Artigo 19 Assesses the Transparency of BRT Transolímpica Infrastructure Works for the Rio Olympics And Beyond

The Brazilian NGO, Artigo 19, conducted an evaluation on a major project for the upcoming 2016 Olympics in Rio. From March to June of 2015, they analyzed access to information regarding the construction of the Transolímpica Bus Rapid Transit line. The results showed extreme opacity at the local and state levels in Rio de Janeiro, with slightly better results for Federal entities. After sending out 54 requests for information, the response rate was only of about 7%.

 The study reveals opacity in infrastructure budgets, erroneous or non-existing information regarding environmental licensing and the final projected route of the BRT line. Among other findings, the report finds that parts of the BRT line cross protected areas and require the displacement of hundreds of people.

To find out more, we talked to Mariana Tamari, head coordinator of the study.

What was the main motivation behind this study? Why Rio and why the BRT?

Artigo 19 has been working on access to information since before the implementation of Law 12.527 in Brazil. The organization has executed annual transparency assessments of the executive, legislative and judiciary at the federal level. We knew there were several transparency problems in Rio de Janeiro at the State and Municipal level, but we had never conducted an in-depth study.

With the Olympics approaching, an exceptional moment is here, where a lot of public works would be undertaken with the intent of creating a post-Olympic legacy. The BRT Transolímpica is a symbol, not least because of its name; this line would cut across not only several housing communities, but also through the Maciço da Pedra Branca, located in Pedra Branca National Park, making it a prime subject for environmental for transparency and displacement issues.

What were your expectations at the beginning of the study and how did these contrast with the findings?

From our work at the Federal level, and the relatively high level of commitment to transparency we’ve seen in this context, we were surprised by the extreme difficulties we found in Rio de Janeiro.

We found not only a lack of electronic platforms for making requests and receiving answers, but also that staff was completely unprepared for handling access to information requests. Furthermore, requests were required to be filed in person, after identification, and often while being questioned by the staff as to why that information was being requested. For each individual request made, a copy of the identification was required.

We found that the government of Rio was not complying with the federal access to information law, legislation at the state and municipal level was actually regressive in terms of enforcing access to information.  There was an institutionalization of the culture of secrecy in Rio de Janeiro, operating through regressive legislation and lack of investment and training for compliance with the federal law of access to information.

What was the most significant finding revealed by the study?

The most significant finding was the existence of such regressive legislation in Rio de Janeiro regarding access to information. This is a question we will be looking into in further detail, as it is a clear sign of non-compliance with the Federal law, and a sign of poor political will in this issue.

Another important finding was the absence of basic information. We were unable to discover whether every stretch of BRT Transolímpica had the appropriate environmental licences, or the final route for the BRT looks like. To this day we have not received this information, which is of vital importance to the people who will be displaced.

What was the impact of this study on government institutions? On civil society?

Since publishing this study, we have seen the appearance of eSIC platforms on several government websites and a few actions made towards the capacitation of staff for dealing with information requests. We have also seen that a few of the recommendations we made at the end of our report have begun to be adopted.  However, the website dedicated to transparency in the Olympics remained offline during the whole time we conducted the study and is still offline to this day.

With regards to civil society, we have been approached by several local NGOs with requests for workshops to share our experience and help them make their own requests and assessments. We have been asked to explain the Access to Information law, and explain what sort of information can be requested from public entities.

Traditionally, transparency has revolved around budgetary issues, but we have witnessed a broadening of the understanding of the concept of transparency, which is particularly important in the context of such a deep-rooted culture of opacity as is the case of Rio de Janeiro.

For there to be a significant and far-reaching impact, the effect on civil society has to reach further than NGOs. For Rio de Janeiro, where the press and the media are particularly concentrated, we have found there to be lack of knowledge about the functioning and structure of the state that makes it even more difficult for the citizenry to exercise the right to information . There needs to be broader involvement of the press and civil society in general in the dissemination of the right and practice of access to information.