• 08 March 2017

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    Work on transparency in Colombia

    Liliana Caballero, Director of the Administrative Department of Public Service of Colombia talks to us about the work being done on transparency in the country's institutions and the Colombian post-conflict situation.

    Liliana Caballero during her visit to the FIIAPP headquarters in Madrid.

    Every year, on 8 March, International Women’s Day is celebrated.

    Ever since this day was established in 1910 during the Second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen, on 8 March each year women all over the world occupy their rightful place as protagonists of history thanks to the visibility provided by the media.

    So, on a day like today, at FIIAPP we wanted to give a voice to one of these women, Liliana Caballero Durán, Director of the Administrative Department of Public Service (DAFP), an administrative department at the ministerial level dedicated to public employment, public management, service to citizens and transparency.

    Liliana has more than 15 years of experience as a public official and 25 advising Colombian public agencies on institutional strengthening processes.

    In her position, Liliana has a key role in the reform process on transparency of the Colombian government, which, jointly with FIIAPP, is collaborating in the ACTUE-Colombia project. This is an EU-funded project aimed at preventing and combating corruption more effectively by focussing on transparency and accountability.

    A job, in the DAFP and in the ACTUE-Colombia project, which has an extremely important role in the country’s post-conflict situation.

    DAFP and the Secretariat of Transparency (ST) are key partners in the ACTUE project, as both institutions have responsibilities in implementation and enforcement, and orientation and promotion of Colombia’s Transparency and Access to Information Act, Anti-corruption Statute and Citizen Participation Statute.

     

    What is the importance of implementation and enforcement of the Transparency and Access to Information Act in Colombia?

    It has great importance because this has made it possible to increase people’s trust in the State. All of the legal measures have resulted in gradual cultural changes, such as internal control, accountability, transparency in information… This makes citizens aware of their rights and of how to exercise them.

    Additionally, it means that administrations are more careful with information and aware of the obligation to make all types of information available to citizens. That’s why the importance is total, and the idea is not just that these are regulations that have legal mandates and obligations but also that citizens and employees of the public administrations grasp the importance of the regulation, that this becomes natural for them, and that things don’t have to reach the point of sanctions.

     

    How do you think the lives of citizens will improve with these reforms in terms of transparency and citizen participation?

    This has two sides. For the government, it is very important that citizens trust the State and the employees of public administrations, so increasing trust is absolutely important because it is very difficult to advance a public policy, no matter how good, if there is no trust in the State and in its employees, because the State, ultimately, is an entelechy, as we say. But public employees are its face; they represent the State. So it is very important that citizens trust them.

    And citizens should feel secure in the knowledge that they have access to everything, that there is no secrecy in what is being handled, in budgets. There is a need to communicate and inform on all issues.

    Many years ago in Colombia, the obligation of accountability was established.

    At first this meant a series of unbearable hearings where only indicators were given, very obtuse language was used and citizens had no way of knowing if the issues were even of interest to them.

    Today, citizens are taking a growing interest in what is happening in the public sphere, and this, as I was saying, has the virtue of increasing trust. But the most important part is that it enables the shared responsibility that citizens need to have in public institutions. They shouldn’t be satisfied to simply participate electorally; they have to participate in management and understand that they are jointly responsible.

     

    What concrete measures will be taken in this work so that citizens participate?

    Today, the Web is an open space where the citizen can go any time. The decreased need to take care of things in person and the continuous use of technology has made it possible to bring the citizen closer to institutions.

    Yesterday, for example, someone asked me about an issue I worked on many years ago, and I asked “how did you know that?” And the person told me it was via Internet.

    That’s why the use of media, of technology, but above all the awareness of the State and of public servants, are important. It’s not enough just to be transparent, you also have to appear so; you have to communicate, inform, allow access to information.

    The aim is for the citizen to lose this perception of a state that is not only corrupt but, more seriously, a state that creates obstacles and doesn’t think of the citizen. That’s why these types of decisions, like the Transparency Act, help to change this perception.

     

    What are the challenges in your work, particularly in today’s post-conflict Colombia?

    I lead the public service, which is an administrative department at the ministerial level that is responsible for issues of institutional structure, public employment, public management, but also something very important, which is transparency, participation and service to citizens.

    We direct our efforts towards everything that has to do with public employees. Above all, in things that today are called soft skills, such as learning to engage in dialogue, conflict resolution, how to work in an atmosphere of diversity, etc.

    Institutions are very convinced of the need to work in a flexible institutional structure. We can’t apply the same standards to capital cities as we do to post-conflict municipalities. The issue of internal control, transparency and accountability is very important, because precisely in this period of transition it is key.

    The conflict in Colombia has been governed by a vicious circle; there is less presence of the State because there is an armed conflict, and there is an armed conflict because there is no State presence. Breaking that circle isn’t easy; we have to prepare ourselves, prepare citizens… but I believe we are all happy to have the possibility of building a country in peace, which we are going to achieve.

    You can hear more about the ACTUE-Colombia project on our programme Public Cooperation Around the World on Radio 5, Spanish National Radio.

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  • 16 February 2017

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    “They are inspired by the enthusiasm of contributing to the improvement of justice in a country like Turkey”

    Vanessa Untiedt, FIIAPP's special envoy in Turkey, tells us how a project to strengthen free legal aid in Turkey is being implemented in spite of the difficult context of the country.

    Views of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

    The project to strengthen free legal aid in Turkey, managed by FIIAPP, started on 16th June 2016. After barely a month, there was an attempted coup d’état, which we refer to colloquially as the “15th of July”. Whenever we make any official mention of the failed coup d’état, we are talking about: before 15 July or after 15 July, but without using the words “coup d’état”.

