, Interest Inspector.
I think that promise monitoring platforms will need to partner with influential media if they want politicians to feel pressured to keep their commitments. Here in Mexico, the Internet has enabled the rise of fascinating and relatively influential indie pundit sites like Crítica Pura, Vivir Mexico, and Homozapping. But the vast majority of Mexican voters still form their opinions based on what they are told by mainstream news anchors Joaquin Lopez-Doriga and Carmen Arestegui. Such influential opinion-shapers could help hold elected leaders more accountable by consistently pointing their respective audiences to promise monitoring platforms. Only then would politicians feel compelled to respond.
Thinking in the long term, it seems that promise monitoring platforms will be most effective in countries and situations where sanction mechanisms are in place. For example, the Obameter is better positioned in the United States than Arena Electoral in Mexico because the US has re-election while Mexico does not. Obama has clear incentives to show the electorate that he fulfilled the promises of his first campaign now that he is once again up for re-election. However in Mexico, where there is no re-election, President Felipe Calderon has less incentive to fulfill his initial commitments since he will be out of office (and likely out of the country) no matter what. (The group “Reelect or Punish” has produced an excellent documentaryexplaining the importance of re-election in Mexico.)
Similarly, the member countries of the Open Government Partnership have no clear incentives to fulfill their commitments because there are no clearly defined rewards or sanctions for doing so. Governments such as Mexico’s receive positive coverage on the Open Government Website despite making little progress toward their commitments. Promise monitoring platforms will be most impactful in situations where the “promisers” have clearly defined incentives to fulfill their commitments (and sanctions when they don’t).
Finally, I would stress that it is important to recognize the achievements of elected officials, rather than merely dwelling on their shortcomings. It’s easy to glance at the first page of The Obameter and criticize the US president for only keeping 175 of his 508 campaign promises. On the other hand, when I dug deeper into each of Obama’s “kept promises,” it is rather extraordinary what he has been able to do in the past three years despite the lack of a shared vision with Congress. It seems to me that promise monitoring platforms can be most effective by strategically doling out criticism and recognition.
Those are my initial thoughts about the rise of political promise monitoring. What do you think?
There is no question regarding the fact that transparency policies, generally speaking, have captured the attention of a wide variety of stakeholders that from different grounds and interests have praised transparency to be one of the cornerstone initiatives of modern governance. In the words of Christopher Hood, transparency has become a pervasive cliché, and he may be just right. Everyone loves it, though we are not sure if it’s for the same reasons, nor actually do we know if we all love the same thing.
Big expectations are over the shoulders of transparency; governments expect public sector efficiency and growth, civil society expects accountability and participation in the policy process, companies and entrepreneurs expect new business opportunities, and democracy more generally expects that with transparency we will all be better off.
Vast amounts of articles and columns have stressed the bright side of transparency, highlighting why is it better to be open than closed and better bottom-up than merely top-down. Even though as member of a pro-transparency community of NGOs I would quickly classify myself and our organization in the side of the optimists, in times where OGP and the transparency agenda is getting increasing attention, it looks like appropriate to focus not only on transparency expectations, but also on the challenges associated with meeting those expectations and the risks involved in the process, which may potentially hazard any apparent transparency achievement.
Looking forward to the Open Government Partnership meeting in Brasilia, the first big challenge is about participation and the level of cohesion behind a transparency action plan that is expected to be the result of an open and franc dialogue between governments and civil society organizations. The degree to which the actions plans are the result of a participatory process, and not a mere consultation or top-down notification, is fundamental for the luck of a transparency initiative that is said to be defined by civil society participation. Risks to a participatory process include CSO’s that may push to hard in an “all in” transparency agenda for the action plan that may provoke government’s robust opposition, but it may also include the risk of a government that smiles to the camera every-time the word “transparency” and “participation” is mentioned, but that in practice, does not understand that participation is about dialogues and not monologues, about agreements and not notifications. It will be hard for many governments that will face a more substantive participation for the first time.
A second big challenge regards to the governance of OGP. It is yet to be seen how will OGP govern member countries without mediating international treaties or law enforcing tools, and how will it govern such a diverse group of civil society organizations that though committed to democracy, are not necessarily elected bodies. We witness an innovative organization that will have to prove that transparency and civic participation can move forward without traditional law-binding instruments. Risks on the other hand remain on failing to pressure governments to fulfill their transparency commitments, and to have them praise their OGP membership without achieving nor even committing to real substantive transparency reforms, in opposition to small cosmetic transparency policies that are abundant in many country action plans. The governance of civil society organizations on the equal side of governments is a chapter in itself. It is also to be seen how coordination, standards and agreements will be achieved among CSO’s, how will they be represented at upper levels of OGP, but above all, how will we develop enough cohesion to protect organizations that are left on the sides by governments that oppose an open dialogue, and cohesion to stand together to push for real transparency change.
