Latin America is fighting corruption by opening up government data

Anoush Darabi in apolitical: “Hardly a country in Latin America has been untouched by corruption scandals; this was just one of the more bizarre episodes. In response, using a variety of open online platforms, both city and national governments are working to lift the lid on government activity, finding new ways to tackle corruption with technology….

In Buenos Aires, government is dealing with the problem by making the details of all its public works projects completely transparent. With BA Obras, an online platform, the city maps projects across the city, and lists detailed information on their cost, progress towards completion and the names of the contractors.

“We allocate an enormous amount of money,” said Alvaro Herrero, Under Secretary for Strategic Management and Institutional Quality for the government of Buenos Aires, who helped to build the tool. “We need to be accountable to citizens in terms of what are we doing with that money.”

The portal is designed to be accessible to the average user. Citizens can filter the map to focus on their neighbourhood, revealing information on existing projects with the click of a mouse.

“A journalist called our communications team a couple of weeks ago,” said Herrero. “He said: ‘I want all the information on all the infrastructure projects that the government has, and I want the documentation.’ Our guy’s answer was, ‘OK, I will send you all the information in ten seconds.’ All he had to do was send a link to the platform.”

Since launching in October 2017 with 80 public works projects, the platform now features over 850. It has had 75,000 unique views, the majority coming in the month after launching.

Making people aware and encouraging them to use it is key. “The main challenge is not the platform itself, but getting residents to use it,” said Herrero. “We’re still in that process.”

Brazil’s public spending checkers

Brazil is using big data analysis to scrutinise its spending via its Public Expenditure Observatory (ODP).

The ODP was founded in 2008 to help monitor spending across government departments systematically. In such a large country, spending data is difficult to pull together, and its volume makes it difficult to analyse. The ODP pulls together disparate information from government databases across the country into a central location, puts it into a consistent format and analyses it for inconsistency. Alongside analysis, the ODP also makes the data public.

For example, in 2010 the ODP analysed expenses made on credit cards by federal government officers. They discovered that 11% of all transactions that year were suspicious, requiring further investigation. After the data was published, credit card expenditure dropped by 25%….(More)”.