Open Data: An Innovative Approach to Anti-Corruption Compliance in Brazil


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Anti-corruption compliance remains a big challenge in Brazil, as corruption is embedded throughout Brazilian society, weakening government institutions and the economy as a whole. Brazil currently ranks 79th out of 168 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. In the private sector, “the majority of businesses surveyed as part of the Global Competitiveness Report believe that the diversion of public funds to companies, individuals, or groups due to corruption occurs frequently in (Brazil).” According to the 2015-2016 report, “corruption scandals have undermined trust in both private and public institutions.” In addition, “the 2009 World Bank/IFC Enterprise survey reports that nearly 70 percent of surveyed companies perceive corruption as an “major constraint” for doing business in Brazil.”

In 2015, as part of the Group of Twenty (G-20), Brazil agreed on a set of G-20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles. These principles aim to make crucial data open to the public, so “civil society can monitor things like the use of public resources including how taxes are spent and how contracts are awarded.” In turn, this open data can play a significant role in combatting corruption, as it would make it easier to hold governments and the private sector to account for their actions. Open data has made anti-corruption compliance efforts more effective by building transparency, accountability and integrity in the government and the private sector through various platforms and avenues that shed spotlights on potential cases of corruption. The adoption of open data practices by both the government and the private sector is essential to making these entities more transparent.

Although the country still has a long way to go, Brazil is beginning to unlock the potential of open data by using it to investigate some of the country’s biggest corruption scandals. For example, the Lava Jato operation “started as an investigation in 2014 into corruption at Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned energy giant, but quickly spread to other state-owned enterprises and private sector contractors involved in other projects, both at the federal and regional levels.” The operation has led to investigations into hundreds of Brazilian politicians from the President’s cabinet, the Senate and the Lower House of Congress.

Over the last three years, the Lava Jato investigations have generated over 1,100 lawsuits and now the Lava JOTA platform allows citizens to search these lawsuits online to find out which companies or individuals have been currently accused of corrupt practices, such as bribery. Another notable case, stemming from the investigations, is the case involving Marcelo Odebrecht, “the head of Brazil’s largest construction company that bears his name, which along with a handful of other private sector companies was at the center of an extensive bribery network that spread to more than 11 countries overseas.” He was convicted of corruption and his company’s plea bargaining testimony has led to further investigations including the use of offshore companies to hide bribes paid to government officials. All the information surrounding his case can also be found on the Lava JOTA platform.

Open data platforms are becoming one of the more innovative approaches in ensuring anti-corruption compliance. Open data platforms allow citizens to be aware of corrupt practices within the public and private sectors and as a result puts pressure on businesses and governments to adhere to an ethical set of anti-corruption standards. Brazil is one of many country case studies in which open data has great potential to unleash anti-corruption compliance on a monumental scale.

Morgan Frost is a Program Assistant for Global Programs at CIPE