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Paraguay – Tackling the Culture of Secrecy in the Public Sector

Paraguay – El fin a la cultura de la secrecía en el sector público

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In 2014, Paraguay became the 100 th country in the world to pass legislation that grants citizens access to public information. The work to open government, data and budgets began locally with one reformer determined to improve his community and the lives of his fellow citizens. [4]

José Daniel Vargas-Téllez is a radio host and news website reporter in San Lorenzo, Paraguay. In 2007, his followers began to complain about government corruption and poor service delivery issues in the municipality. Concerned for his community, José Daniel began to investigate the allegations and contacted the municipality to request information about staff positions and salaries. Citing privacy concerns, the municipality denied his request.

Not knowing where to turn, Daniel contacted civil society groups to take the case to court. The case was litigated for seven years and eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. In 2014, the court ordered the disclosure of government officials’ salaries stating it is the fundamental right of all citizens to have access to public information. The court’s decision made way for the enactment of the Citizen Access to Public Information and Transparency Law. [5]

As part of its OGP commitments, Paraguay’s government committed to the implementation of the law. The commitment called for the creation of a Directorate of Access to Public Information within the Ministry of Justice, Access to Public Information Offices, and Citizen Information and Attention Centers. With this commitment, the government will train public officials on how to use the system to help fulfill citizen requests. In 2016, 700 officials were trained on how to use the portal.

Citizens can now access public information in person at these offices or via computer, tablet, or smartphone. As of April 2018, more than 10,000 requests had been entered, and 80 percent had been answered. Most requests pertained to the ministries’ of justice, education, and finance. [6] In addition to getting information on public officials’ salaries, trip expenses and active government contracts, visitors can also request information on other topics such as public health, public works, and the penitentiary system.

Civil society has expressed optimism about the advancements. The civil society think tank Institute of Law and Environment Economics — which called the commitment’s standards “cutting edge” [7] — has been enlisted by Congress to train Attention Center officials on access to information. [8] The law has been tested and affirmed in court twice, [9] and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has observed that it has “considerably altered the preeminent secrecy culture in the public sector.” [10]

[4] “Long Road to Transparency,” USAID Publications, 12 January 2017, https://usaidpubs.exposure.co/long-road-to-transparency .

[5] “Paraguay End-of-Term Report 2014-2016,” Open Government Partnership, accessed 26 June 2019, https://www.opengovpartnership.org/documents/paraguay-end-of-term-report-2014-2016 .

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Paraguay’s Transparency Alchemists,” Open Contracting, Medium, 2 October 2017, https://medium.com/open-contracting-stories/paraguays-transparency-alchemists-623c8e3c538f .

[8] “Enhancing Government Transparency,” Democracy Digest, National Endowment for Democracy, 16 March 2017, https://www.demdigest.org/enhancing-government-transparency-paraguay .

[9] “Failures in Favor of Access to Public Information,” Corte Suprema de Justicia, 29 April 2016, https://www.pj.gov.py/notas/12163-fallos-a-favor-del-acceso-a-la-informacion-publica .

[10] Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD Public Governance Reviews: Paraguay, 2018, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/9789264301856-9-en.pdf?expires=1561568042&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=CA3AC4FC72C1CE3AC81E4AD3DADC41FA .

Photo Credit: Teresa Torres for USAID

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