“Now, Information is the Rule and Secrecy is the Exception”

September 2, 2015


“ Now, information is the rule and secrecy is the exception”

Photo: Ruth Gonzalez Llamas/World Bank

Conversation with Marcelo Levy, expert of the Comptroller General's Office (CGU) from Brazil

Question: What is the support being provided by the Comptroller General's Office of Brazil to the process of implementing the Law on Access to Public Information in Paraguay?

Answer: Brazil has a Law on Access to Public Information from May 2011. I am a member of the team implementing the Law, specifically the team that developed the e-SIC portal in Brazil. In this context and taking into account such experience, we are supporting the National Secretariat for Information Technology and Communications (SENATICS) in the diagnosis and survey of the needs for the development and implementation of the Government’s Unified Portal for the Access to Public Information. We advised SENATICS in developing a roadmap for implementing a unified ATI portal that will be integrated into the strategic planning of the ATI Directorate of the Vice Ministry of Justice, which is coordinating the implementation of this law within country of Paraguay as a whole.

Q: According to your experience, what are the main challenges for the implementation of the portal in Paraguay?

A: The Paraguayan portal project is very innovative because it will allow citizens not only to make requests online but also to check requests that were already made by others through the same portal. Thus, it combines active transparency with passive transparency in an innovative way. Passive transparency when the government responds to a request for information, and active transparency when the government proactively releases information.

The project concerning the Government’s Portal for Access to Information in Paraguay expects that requests will be public, so other people can see all requests through a search engine. This is very important for citizens because they can access information immediately without having to make another request for the same issue, thus eliminating the need to wait 15 working days for a response.

On the other hand, it is also a benefit for institutions because they will not have to spend resources to respond to the same request several times, therefore it benefits both sides. The challenge then is that citizens need to know that once the request is filed it will already be made public, and therefore should not include sensitive personal information.

" Now, information is the rule and secrecy is the exception "

Q: What lessons learned from the process in Brazil were particularly relevant in the case of Paraguay?

A: Our experience in implementing the law was in a very short period of time; we had only six months to develop the e-SIC portal for all public agencies of the federal executive branch, which are about 300 institutions. That process of working together with government institutions of different sizes and realities was an important element that had to be managed in Brazil. Also, we had to develop a system to access requests in a very short period of time. We shared with our colleagues in Paraguay all we had learned from that experience, as here they will also have to engage with a wide range of public agencies that are very different from each other.

Q: What is the impact of the E-SIC tool?

R: The e-SIC is a very useful tool for social accountability in Brazil. Our country has processed a significant amount of requests and we are now developing a tool to make all requests public.

Q: What was the biggest challenge faced for the initiative to succeed?

R: The cultural barriers. This is an issue we have in common with Paraguay: the culture of secrecy. In Brazil we had many years of military dictatorship, and a civil servant culture based on secrecy. We are now working to change that paradigm, now information is the rule and secrecy is the exception. That is something that Paraguay will also have to work on, not only within government but also with citizens. Citizens sometimes do not know they have a right, it is therefore necessary to raise awareness of this right and it is the responsibility of government to make it happen.