23.05.14 // Anti-corruption, Institutional Strengthening, News

ACIJ and Forensic Accountants warn about serious setbacks on access to information about public officials financial statements

A year after the law Nº26.857 came into force (published on the Official Bulletin of 23/05/13), La Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (Civil Association for Equality and Justice – ACIJ) and the Contadores Forenses NGO (Forensic accountants), are gravely concerned with the current situation regarding the disclosure of financial statements of public officials, due to the regulations adopted by different branches of government since the approval of the previously mentioned law.

In this regard, from the point of view of the content of the available information on the new financial statements, there is a worrying setback when observing the current financial statements compared with those established by the public ethic law (Nº25.188). Furthermore the online publication of the financial statements of public officials in all the branches of government remains largely an unfulfilled promised.

Both ACIJ and Contadores Forenses consider it unacceptable that a law that sought to “provide greater transparency to the performance of the public service” is in practice diminishing the establish standards of public ethics law. In practice it has an extremely low level of compliance, which can be seen by visiting the website of the office of anticorruption.

ACIJ has drawn up a report “A un año de la vigencia de la ley de declaraciones juradas patrimoniales integrales de funcionarios/as públicos/as”, (“A year since the law on public officials asset declarations came into effect”) that examines the level of compliance of the law Nº26.857 in the different branches of government.

Firstly, the assets or income of their spouses or partners and sons and daughters who are under age, are no longer available. This information has been relegated to a reserved form, only likely to be available through a court order. Not only does this go against public ethic laws, but it also encourages non-disclosure of financial statements by public officials.  It prevents public access to vital information relevant in determining public official’s asset allocation, allowing them to hide assets by putting them under their relatives’ names.

In second place, they failed to include information regarding public officials previous occupations. The dissemination of this information was obliged by public ethic laws and is vital in determining incompatibilities and potential conflicts of interest with respect to the members of the various branches of government.

Even more serious is how little effort the different branches of government have gone to comply with this law, which was put into force year ago. An example of this is that only the financial statements of the executive branch can be found online (even though all branches should have their financial statements online). 

With regards to the Legislative, only 99 deputies out of a total of 257 (38.52%), and 7 senators out of 72 (9.72%) publically published and disclosed their financial statements. In the case of the candidates running for legislative office in the last elections, the level of compliance with the requirements was practically nill.

The Supreme Court, only as recently as the end of April of this year, began to regulate the legislation on public asset declarations. Due to this, they do not have access to the ministers’ financial statements (the regulation suffers similar deficiencies to that of the executive branch). The Judicial Council has not yet issued its own regulations (they are currently discussing a project in this regard), therefore, to this day, the statements of national, federal and provincial judges are not available.

As far as the prosecutor’s Public Ministry is concerned, currently the prosecutor’s online forms are not available. Similarly, the Ministry of Defense only recently updated the legislation, which is why their public asset declarations are not accessible online either.

Consequently, due to this new regulations and their implementation methods of the new regulations has been limited in such a way that what it truly prevents is to achieve the transparency and accountability goals for which it was created. It should be an important tools used to minimize corruption and ensure confidence in the citizens with regards to public officials, through access to information corresponding to the public asset declarations.

The true path towards transparency does not only imply legislation that provides a higher level of information regarding the assets and income of public officials, but also regulations that do not detract from its content, as well as effective enforcement of its provisions. Only then can we move towards a path of true accountability of public officials in order to reanimate the citizens trust in them and consequently strengthen our democratic institutions.

ACIJ and Contadores Forenses are civil society organizations that work towards ensuring democratic transparency and fighting corruption. Furthermore both are members of the group “La Otra Trama”, a space formed by various civil society organizations, through a multidisciplinary approach, with an aim to coordinate actions on the issue of organized crime in Argentina’s society. 

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