Paraguay passed its Access to Information (ATI) law in September 2014, which became the national ATI law #100 worldwide, and thus joined most of the Latin American countries which had adopted similar legislation earlier. It is in this context, and since early 2015, that the Ministry of Justice of Paraguay has been participating in an experience exchange program with other countries from the region to strengthen the implementation process of the Law 5,282/2014 on Citizen’s Free Access to Public Information and Government Transparency which will enter into force in September. Supported by the World Bank’s South-South Knowledge Exchange Trust Fund (SSKETF), this initiative involves exchanges with peers responsible for the ATI laws in Chile, Uruguay and Brazil.
The implementation of this law is the first commitment of Paraguay’s 2nd National Action Plan of the OGP. This WB support to Paraguay is in sync with the latest Country Partnership Strategy, including Outcome#2 “Boosting Pro-Poor Delivery of Public Goods and Services”, as well as WB support to the country’s efforts in the OGP, in which ATI Law is one of the 4 eligibility criteria, and among the topics with the largest number of OGP national action plans’ commitments (see report here).
More broadly, this support builds upon prior WB’s ATI experience through policy dialogue, capacity building and technical assistance on national ATI legislation to several countries over the last 10 years -including IDF grants to Mexico’s IFAI, Honduras IAIP and Chile’s Council of Transparency in LCR- and the launching of the RTA of which the World Bank is a member. It also builds on the World Bank’s (WB) Access to Information (ATI) policy which has recently celebrated its 5th anniversary (see article here), during which time it has made available over 6 million documents and reports downloaded. It is in this sense that this peer learning program has been developed.
This peer learning program aims to develop the capacity of the State, through the Ministry of Justice’s ATI Directorate, to successfully implement the ATI Law, which is geared to enhance transparency and improve governance.
"It is intended that, at the end of this process of sharing knowledge and good practices, the Ministry of Justice would have a strategic plan for capacity building and developing the systems and tools necessary for the implementation of the law throughout public administration" explained the Vice Minister of Justice Ever Martinez.
The cooperation between the World Bank and the Ministry of Justice consists of visits of international experts from Chile, through its Transparency Council, from Uruguay, through the AGESIC, and Brazil, through the Comptroller General Office (CGU) so that these agencies may provide direct technical assistance to the Ministry of Justice’s ATI Directorate. The exchange addresses the following areas: 1) training of government officials and awareness campaigns for citizens, 2) the use of ICT tools for handling requests for information, and 3) a monitoring system for collecting data. In addition to the visits mentioned above, other activities of the program that follow a multi-stakeholder approach include a series of video-conferences, a study tour of a delegation from Paraguay to Chile, as well as an awareness raising national seminar to close this program in September 2015.
“Throughout our World Bank support to national Access to Information legislation in several countries in the region, and the peer network RTA, as well as our support to the OGP Access to Information Working Group, we believe on the importance of peer learning among countries for reducing the learning curve, while taking into account the national context… We hope that this specific peer knowledge sharing continues in the future -beyond the activities of the program- through support from the RTA, to which the Ministry of Paraguay recently joined” mentioned Marcos Mendiburu, Senior Social Development Specialist from the World Bank.
As part of the peer learning program, María José Méndez, Director of the Planning and Quality Unit of the Transparency Council of Chile, visited Paraguay in order to provide strategic support to the Ministry of Justice.
In this interview, María José shares her impressions of the visit.
What is your assessment of the exchange that took place with the Ministry of Justice?
This first visit was very fruitful. An initial work plan is being drafted where the goal is to support a planning process to implement the law that enters into force in September. This plan consists of both a short-term vision as well as a long-term one regarding the implementation of the transparency law.
Together with the staff of the Ministry of Justice, we talked to several strategic stakeholders for the implementation of the law. Advancing transparency is a collective responsibility which cannot be addressed by one single player, so it is crucial to identify other stakeholders, and in particular the commitments made by them, and from there develop strategic alliances that may contribute to the success of the implementation of the law. The planning process –which was started in June- not only looks at what is needed as outputs right now, but a shared vision with other strategic allies -which are the ones that are going to get behind this.
In your opinion, which are the main strengths of the transparency law in Paraguay?
The coverage of public agencies or reporting entities mandated by the law, which involves all branches of government, is very comprehensive. It not only includes local governments but also state owned companies. That also makes it a very challenging law. However, this could contribute to make its implementation more consistent across public administration as it does not only apply to some but to all public institutions. Therefore, the role of the entity responsible for leading coordination of the implementation process is crucial. Here, a coordinating mechanism that is validated by all branches of government would be important for its legitimacy. When implementing a public policy there is much to learn and we don’t have all the answers today because this is a civil right and civil rights evolve as a result of the behavior of people. Today we have made a great start, the fact of the ATI Law being ambitious makes it very demanding but it also allows us to dream.
What lessons from the Chilean experience may be relevant for Paraguay?
The experience of the Transparency Council (CPLT) of Chile is different from that of Paraguay since t there is an autonomous enforcement body for the implementation of the law, which required the setup of a new entity (CPLT) with its own structure that was going to be in charge, therefore the dialogue can be established from a different platform. Yet, if there is a key message that we could convey through this exchange initiative is that public policy is developed through a network approach. So there is not one single entity responsible for the implementation of this public policy but in fact its success relies on everyone else’s efforts. The Transparency Council is working closely with the Chilean government and it also works with other branches, the press, the academia and civil society because we know we cannot do it alone; today the Council’s staff consists of 115 people who after five years has been able to implement all its lines of business, but we do not do everything, we let others do things with us so as to strengthen the overall transparency system.
How could the Transparency Council of Chile support the Ministry of Justice of Paraguay?
We plan to support the Ministry of Justice in the short and medium term. In the short term, we will continue to support the process of definition of tools and systems to come to fruition in September and we will help assess the extent of implementation of the agreements made among the various stakeholders in Paraguay. In the medium term, we can expect to support the Ministry of Justice through our joint work in the RTA – A network of Transparency and Access to Information oversight institutions. Soon, a delegation of government officials and civil society practitioners will visit Chile to learn more about our experience in situ.