The 4 most common problems to achieve transparency of governments

All governments today should aim to be as transparent as possible. This, in some occasions (more than they should), is not fulfilled for many reasons, especially for lack of interest or means. We tell you what the most common problems are and what should be done to solve them.

Transparency is a value that citizens began to appreciate and demand very recently, after the economic crisis uncovered many irregularities and corruption in the political scope. Twenty years ago, it would even be difficult to know who was part of the hierarchy of any City Council in the Spanish geography.

Thus, citizens now conceive transparency not as an end, but as an instrumental value that is paramount in any healthy democratic state. For the correct development of this political system, governments are needed without fear of showing their data in an open manner and a citizenship with critical capacity to evaluate and act in case it is necessary.

Transparency is defined by Daniel Kaufmann and Aart Kraay as “an incremental flow of timely and reliable economic, social and political information, accessible to all actors affected by a public decision”. This information must be of sufficient quality so that a thorough analysis of the actions and decisions taken by the Administration can be carried out.

Recognizing the importance of this value during the last years, Law 19/2013, of December 9, on Transparency, Access to Public Information and Good Governance was approved in 2013, which sought to expand and reinforce the transparency of public activity, regulate and guarantee the right of access to information related to that activity and establish the good governance obligations that must be met by public officials and private entities that receive public funds and that meet a series of requirements.

Once the need for transparency and even its legal obligation is established, it is necessary to analyze the main problems that governments face when complying with the requirements.

Transparency portals without quality information

Transparency portals in town halls are widely spread. All municipalities with more than 75,000 inhabitants already have a page of this type and it is only in the towns with the lowest population that this requirement is not met.

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Analyzing the contents of these portals, of the three types of information that must be published (organizational, normative and economic), the economic one is the one that is less widespread, while the regulations are the ones that are the most. However, despite the fact that the transparency indexes are at very high levels (in 2014, the overall transparency was 85.2%), the quality of the content was not particularly high.

In a study carried out by the Carles Pi i Sunyer Foundation in 620 Catalan municipalities, they found that there was a lack of information in all fields, such as the dedications of the elected representatives, compensation and indemnities, letters of service, emails for contact  each department, etcetera.

Lack of cooperation between municipalities

As we have seen, the smallest municipalities are the least advanced in terms of transparency. According to a survey of the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces, only 7% of municipalities declare having received help from other levels of government for the implementation of the necessary solutions (portals, databases, software, training …).

An example to take into account this type of municipal collaboration is the Diputacion de Salamanca through its collection service REGTSA. We worked side by side with the municipalities that needed help, with training to achieve a culture change, and, afterwards, the creation of a prize that promoted healthy competition among the municipalities.

Within the same SFMP survey, 3% of the municipalities state that they have provided assistance to other local entities to develop their transparency portal. Although much progress has been made in this field, cooperation needs to be further promoted if we are to reach the maximum levels of demand.

Importance of data reuse

In order to achieve true active transparency, the published data must be compatible and reusable; otherwise, the control and knowledge functions of the State’s activities cannot be carried out. In most cases, transparency information is published in PDF format or through a link to the corresponding section, and in none of these cases could be considered as reusable.

Ideally, the sources of the transparency portals should be open data pages, which would greatly improve the reuse, which, on the other hand, according to the aforementioned survey by the SFMP, 43% of the municipalities interviewed consider it very important, and within the municipalities of more than 75,000 inhabitants, this percentage grows to 62%.

As reuse has not yet become a remarkable reality, some experts believe that we must opt for a collaborative transparency model, in which ICTs, reuse and open data are the basic tools. With this, it seeks to promote the right of citizens to modify the data according to their needs to generate new information.

Promote Open Government

The Alliance for Open Government (Open Government Partnership), to which Spain belongs for a few years, is based on four values: citizen participation, public accountability, technology and innovation and, finally, transparency. This implies the availability of all decisions and activities by the Government in an open manner and according to the standards of the open data.

Any administration that wants to achieve the desired transparency should follow this political-administrative philosophy, in which the citizen is placed in the center and a relationship of collaboration and interaction is fostered.

In short, transparency is a value that all governments should reach, since we have the technology and the knowledge that make it possible and is one of the most important demands of citizens today. Not only that, but a transparent administration enjoys great benefits compared to another that does not act openly and sincerely.

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