Today we will to talk a little more about the situation of access to information in the municipalities of Brazil.
Brazil has a lot of norms with instructions on access to information (you can see some of them in Portuguese here). On the municipal level, there is a federal law (see the text in Portuguese here) that says that information about public budget and expenditures should be made available in real time through the Internet.
Although this law was published two years ago, until now 68,5% municipalities with population between 50.000 and 100.000 have transparency websites. And this doesn't mean that they have proper information on public budget!
If a person tries to access information by making a formal request to the responsible party, there are still a lot of barriers to the access. Some of the common excuses given to restrict information are:
“I can't give you this information because it is secret”
“We don't have enough employees to do this”
They also argue that the person that demands information should pay for the xerox copy of it. Another strategy is to mix a lot of documents and give them so the requester has to find the information there. So, although the law assures citizens their right to information, it still doesn't details basic procedures how information should be given.
And what all this has to do with Januária?
Access to information is a powerful tool for the ones that want to change the situation of corruption. The case of Asajan (Associação Amigos de Januária) is an example of how information can empower the citizens: with help from people that gives them data on public expenditures they have helped the Judiciary in finding important cases of corruption.
The citizen media project Friends of Januária has had some important achievements in the last weeks. We are just waiting for some confirmations to share them with you, so be prepared for some good news in the next posts!
If you are interested in knowing more about access to information, here is a nice article by Suzanne J. Piotrowski: The Operationalization of Municipal Transparency: Primary Administrative Functions and Intervening Factors.