Brazil: Closure of public agency damages transparency and fight against corruption

On 12 May, Brazil’s acting-government determined that the UGC (Union General-Comptroller), a federal agency whose role was to promote transparency and fight corruption, should close. In its place, the Ministry of Transparency, Oversight, and Control was created. ARTICLE 19 opposes these measures taken by the interim government.

Created in 2001, the UGC was fundamental for the creation and promotion of the Access to Information Law (AIL).  It has also helped to promote the Open Government Partnership programme and to stimulate the creation of state and municipal comptrollers nationwide. Because of its performance, the agency even received several recognition awards.

Due to the absence of an autonomous body to promote and ensure access to information at all levels and spheres of government, the UGC has become even more essential. Currently, the agency hears third-stage appeals of cases of under the AIL, has the task of driving the implementation of the law by the agencies of the Federal Executive, alongside seeking to promote the law to other agencies. It is precisely these agencies that have best implemented the AIL, as shown by a report of ARTICLE 19 which analysed federal transparency levels

It is worth remembering that the UGC has worked to promote the AIL directly in the municipalities, through the initiatives « Brazil Transparent Scale » and « Brazil Transparent Programme. » The agency has also been responsible for exchanging experiences in the area with the Judiciary.

In practice, the replacement of the UGC by the new Ministry means the weakening of the oversight system, damaging  the fight against corruption and reducing the promotion of access to information. The loss of connection with the Presidency is of concern as it was this arrangement that allowed the UGC to have certain duties, such as acting as a third recursive instance of AIL, establish leniency agreements and audit other executive agencies. The Ministry of Transparency will not have autonomy and institutional capacity to control the activities of other ministries, as it has the same status. Moreover, the replacement of an agency with a new one generates additional costs and may result in the discontinuation of important projects.

Rather than replaced, the UGC should have been strengthened and redefined as a permanent body with constitutional status, establishing itself as a state body. Currently there are some Constitutional Amendments before the Brazilian Congress that propose this change, which would prevent the agency’s closure on the basis of political motivations.

For ARTICLE 19, the closure of the UGC represents a huge step backwards in regards to building a culture of transparency and openness of public information in the Brazil, a process that had major boost in 2011 with the enactment of the AIL. This is not only a loss for the right to information, but also a loss for democracy and good governance.