    The situation in Turkey after that date is complicated. There have been mass arrests and suspensions, which have affected all areas of society, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers… However, the progress of the project has not been directly affected. As a result, we continue working, and many Spanish experts are still coming to Ankara to work on the objectives we set over a year ago. Five of these experts were in Ankara the night of 15th July and, even so, they have come back on several occasions. In my opinion, they are inspired by the enthusiasm of the sense that they are contributing to improving justice administration in a country like Turkey, where the refugee crisis has accentuated the need for strengthening the system for accessing justice. Without the work of the experts, this project could not be carried out, nor would it be possible without the help of the project leader, Amparo Mahiques, and the technical assistant, Esther Utrilla. The ongoing support of the Spanish embassy in Ankara is also noteworthy, especially that of Ambassador Rafael Mendivil.

    The free legal aid and access to justice project is complicated:

    • On one hand, we have two beneficiaries: the Turkish Bar Association and the Ministry of Justice. Two beneficiaries whose relations, before the project started, were less than fluid when not non-existent. Nevertheless, over these months, we have managed to bring them together each time there is an activity, and they have travelled to three countries together (in these seven months of the project, they have completed 12 activities and made three study visits, to Lithuania, Spain and France).
    • On the other hand, although Spain is leading the project, we are working in a consortium with Lithuania and France. This circumstance is often enriching, but other times it is quite complicated to combine the different visions on implementation of the project.

    Although the Twinning projects of the countries applying to join the European Union are aimed at facilitating the country’s entrance into the Union, in this project we try not to look too far ahead but to take things one step at a time.

    Right now we are working on a rather interesting component that involves raising the visibility of the project and working on ways to make justice more accessible to citizens. Firstly, we establish the groups that, due to their vulnerability, should be targeted for greater attention: refugees, women who are victims of gender-based violence, people living in rural areas, minors, disabled persons…Then we establish the channels through which to show them what their rights are when accessing justice, as well as the possibility of having a lawyer defend them in court.

    We are ambitious. In each component, we try to expand the objectives negotiated initially. We aren’t always successful, but if we can at least achieve one or more of those set at the beginning, we consider that a reason for satisfaction. 

    In the seven months of the project, we have achieved the following goals, among others:

    • There has been a discussion of the convenience (and need) for there to be a single law on free legal aid. You see, today’s regulations on free legal aid are dispersed in various legal texts. Publication of this law will be a great help both to lawyers and to judges and prosecutors.
    • We have managed to conduct a satisfaction survey of the users of the free legal aid system. Although this is an apparently simple task, in the end it turned out to be quite complicated. Firstly, due to the reluctance shown by the beneficiaries; secondly, because once these were overcome, it was necessary to reach agreement with the two beneficiaries on how to go about it; and lastly, because the costs of conducting the survey had to be covered by the beneficiary country, as stipulated in the project contract.
    • A catalogue was designed so that law graduates could learn about the steps to be followed to access the lists of legal-aid lawyers.
    • The possibility of eliminating the taxes legal-aid lawyers pay on the fees they receive was assessed.
    • A strategic communication plan was designed which contemplates the existence of a bus that would circulate between the different cities providing information about the right to free legal aid and the channels and requirements for exercising this right.
    • Work has begun on building a website where citizens can find out in a simple and accessible manner about the steps to take when they need a lawyer and lack the economic resources to hire one.

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  • 10 October 2013

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    University students help low-income taxpayers process their tax returns

    Last week, the first Tax Support Centre (NAF) was inaugurated in Costa Rica; it offers an innovative experience in tax education, which first began in Brazil in 2011 through the Receita Federal. The FIIAPP supports the implementation of this initiative in other countries in Latin America – Costa Rica being the first – through the EUROsociAL Programme. Clóvis Belbute Peres, tax auditor for Brazil’s Receita Federal explains the advantages of the NAF in this article.

    All countries’ tax systems are complex for various reasons that do not need to be enumerated in this article. Nevertheless, it is important to reflect on the consequences of this complexity and how to overcome it.

    The most evident consequence is people’s rejection of their tax obligations. Citizens don’t trust the tax administrations and this psychological perception is becoming a real communication barrier for poorly educated or low-income citizens. Citizens with little formal education and micro-business owners often have difficulties complying with their simple tax obligations.

    The analysis of this tax externality led to the concept of the Accounting and Tax Support Centres (NAF). This initiative from Brazil’s Receita Federal promotes the creation of student groups in the Faculty of Accounting Sciences to investigate tax issues and help marginalized communities with basic tax problems. This initiative is similar to the Centres for Legal Practice in the Faculty of Law and was inspired by the LITC model (Low Income Taxpayer Clinics) from the United States.

    The NAF therefore have two complementary functions. Firstly, they complement students’ education with specific studies in tax-related issues. With the support of the tax administration and other organisations, the students can study complex tax subjects in groups and disseminate this knowledge throughout the rest of the university. Secondly, the students are able to help those in need, thereby contributing to their community and being trained as citizens.

    There are clear benefits for the community. Sometimes, people with low literacy levels can feel embarrassed or frustrated when trying to explain their problems to a standard service department at the tax administration offices, but they are more comfortable speaking with students or teachers. There are also obvious benefits for the universities and the tax administrations. The administrations are able to get closer to future accountants, helping them develop as professionals. The universities are better able to comply with their academic mission and are better integrated into their communities.

    The first NAF began operating in April of 2011 in Brazil; today there is a network of 34 centres in various Brazilian universities. Recently, with the support of the FIIAPP, through EUROsociAL II’s Finance Department, the initiative has been shared with other countries, such as Costa Rica, which has just inaugurated the first NAF outside Brazil.

    Clóvis Belbute Peres is a tax auditor for the Receita Federal of Brazil

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