Brazil’s Transparency Portal Freely Delivers Information to Citizens
Author: Jorge Hage Sobrinh, Minister of State, Office of the Comptroller General of Brazil (CGU)
Date: 19th September 2011
On September 20th, Brazil and seven other countries, joined by civil society organizations, will become one of the founding members of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). OGP aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance, and, as such, fits perfectly with the goals of our work at the Office of the Comptroller General of Brazil (Controladoria-Geral da União – CGU), the national body in charge of promoting transparency and preventing corruption.
We are very excited about the positive outcomes of the collaborative environment we are creating with the Open Government Partnership. The OGP will be an important vehicle to further promote social change in Brazil, to share our accumulated experience with the initiatives we have been developing nationally as well as to connect with other countries in similar situations and with leading civil society organizations and private sector entities crafting innovative solutions in the field of open government.
Establishing a Culture of Transparency
In 2004, CGU decided to launch its Transparency Portal andprovide free access to the all federal budget data.It was a very bold idea for that time, one that not many people considered as valuable or as important as we did.
Besides dealing with the usual challenges of publishing online data from different government datasets – in most cases not build on the same platforms –, we faced opposition from those who would not wish to see this information online and accessible to every citizen.
Today the Portal is a beacon of accountability and transparency. A proud symbol of a country that places citizen oversight and access to information on a very high standard.
Information Available to Everyone on a Daily Basis
The Portal is available to everyone without the need for username or a password. Plus, budgetary information is presented in a user-friendly format, translated into more accessible terms, which we call the “citizen language”. Both measures are intended to facilitate citizen oversight of the federal budget execution.
On the expenses side, it publishes information on: i) the direct spending of the federal government agencies through tender processes or direct contracts; ii) all transfers to states, municipalities and the federal district; and iii) transfers to citizens benefiting from social programs.
Furthermore, the Portal includes data on the spending of each body and agency on per diems and travel allowances, on salaries paid to its staff, on office supplies, equipments, projects and services contracted.
Information on expenses made through credit cards used by federal government officials is available on the Portal as well.
In order to keep providing better services to citizens, the Portal is constantly improved, with new features being added at least on a yearly basis.
Bearing that in mind, since May 2010, data on budget execution and revenue collection of the federal government is updated on a daily basis: it means thatevery transaction completed every day is published and available for consultation on every following morning on the Portal.
Moreover, the information published on the Transparency Portal will be available in open data format as a result of the commitments made by Brazil in its Open Government Partnership action plan for the first year of the initiative .
2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games
The Transparency Portal has now two new special sections to provide information on public expenses related to important public events that Brazil will host in the near future: the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
As those events require large amounts of public investments in services and infrastructure, the Brazilian government has been publishing information on each project since 2010.
Data on budget execution, procurement, financing, contracts, construction schedules, responsibilities, licenses, among other important information about those events is available for every citizen in an easy to access way through the Portal. The information is organized by each host city and by different areas of interest such as arenas, airports, security, etc.
Both sections provide also information on related news, a glossary, legislation and useful links directly related to the subject. An online channel allows whistleblowers and citizens to report problems they found in those projects to CGU. The identity of the citizen is fully protected.
Accountability in the Private Sector
A very important aspect of the Transparency Portal is its role as a tool to prevent corruption and mismanagement of public funds: public officials now know that their work is available online for anyone to see.
Aiming at the other side of the equation, CGU launched Brazil’s National Debarment List, a list of companies and individual suppliers sanctioned for committing fraud, acts of corruption and other misconducts in public tenders and contracts. The List consolidates in one place those sanctioned not only by federal bodies, but also by states and municipalities. At this point, it holds information from federal entities and thirteen Brazilian states.
The List is a one-stop shop for officials from federal, state and municipal level to identify those companies and individual suppliers that should not be hired or allowed to participate in public tenders. As of September 2011, the Debarment List holds 5.018 debarred companies and individuals suppliers.
It should be noted that the National Debarment List is being used by some private sector entities to identify companies that should not be hired nor included in their own supplier chains.
The Transparency Portal was designed to deliver free information on the federal budget execution to citizens. However, it would not have served its purposes if citizens were unaware of its existence or did not know what type of information is available.
So, government efforts to improve transparency and social control and raise awareness on the Portal were put in place. These initiatives include, for example, TV campaigns about the Portal; the “Eagle Eye on the Public Money” program, designed to train and build capacity of citizens, municipal leaders, local public officials, teachers and students on how to use the Portal and how to oversee the expenditure process; the dissemination of handbooks and practical guides; and essays, short-films and drawings contests for children and adults.
Citizens may also interact with the Portal’s team through surveys and report misconducts and crimes through a whistleblower channel on the Transparency Portal.
The efforts to raise awareness and to further promote transparency in Brazil have led to a steady growth in thenumber of visits to the Brazilian Transparency Portal. However, this is not the only way to measure the Portal’s importance. An increasing number of references in the media using the website’s data have demonstrated the success of the initiative by providing easy access to government financial information and contributing to public awareness through a very efficient and accessible channel of information.
 – The full implementation of this commitment is scheduled to take place on a biannual basis (2012-2013).