Brazil’s award-winning Transparency Portal has exposed corrupt payments and reduced officials’ expense claims by 25%. The platform provides an accessible breakdown of government expenditure at regional and federal levels, allowing users to track budget allocations, resource transfers and expense claims. The site has become a vital source of information for journalists and received nearly one million unique visitors in 2016.
Results & Impact
Information from the Transparency Portal has led to the resignation of one government minister and forced a second to repay over $30,000 after both were found guilty of corruption. It has also exposed organised tax frauds. The rise in scrutiny brought about by the platform led to a 25% decline in expense claims made by public officials.
Comptroller General of Brazil, SERPRO
The Comptroller General of Brazil was established in 2003 to crack down on state corruption. A working group determined which type of financial information to release, oversaw its collation and rephrased complex budgetary terminology into more accessible language. A platform was created to allow citizens to access the information as easily as possible. This included cross-categorizing data so it could be searched by multiple terms and allowing the portal to be accessed without a username or password. A public engagement campaign was launched to encourage citizens and journalists to make use of the data, involving competitions, demonstrations and television ads.
Cost & Value
The platform cost the Comptroller General’s Office $137,000 to build.
Running since 2004
There was resistance from some government officials and departments who were reluctant for the spending data to be made publicly available. Aside from this, collating the information and making it intelligible to people outside government was problematic. The data had been maintained in a diffuse way, lacking a coherent or consistent format. Many items of spending were labelled according to technical budget terminology, making them difficult to understand for people outside government.
Other South and Central American states (Chile, El Salvador and Mexico) have used Brazil’s Transparency Portal as a model to develop similar platforms.
Brazil’s award-winning Transparency Portal has exposed corrupt payments and reduced officials’ expense claims by 25%. The platform allows anyone to view public spending at regional and national levels of government, as well as by individual officials who can be searched by name.
The site has become increasingly popular in Brazil, and has proved an effective tool in engaging the public in government finances. Unique monthly visitor numbers have grown dramatically: they rose by 3400% between 2004 and 2012 and nearly tripled between 2012 and 2016.
Its creation in 2004 reflected growing concerns about government corruption and was the culmination of Lula da Silva’s 2002 campaign pledge to root out such practices. In 2003, as president Lula established the Comptroller General of Brazil (CGU), an office focused on making government spending more transparent.
It was decided that one way of fulfilling this pledge would be to make data on government spending and officials’ expenses public. This information was previously kept private within a closed system, operated by the Ministry of Finance. The data was so secretly held that even elected officials had not been able to view it.
Aside from the departmental resistance the proposal encountered, the main problem was developing a format and mechanism through which to share the information. The data was disorganised, and many items of spending were labelled according to technical budget terminology, making them difficult to everyday citizens to understand.
To meet the challenge, the CGU engaged SERPRO, a government data agency, to develop a platform that was simple to use and could display information effectively. This led to the creation of the Transparency Portal of the Federal Government. The platform allows users to search data by multiple categories (for example, by public servants and areas of expenditure) and download information via spreadsheets. The platform can be used without a password or log in information and budget terminology has been rendered into more accessible language. The process of collating spending information and developing the portal lasted from June 2003 until November 2004, when the platform was launched, and was overseen by a specially appointed working group operating within the CGU.
The amount and type of spending data has been gradually expanded since the portal’s creation. The platform gives users oversight over four broad areas of government finance: the implementation of budgetary spending; the allocation of central government resources to states, individuals or companies; records of government and individual expenses and public sector revenue. Information is updated on a daily or monthly basis.
The platform also contains a list of companies convicted of fraud in relation to public sector contracts. More recently, specific sections have been added detailing government spending for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
The portal’s launch was accompanied by a public engagement program to encourage citizens to make use of the information. This included television advertisements, training events and competitions.
The desire for public involvement is reflected in the platform itself. Feedback can be provided within any section of the portal and additions to search terms and downloadable data have been made as a result of public suggestions. There is also a discrete channel for users to report financial misconduct without compromising their identity.
The CGU uses the platform to search for corruption on an ongoing basis. One notable discovery was a tax avoidance scheme whereby wealthy Brazilians were registering expensive cars under the names of welfare recipients.
The impact of government monitoring has been extended by civic activism. Data from the portal has spawned Where Did My Money Go?, a website set up to monitor how tax revenue is spent. Open Accounts, a civic group, trains journalists to use the portal and has helped enshrine the tool as a vital resource. A 2011 story exposed a senior government official who had charged $30,000 of personal spending to his government account, forcing him to repay it. In another case, Matilde Ribeiro, formerly the Minister of Promotion of Racial Equality, was forced to resign following an examination of her government credit card expenses by the media. The rise in scrutiny brought about by the platform led to a 25% decline in expense claims following its launch.
Despite the Transparency Portal’s success, corruption remains a formidable problem in Brazil. In 2014, Transparency International ranked Brazil 69th out of 175 states and emphasised the endemic levels of corruption in Brazil’s legal system. Corruption was estimated to have cost the country close to $40 billion in 2008 according to an investigation by Sao Paulo industry representatives.
Nevertheless, the platform has won a number of international awards. It was recognised at the 2008 UN convention against corruption, and at two international anti-corruption summits in 2009. It has also led other states in South and Central America (Chile, El Salvador and Mexico) to follow suit and copy the Transparency Portal concept.
(Picture: Wikipedia/Protesto Contra Corrupcao)