No doubt that transparency is the hot topic of our days, and that OGP will gather the creme of governments and civil society organizations that will smile to the camera every-time someone mentions the word “transparency”. We will be there for the picture, but will also be there to make sure that OGP takes off, and that governments keep their transparency promises as strong as they keep their smiles to the camera.
In the mid-nineties, following the return to democracy (1990), Chile began a process of cultural change aimed toward greater transparency. At that point, “the Chilean state was known as a state of secret” explains Alberto Precht, Secretary of the Commission on Integrity and Transparency of the Ministry General Secretariat of the Presidency and Chile’s representative to Open Government Partnership.
Corruption cases reinforced the need for a pro-transparency agenda that became increasingly formalized from 2002-2003 onwards. According to Precht, it was an agenda of “consensus” that would ultimately change the political makeup of the government.
Increasing Public Access
One of the most important milestones during this pro-transparency reform period has been the enactment of a 2008 law increasing public access to information. To monitor compliance, the government created an independent agency, the Council for Transparency.“More than 100,000 requests for information have been submitted to date,”notes Precht.
While embraced by the public, the requests for increasing transparency sparked fears among some government officials. “I remember the fear public officials had of publishing their salaries on the Internet. However, despite all the concern, nothing serious happened,” says Precht. One outcome of the law has been the revelation of the properties, assets, and potential conflicts of interest for government officials. This has generated news reports and increased audits and scrutiny by civil society representatives, which have in turn helped restore integrity and stronger accountability mechanisms among public officials. “While modernization requires public participation, this implies a paradigm shift because policies have historically been generated from the experts and not from the people,” Precht adds.
He also suggests that other measures will soon go up for parliamentary debate, including a new regulation on lobbying and financing of electoral campaigns. Additionally, other open government initiatives are in the works, such as the recently launched beta version of a public data portal, which according to Precht “allows for databases that can build applications and provide information, such as crime maps or how much longer a bus will reach a particular stop.”
“We want to shine in OGP”
Last September, the government of Chile submitted a letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP). In December, officials created a domestic OGP working group that included four NGOs and the Comptroller General of the Republic and the Commission for Transparency, which are autonomous auditors in this area. These groups will work together with the Government to create the first draft country action plan to be presented on March 30, 2012 by President Sebastián Piñera to the Chilean public.
Felipe Heusser, Director of Ciudadano Inteligente, one of the civil society organizations invited to the working group in charge of developing a country action plan for Chile, says that there is no doubt that Chile is much better off than it was a few years ago. “We now have a Freedom of Information Law in place that has worked reasonably well thanks to all stakeholders, including Government, civil society organizations, and the Transparency Council (Information Commissioner) that have done a fantastic job. In comparative terms, Chile is one of the countries with most submissions of information requests, which is a healthy sign of a society that is using its right to know,”Heusser notes.
“As a country, one of our greatest assets should be to have the image of a transparent country,” says Precht. Chile recently ranked number 22 in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index and wants to move to the top 20. “Though we are witnessing some positive signs towards transparency like the publishing of data catalogs, much more needs to be done. Open data is not about the publication of a few pieces of data, but the substantive publication of enough data that may allow us to understand policies and account government’s performance. Policies will never be transparent if they can’t be tested and openly evaluated,” adds Heusser.
These past few months, Chile reached agreements on OGP at the technical committee level. However, the public consultation process involved only five organizations, so the remaining challenge is to get input from a larger number of citizens who may not yet be aware of these new measures.
According to Heusser, Chilean civil society organizations are looking forward to OGP and its upcoming annual meeting in Brazil. “We see it as a great opportunity to persuade our governments to move the transparency agenda forward and deeper by learning and sharing from some of the best transparency practices that exist among the international community.”
Thus far Precht and Heusser believe that the greatest success for Chile since joining the OGP has been the understanding that secrecy in public affairs has to be the exception, not the rule, and that ensuring accountability requires independent bodies to oversee public agencies. Chile will deliver its first draft action plan in April 2012 “and we want shine in this initiative,” concludes Precht.
¿Qué piensa cada congresista sobre el binominal, el semipresidencialismo, el matrimonio homosexual o sobre el aborto terapéutico?, ¿A qué opositor de su conglomerado político admiran más, a cuál menos?, ¿cuáles son sus creencias religiosas y cuáles sus referentes personales? 19 parlamentarios de diferentes partidos políticos accedieron a someterse al Rayo X Político, la nueva iniciativa de El Vaso, el blog de la Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente.