In spite of the maxim transparency and laws requiring free access to information the municipality of Rio de Janeiro owns a lot of information on the Olympic Games.
In Rio, it is easy to run into information about the Olympic Games being hosted in August in the city. The municipal advertising flooded TVs, newspapers and the Internet with ads extolling the Olympic Games and its legacy. Sketches that present the future design of squares, arenas and the Rail Vehicle downtown are known by the locals. The flood of information about the Olympic Games, however, is limited to what matters to the municipal government to disclose. Getting details on projects and agreements between the government and companies challenges researchers, journalists and the public.
Reported by the authorities as an opportunity to show the world Brazil’s planning ability, since, until now, the risk of delays in the delivery of the arenas is small, the Olympics did not help to consolidate the Access to Information Act [Lei de Acesso à Informação, LAI – in Portuguese], which entered into force five years ago and became the legal basis for transparency of public acts in the country.
Unanswered requests about project and environmental licensing
Even the full account of the Games, officially estimated at R$ 39.1 billion in January (9.79 billion Euro: This value, as well as all the following values in Euro are based on the exchange rate of 3.98 of 28th April 2016), omits the expenditure on the event. Requests for copies of contracts, administrative procedures, and complete work projects remain unanswered, disrespecting the LAI’s precepts and keeping under lock and key the details about management decisions.
The cell phone battery of the researcher Larissa Lacerda from Article 19, an international non-governmental organization (NGO) in defense of freedom of expression and information, ran out before her patience did. She waited on the phone for an hour, forty-two minutes and twenty seconds for someone from the City Hall Telephonic Service (1746) only to request information about Transolímpica, a highway that was built for the Olympic Games 2016, which cost R$ 2.1 billion. She endured the wait but the device did not. “We decided to try it for the last time. The municipality had already violated several provisions of LAI throughout our research. We wanted to see where it was going. As I knew the drill, I put the phone on speaker and carried on doing other things”, said Lacerda.
Information requests are handled in the City Hall and by the Rio de Janeiro State Government with a mix of informality and strangeness. It is common to be asked about the motive of certain request – which is prohibited by the LAI, since all information produced by the State is, in principle, public.
Last year Article 19 prepared a report about the lack of transparency with which the work of Transolímpica is treated. The document points out that residents of slums threatened with removal knew little about the pathway of the work. Contracts between the City and the concessionaire were not delivered when requested. Simple questions about the environmental licensing of the construction work were answered in a document with over 4000 pages without any indication of where was the information requested.
Rios municipality violates obligation to accessible data
Rio City Hall is the most important actor in the organization of the Games. The City performs and supervises 43 of the 74 projects officially linked to the Olympics, the most important for the event.
In the report, the NGO Article 19 says that some employees insisted to know the reason for the orders. In some cases, public servants refused to receive the document with the issues. Time limits for the answers were, in all cases, ignored.
“We already knew that Rio had problems. They do not meet even the basics. To get what little information we had, we wasted time by calling and by going several times to the department. A normal citizen would never have gone to the levels we went to”, said Mariana Tamari, member of staff for information access at Article 19.
Lacking Enforcement of Access to Information Act
LAI was created in 2011 after years of insistences of civil society to create rules for access to public documents and data. It establishes the deadline of 20 days to answer any question that may be extended for another 10. If the request is denied, the law provides two instances of administrative resources. The law also states that information on public expenditure should be made available over the Internet for immediate access of citizens.
Two public departments with different methodologies have measured the enforcement of LAI in the country. The Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office [In Portuguese: Ministério Público Federal] analyzes the active transparency, which comes down to the analysis of the portals where budget data are published. In this regard, the City Hall did well. It got a score of 8.5, ranking in fifth among all the 27 state capitals.
It did not receive a ten due to not providing the salaries paid to its employees. The national average score was 3.92. However, another survey revealed that the municipality, even having adequate transparency portals, does not enforce LAI when provoked to give more information. The CGU [in Portuguese: Controladoria Geral da União – Federal Government department responsible for assisting directly and immediately to the President on all matters under the Executive Branch] evaluates active and passive transparency, making requests to test how the response is given.
In the first evaluation, in April 2015, the Rio municipality got 4.72, ranking 21st among the 27 capitals of the Brazilian states. The score improved in the second evaluation in September, reaching 8.6 but remained in the 12th position of that ranking. The result was due to the lack of foresight of punishment to the server that ignores the law and to the incomplete answers provided.
Advertising instead of promised transparency
Two years before the creation of the LAI, soon after the city was chosen to host the Olympics, Rio created a site called “Olympic Transparency”. On this site, detailed plans would be made available to their respective deadlines, costs and contracts. “What we want to show with this release is our attitude towards the organization of the 2016 Olympics”, said Mayor Eduardo Paes (PMDB), in October – 2009.
