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Faces of Open Government – Gabriela Ayerdi

Rostros del Gobierno Abierto - Gabriela Ayerdi

Gabriela Ayerdi |

How did you get involved in open government – what is your personal story about why you joined the movement?

In 2015, Guatemala went through a process that marked the country’s history. The presidential run-off election was characterized by cases of great corruption that provoked the indignation of Guatemalan society. In the central square of the capital city, we gathered more than 30,000 people and requested the resignation of the Vice President of the Republic, thus achieving the objective of the protest. Days later, citizens also continued to protest for the resignation of the President, which was made shortly before ending his presidential term.

That indignation allowed many Guatemalans to become empowered and made them want to get involved in providing or overseeing the work of public institutions. At the time, the changing presidential command coincided with Guatemala beginning to work on its third OGP National Action Plan, and the organization where I’ve worked for 8 years, Acción Ciudadana, the local Guatemalan chapter of Transparency International, received an invitation to participate in that process.

At that moment, I found an opportunity for all citizen demands to be taken forward. Since that time, I have participated actively in the initiative, and I’m convinced that it’s a space that allows to impact the needs of the population.

In the Guatemalan town of Chinique, corruption led to a water crisis. Similar cases have happened in the United States, in Europe, and beyond. What lessons do you think citizens can learn from the work you did in Chinique?

The advice given to the Chinique citizens wouldn’t have been as successful if they hadn’t been involved in the whole research process. It was difficult, there were times when public institutions didn’t fulfill their mandates, which generated impatience, frustration and anger for residents of Chinique, and for us as an organization. The fact that people were getting sick from the stomach because the mayor didn’t promote water treatment in the municipality brought women, young people, and seniors into the research process. This citizen empowerment meant that three years after starting with the investigation, the case will finally be presented to the judicial authorities, obtaining a condemnatory sentence for the Mayor and other officials of the Municipality.

In your opinion, what open government measures could have prevented the water crisis experienced in Chinique?

For us as civil society, and for the Chinique residents, one of the first limitations to documenting the irregularities [in the water supply] was the lack of access to public information in the municipality, which meant that the investigation would be delayed.

The lack of openness and spaces for citizen participation on the part of the municipality created consequences for citizens, who were living without potable water. It began with diseases of the stomach; soon they couldn’t bathe due to harsh effects on the skin; this also affected the household economy, as residents had to buy purified water at commercial prices.

What is your “open government pitch” – how do you make people understand and identify with the movement?

I believe that the Open Government initiative is a real space where people can make their needs heard, and can be used for decision making. It also allows collaboration with the authorities in the fulfillment of their tasks, and the impact of those actions can truly reach the citizens.

Critics question how open government can help spur citizens to action to protect the environment. As someone who’s lobbied for open government to rectify an environmental problem, what would you say to someone who thinks open government can’t work for the environment or climate action?

Open Government is known as an initiative that promotes transparency, but we can’t leave aside the other principles that border it: Participation and Collaboration.

Participation and collaboration favor human rights: they defend the environment, allow transparency, create spaces for participation and allow collaboration. They are principles that require that government actions are oriented to attend to the population’s needs.

What is it like to be a woman in the open government movement? Have you found it open and inclusive? Do you think there’s more work to be done?

While it’s true that in social organizations there is a little more awareness about gender inclusion, in the public institutions, such equality is a long way away.

There are several women’s organizations involved in open government in Guatemala, which reflects the openness of being inclusive. However, there is a lot more work to be done in order to have genuine gender inclusion.

Guatemala ranks 136th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Do you think open government can remedy some of the pervasive trust issues affecting Guatemala’s institutions?

In the Third National Action Plan, the executive and other institutions such as the Legislative, the General Comptroller of Accounts, the Municipal Development Institute, and others took on commitments on transparency. This points to the search not only for an open government, but also an open state. This can help to create more spaces for participation that contribute to improving citizen confidence in public institutions.