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09GUATEMALA1204 2009-11-03 15:58:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Guatemala
Cable title:  

GOG: Mixed Results on Transparency

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DE RUEHGT #1204/01 3071559
R 031558Z NOV 09
					  UNCLAS GUATEMALA 001204 


E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: GOG: Mixed Results on Transparency

1. SUMMARY: NGOs and private sector leaders have complained that
access to public information declined significantly during the
Colom administration. They point to lack of executive leadership,
its failure to implement the 2005 presidential decree, the
cancellation of a Berger-era (2003-2007) e-government system
(SIGOB, which allowed citizens to monitor progress of GOG goals
online), declining usage of Guatecompras, the GOG's transparent
procurement system and the slow implementation of the Freedom of
Information Law (FOIL). GOG officials counter that the passage of
the Freedom of Information Law and the creation of a Vice Ministry
for Transparency within the Ministry of Finance are evidence of GOG
commitment to transparency. END SUMMARY

Decreased Access to Public Information

2. According to a report on access to information carried out by
"Accion Ciudadana," the Guatemalan Chapter of Transparency
International, public access to government information in Guatemala
has decreased since 2006. The report shows that only four out of
ten requests for public information were accepted without requiring
personal identification or additional explanations (contrary to the
requirements of the FOIL), and it mentions that only three FOIA
requests in ten receive a response. The report also shows declining
transparency in the various institutions studied (executive,
judicial, Congress, and municipalities).

3. Accion Ciudadana questioned the GOG's commitment to transparency
due to its failure to enforce existing measures designed to
increase transparency and accountability. The Colom administration
failed to enforce a 2005 decree (General Rules to Access Public
Information in the Executive Branch and its Entities) requiring
public institutions to present annual accountability reports, and
to respond to inquiries for public information within 20 days of
the request. It also detailed what type of information had to be
included in the official websites.

4. NGOs and private sector leaders have also complained that the
Social Cohesion Council (which oversees a number of First Lady
Sandra Torres' social programs) has been unwilling to provide
sufficient information on beneficiaries of its flagship conditional
cash transfer program, My Family Progress, to members of Congress.
In a January 2009 decision, Guatemala's Constitutional Court
ordered the Social Cohesion Council to provide information on
beneficiaries to auditing entities, such as Congress and the
Comptroller General's Office. Despite the ruling, the government
has not yet provided information to Congress. The Colom
Administration went further, noting that information on
beneficiaries for the other social assistance programs "Bolsa
Solidaria" (Food Assistance Program) and "Escuelas Abiertas" (open
schools during weekends) would also be treated as confidential. No
challenges to the Government's failure to comply with the
Constitutional Court ruling have yet been filed.

Significant declines in e-government systems

5. Accion Ciudadana's study found that e-government systems
designed to increase transparency have shown significant declines
in usage. For example, the Colom Administration cancelled the
highly-regarded Presidential System for Measuring Program Results
(SIGOB), which allowed citizens to monitor progress of GOG goals
online and sort the impact of government programs by department and
municipality. Also, the web-based government procurement system,
Guatecompras, has seen significant declines in usage. Guatecompras
was implemented in 2003 and law requires all government purchases
over Q30,000 ($3,600) to be published on its website. According to
the GOG's own Ministry of Finance records, use of the system
decreased by 45 percent from 2006 to 2008 as the amount of
resources that were channeled through Guatecompras declined from
Q19.2 billion ($2.3 billion) to Q10.6 billion (Q1.26 billion)
during that period. Municipalities have been the public entities
that have most frequently avoided the use of the system.

6. Marvin Flores, Accion Ciudadana's expert on transparency and
Government Procurement issues, noted that the legal framework
mandating the use of Guatecompras has been strengthened, but
loopholes have enabled public entities to find new ways to evade
using the system. For example, government entities can channel
spending through quasi-governmental or non-governmental entities
such as trust funds, NGOs, and international organizations. These
entities have less robust transparency and accountability rules and
spending through these entities has increased over the past two
years. Officers of these parallel spending structures are not
employed by the GOG and therefore not subject to anti-corruption
laws. Proposed reforms to trust fund rules would mandate spending
through trust funds be conducted through Guatecompras. If enacted,
this would increase transparency in trust funds.

Freedom of Information Law bright spot

7. After years of negotiations, the Freedom of Information Law was
approved by Congress in September 2008 and entered into force in
April 2009. The law, if enforced, could be an important tool to
improve transparency in public entities and eliminate corruption.

Article 10 of the law requires public entities to post basic
information, such as names and salaries of public officials and
information on public contracts and procurement, on their websites.
In addition to this information, executive branch agencies are
required to post information on budget spending, advisors and
travel expenses. Per Article 19, all public entities (including at
the departmental and municipal levels) are required to create
information units to process requests from the public.

8. A recent random check carried out by Accion Ciudadana of 37
national-level public entities revealed that some have not yet
complied with the law. Eight of those entities had not created the
information units required by law and 19 had not published the
names and salaries of their workers. Among the entities that had
not complied with the law are the Ministry of Interior, the
Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Agriculture. However, the
report noted full compliance by the Ministry of Finance, the
Guatemalan Central Bank, and the Social Security Institute.

9. Accion Ciudadana also carried out a random check of 22
municipalities, and found that none had published basic financial
information as required by the Freedom of Information Law.
However, 14 had taken initial steps to create the information units
as required by Article 19. David Gaitan, Accion Ciudadana's expert
on the FOIL, underscored that whatever its drawbacks, the free
access to information law complies with international standards and
is a concrete step forward in improving transparency. He added
that implementation, though slow, was not substantially worse than
implementation of similar laws in other developing countries.

GOG Ministry of Finance lonely champion of transparency

10. In public and private statements, most GOG officials rarely
comment on the transparency beyond platitudes on the need to make
government more transparent. The one exception is the Ministry of
Finance (MOF) where transparency seems to be a genuine priority.
Ministry officials frequently discuss the need for greater and more
open exchange of information flows on spending both with the public
and between ministries. To further this goal, in 2008, the MOF
created a new vice-ministry charged with overseeing transparency in
government spending. A recently arrived resident treasury advisor,
Jim Carpenter, has been charged with improving transparency in the
budget formulation process as one of his principal tasks. Former
Vice Minister of Finance Carlos Barreda commented to Econoff that
transparency is important to the MOF since opaque and confusing
budget and spending methodology perpetuates both actual and
perceived corruption in Guatemala. This is a major impediment to
passing legislation badly needed to raise taxes and improve
collections in Guatemala. Since tax reform is the top priority of
the MOF, so is transparency.

11. COMMENT: Except at the Ministry of Finance, transparency does
not appear to be a top administration priority. First Lady Sandra
Torres de Colom has created bureaucratic structures, particularly
through trust funds, to shield the high-profile Social Cohesion
Council social programs from transparency efforts. Without strong
leadership and pressure from the presidency, ministries and
mid-level bureaucrats have less incentive to use Guatecompras
rather than a parallel structure that provides individual
procurement officers more flexibility in contracting. Improvement
in transparency could come from executive leadership, but is more
likely to come from public pressure, particularly from NGOs such as
Accion Ciudadana. These entities can mobilize the press and
pressure the courts to enforce rulings on transparency and press
for full implementation and compliance with the Freedom of
Information Law. Such pressure has not yet materialized.