Seven years later, on the eve of the Games, the portal is down. Its replacement, the “Olympic City”, focuses on the dissemination of promotional videos of the Olympics and its legacy projects undertaken by the City. “This is a portal to government advertising that favors photo galleries and advertising texts about the Olympic facilities and not the production of documents. Few were the official information – about costs and financing, bids and contracts, schedules and deadlines of the works in the City –that we found in this site”, describes the Article 19.
Few know, but it is in this portal that part of the contracts concerning the Olympic works under municipal responsibility can be found. Under the vague link “institutional”, the item “transparency” is hidden. The documents were only made available after the request of the press, in particular the UOL portal for publication of these documents. The best source to get the roles of the municipal government is the Transparency Portal of the federal government. There all the documents can be found, including contracts additives to justify cost increases. However, the space only discloses documents of works that count on federal funds.
Documents on the construction of golf course in nature reserve incomplete
This was not the case for the golf course. After a direct agreement with the City Hall the Fiori Empreendimentos was responsible for building the arena, valued at R$ 60 million (15.02 million Euro). On the other hand, the company was allowed to build higher buildings than originally permitted in the region. Moreover, they used 58,000m² of a natural reserve for the Olympic golf course. The agreement was controversial and activists mobilized to receive more information on the project. All documents that the movement “Golfe Para Quem?”(Golf for Whom?) gained access to were either from the Ministério Público or from the Justice department, despite repeated requests to the municipality. On October 11 2014, activists formally requested the Mayor Eduardo Paes to grant them access to 11 documents, mostly legal reports that should be the basis for the agreement with the company.
Seventeen days later, Paes answered the letter explaining the reasons that led him to choose that site for the golf tournament, without mentioning the requested documents. “The lack of transparency does come only from the lack of preparation. They want to hide what they did. These documents do not exist”, said lawyer Jean Carlos Novaes, a member of “Golfe Para Quem?”.
Five months later, after the increasing around the theme mobilization, the city decided to create a website called “Explica Golfe” (Explaining Golf), in which it refutes the criticism of the design and provides some documents supporting the decision of the agreement. However, it is not in the published papers for example, the exemption of R$ 1.8 million given to the company in a municipal fee for removal of vegetation in the area. The document was discovered by activists in court, among the process paper work in which the prosecution claims that the project causes environmental damage. The contract between City Hall, Fiori Empreendimentos and the organizing committee of the Games for use of the land for the Olympics is also missing.
Costs of the Olympic Games unknown
Even the total cost of the Games remains a mystery. The expenses generated exclusively by the Olympics are gathered in a document called the Responsibility Matrix (Matriz de Responsabilidades). With it, it is possible to know how much the construction of arenas cost, who is responsible for the work, the origin of the funds and the completion period.
However, other expenses directly related to the Games were left out of the document. The construction of the pavilion six at Rio Centro, which will host boxing competitions, is not included in the list. Neither are the indemnities paid to residents of the Vila Autódromo slum for the construction of the Olympic Park access road. Together, all actions taken because of the event that are not in the Matrix add up to at least R$ 500 million (125 million Euro). Eduardo Paes indirectly affirmed this number.
Since last November the newspaper “Folha de S. Paulo” waits for the delivery of the documents supporting the agreement with GL Events for the construction of the boxing arena. The French company was responsible for the investment of R$ 50 million (12.52 million Euro). In return, it will be able to commercially exploit the Olympic Arena, which the company already runs, for 30 more years.
“We don't have a culture of transparency”
In an interview, Paes recognizes gaps in data transparency at the Olympics. He attributes the problem to the complexity of the event. “Maybe it was lack of attention to such an important topic. There are so many agencies and people supervising. There are 500 departments supervising and the City Hall executing. In my head, it was already transparent. This is all just a failure of disclosure of the facts”, said the Mayor.
“We don't have a culture of transparency. We still do not have the custom of publicizing information. The staff faces requests as an obligation, a time consuming thing. We did not introject the idea that transparency is a requirement. The information has to be given in a clear and objective manner. The department has to be prepared to provide it and to help citizens to get it”, said Tamari, member of staff at Article 19.
The study of Article 19 was sent to the county agencies, State and Union. The Public Prosecutor’s Office of Rio de Janeiro (Ministério Público) initiated an inquiry to investigate the failure in enforcing the LAI by the City Hall. The Empresa Olímpica Municipal (Municipal Olympic Company) returned the report to the NGO, unanswered.