Posting in Government
Brazil's Transparency Portal is shining a light on the nation's bureaucracy.
Brazil is no stranger to bureaucracy. For decades, Brazil's politics resembled the obfuscated, and sometimes tainted, dealings of New York's Tammany Hall. The maxim "Rouba mas faz," typifies this tradition. "He steals," residents have said of former São Paulo Mayor Paulo Maluf, who allegedly stashed away $1 billion USD of public funds, "but he gets things done."
That tradition, however, is beginning to erode. In addition to cracking down on individual crimes like embezzlement, the government is employing a data transparency mechanism to create what McKinsey consultants Marcos Cruz and Alexandre Lazarow call "a new culture of accountability."
Key to that effort is Brazil's Transparency Portal. Launched in 2004, the Transparency Portal now tracks nearly $4.8 trillion of government funds. Everything from charges on state-issued credit cards to contracts related to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games must be posted on the site within 24-hours.
In spite of some early opposition, the effort seems to be working. More than two million Brazilians visit the site each year. The site's willingness to breach previously-unmentioned topics such as personal income adds to its allure. In July, for example, the Transparency Portal released the salary data for 700,000 state employees. According to the report, a public sector doctor in Brazil earns $1,580 USD per month, whereas a member of the Brazilian Senate earns $11,761 USD per month.
Information like this is very good for Brazil, labor lawyer Felipe Cardoso told the Rio Times Online. "Everybody has the right to know how much public servants earn because they are paid by taxes," he said.
Is Brazil's Transparency Portal enough to clean up public corruption? On this issue, the jury is still out. As Gregory Michiner of Al Jazeera pointed out Aug. 16, Brazil's existing democracy is based upon immunity for the previous dictatorship. That, coupled with a 6 percent conviction rate for political scandals, means that while Brazil is taking promising steps in the right direction, it still has miles left to go.
Sep 12, 2012
The democratic goal of transparency competes with the goals of efficiency and political expediency--some of the reasons why many new democracies do not institute transparency measures. If Brazil's government believes this system is becoming too cumbersome and inexpedient, the transparency measures will be at risk. Transparency advocates in civil society should advocate for public buy-in and support for this system, and ensure that Brazilians keep using it and are invested in its existence, so that any attempt to remove it or circumvent it will be met with political backlash.
Great question. TechPresident agrees with you sunnflow: "Only with the Promethean efforts of the media and activist groups will citizens grab hold of new transparency mechanisms and make a difference. Although it is still early, positive signs abound. Television, radio, and newspaper media have been paying close attention to the law, and the number of requests reflects a promising upward trend. The hope is that Brazil's initial euphoria for transparency provokes greater commitments to openness, and not, as is so often the case, unmet expectations and disillusionment." The real question is whether that media attention, in conjunction with the government's efforts to raise awareness through TV commercials, are enough to build the momentum necessary to keep the Transparency Portal on firm footing.