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Promoting Good Governance & Anti-Corruption Efforts Across Central America

December 9, 2016 is Anti-Corruption Day. The campaign was organized by the United Nations, #UnitedAgainstCorruption, for Development, Peace and Security, to promote the importance of transparency, accountability, integrity, ethics and citizen empowerment. I ask myself, how does the International Republican Institutes (IRI) mission of advancing democracy worldwide promote these values in the Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras?

We do it by improving the capacity of local governments through best practices, knowledge transfer, lessons learned, tools and experiences that drive anti-corruption efforts, and civic engagement.

These efforts include public accounting town halls where local governments open up budgets, expenditures and allocation of taxes to citizen scrutiny. In Yoro, Honduras, the city codified its open budget presentations into law, while in Patzun, Guatemala sessions were livestreamed and uploaded to the Internet for maximum visibility. Initiatives such as Municipality in your Neighborhood bring governments closer to the citizens they serve by providing mobile services directly in neighborhoods. This practice strengthens communication, state presence, credibility and accountability. Innovative programming, you see, is key to sustainability and replicability.

Smart Governance—readily available low cost technology—is another tool in our anti-corruption kit. Cyber activism facilitates digital transparency campaigns used through messages to raise awareness, spur virtual actions, and enhance collective action. It identifies local champions that inspire behavior changes while keeping citizens engaged in community affairs. In Antiguo Cuscatlán, El Salvador, IRI introduced open data solutions and crowdsourcing to create sustainable and reliable community networks for addressing public safety. This promoted a sense of co-responsibility among citizens and their government in community safety. Action oriented programing is the hallmark of IRI’s democratic governance portfolio and fundamental essence of the #UnitedAgainstCorruption campaign.

Our partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) promotes transparency at the national level. In it we collaborate with Guatemala’s San Carlos University on an accountability journalism program that teaches investigative journalists to track public spending using a national procurement portal, Guatecompras to monitor reports and citizen complaints made to the Comptroller and Attorney General’s Office. The journalists publish their findings in Ojo con mi pisto (Be Careful with My Money), a digital watchdog platform.

We work with Guatemala’s Congress to ensure compliance with the Access to Information Law. In January 2016, Congress’s response rate for information requests by citizens was a meager 36 percent. Through a series of recommended actions to the Public Information Unit—enhanced handling and response time of applications; improvement in disclosures and a reduction of internal steps, processes and procedures (red tape)—IRI streamlined and improved the way Congress complied with law. A social media campaign, Aqui hay Libre Accesso a la Información (Here, there is open access to information), was also designed to reinforce importance of open access to public information through Facebook and Twitter. Within months, the Ombudsman Office for Human Rights, which tracks efficiency of state institutions, certified that Congress improved enforcement of law and citizen response rate to 98 percent.

Through open parliament initiatives, IRI promotes the use of technology and open data to encourage citizen participation. In fact, the Institute is in the midst of creating an archival and congressional web portal so information is readily and easily available for citizens. The portal will not only house legislation and provide links to staff curriculum vitae’s, but host an interactive chat forum where citizens can express opinions on laws and get feedback from lawmakers.

Finally, IRI will commemorate Anti-Corruption Day hosting a pitch talk on Cyber Activism: How Technology can Fight Corruption during the Open Government Parliament (OGP) Summit in Paris on December 9. Stay tuned for OGP 2016 highlights and our commitment to staying #UnitedAgainstCorruption.

Mario Taracena, President of the Guatemalan Congress, launches access to information law social media campaign