Orazio Bellettini creates incentives for transparency in government bodies and increases citizens’ capacities to mobilize around the information released in order to demand public services and spur development.
The New Idea
Orazio is building a new way to bring citizens into the government’s process of forming and executing public policy. His strategy is at once top-down and bottom-up, forcing the government to be more transparent and teaching the citizens of Ecuador to how to hold their government accountable. For Orazio, transparency is a common goal around which he can build shared dialogue about development among fragmented groups of citizens. Orazio’s organization, Grupo FARO—Foundation for the Advance of Reforms and Opportunities (“lighthouse group”)—gets national and local government bodies to deliver public information on budgets, expenditures, and other records in compliance with Ecuadorian law. FARO has successfully brought together a range of organizations in the citizen sector to demand government accountability and acts both as consultant and watchdog organization to put pressure on the government to comply. Orazio has already made important progress in convincing several ministries and public officials of the necessity for greater transparency, and has helped them to implement it. Working from the other side of the issue, Orazio enables citizens to participate effectively in dialogue with the government. He works with local media, grassroots organizations, and municipalities to spread relevant information and teach local people to ask for, acquire, and interpret budgets and other information from government bodies. Through Orazio’s programs, Ecuadorian citizens learn to demand and obtain public services such as their legal right to maternal healthcare.
Transparency International ranks Ecuador and its neighboring countries in the Andean region as some of the most corrupt in South America. Though Ecuador, like other Andean countries, is rich in oil reserves and other natural resources, corruption has prevented much of this wealth from reaching the general population. However, corruption is just a symptom of even deeper challenges Ecuador has to face to become a society with opportunities for everyone.Orazio considers the main obstacle for the development of Ecuador to be its geographic, social, political and economic fragmentation. According to the Geographic Fragmentation Index, Ecuador was ranked one of the most highly fragmented countries in the world. In Ecuador, geographic fragmentation has contributed to problems of regionalism, ethnic and racial discrimination, social fragmentation, and unequal economic opportunity.Orazio has identified three changes needed in Ecuador to implement reforms that benefit the public. First, to reduce fragmentation, he facilitates more communication among different actors by reconstructing the public sphere in Ecuador in order to initiate active participation and informed dialogue between civil society, the private sector and the state, and identify unified objectives that will benefit society as a whole. Second, the problem of fragmentation cannot be solved solely through inclusive dialogue; each actor needs to improve his or her capacity to translate ideas and proposals into actions oriented to public well-being. Finally, it is important to promote a culture of individual and collective responsibility where actors understand and are held accountable for the consequences of their actions. Thorough Grupo FARO, Orazio has developed the following strategies to overcome the issue of fragmentation and bring about the necessary changes outlined in his theory of change:1. Generate Informed Dialogue: Orazio uses information to initiate informed dialogue by presenting evidence that will enable ‘agents of change’ to form a common ground.2. Promote Capacity Building: Orazio and Grupo FARO’s team focus on improving the capacity of Ecuadorian actors to translate ideas into action by encouraging initiatives that improve human resources, strengthen organizations, reform institutions, and form partnerships across all sectors.3. Promote transparency of individual and mutual actions and their impact: Grupo FARO will develop systems to promote and ensure transparency of the impact of policy decisions on the well-being of society.Though Ecuador enacted a new access-to-information law in 2004, “Ley Orgánica de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública (LOTAIP),” requiring government agencies to release relevant information to the public, evidence shows that at all levels of government there is only partial compliance with LOTAIP. This is not just a problem at the national level, but also at the local level, where citizens cannot access services to which they are entitled by law, such as vaccinations and schooling. Neither government agencies nor municipalities have incentives to release information about budgets or the delivery of services. At the same time, Ecuadorian citizens do not have access to information about government services or understand the processes involved. They are cynical about the potential of government and are therefore passive about the possibility of change. Furthermore, Ecuadorian society is fragmented, with little tendency and few platforms for sectors or citizens to come together to make joint demands of the government. This combination of factors ensures that Ecuadorians have neither the will nor the tools to hold government accountable.Nevertheless, promotion of transparency has recently gathered momentum as an important national issue in Ecuador. Several new public officials in Ecuador are increasingly talking about the need for transparency. Orazio is seizing this opportunity to find allies in government with whom he can partner to create islands of transparency.
Through Grupo FARO, Orazio brings together a range of citizen organizations (COs) in a coalition to demand government accountability through signed transparency agreements with various ministries and public officials. Ministries agree to comply with LOTAIP, the country’s access-to-information law, and other relevant laws. In an agreement with the Food Aid program for the country’s poorest citizens, for example, FARO demanded that the program implement a law requiring citizen oversight committees. Functioning, active committees ensure that instead of going to those who vote for particular politicians, food goes to those who need it most. Orazio’s strategy has been to target officials who are inclined towards promoting transparency to sign the first agreements and create positive examples with which he then approaches the key institutions that shape Ecuador’s development (such as the Ministry of Finance). His high-level engagement with media during the signing ceremonies offers an incentive for other officials to sign transparency agreements and to also benefit from positive press. FARO has signed agreements with four of fifteen government ministries, along with at least ten other public service programs like Maternal Healthcare.In bringing together COs, Orazio takes particular care to include diversity and not to become an advocate of a particular party, and the agreements are often signed in the three principal languages of Ecuador. What started as a coalition of thirteen organizations in April 2005, when the first agreement was signed with the Ministry of the Economy, has grown to include over one hundred. This coalition not only exerts significant pressure on government bodies to sign transparency agreements, but also provides a bridge to eventually make newly released public information accessible to and used by citizens across Ecuador.After the ministries or public bodies sign the transparency agreements, FARO acts as an advisor to build the capacity of the institutions to comply. Often the government bodies do not have the systems or tools to generate the necessary information. In the course of this advisory process, FARO works closely with countless government workers, effectively creating a culture shift within the ministries. Orazio learned this was critical to his success in his first experience with the Ministry of the Economy, where there were seven different ministers in the course of two years. Turnover of public officials is similarly high in other ministries. If the ministries do not comply with their agreements, FARO shifts from advisor to watchdog group, calling on a strong relationship with the Ecuadorian media to publicize the failure. The combination of advisor and watchdog activities has proven highly successful in pressuring government bodies to uphold their transparency agreements. After two years of working with FARO, the Ministry of the Economy is now complying with 98 percent of LOTAIP.After agreements are implemented, FARO has a second line of work: Teaching local communities to access and use newly available information to demand the public services to which they are entitled by law. Orazio has created focus groups involving representatives from different communities to translate information about budgets and other aspects of government services so that average citizens can understand it—often in terms of money available for local public programs such as schools and health clinics. FARO then disseminates this information through a network of local radio stations and other media and through workshops geared towards relevant stakeholders. He builds capacity of COs across the country to enter into the dialogue and teach their constituents to access and use information. Local level organizations are trained to train community leaders to spread information and teach others to spread and use information. FARO also engages local governments. In one municipality, for example, an indigenous mayor, concerned about discrimination against indigenous women in access to maternal healthcare, worked with FARO to establish a committee of local stakeholders to design and implement a health outreach program for this population. They taught indigenous women to effectively petition for maternal healthcare.Orazio is systematically engaging local governments, mayors, and COs across the country, targeting regions with large indigenous populations or regions where local governments have been particularly culpable in diverting oil revenues. FARO is implementing local level programs in about 12 percent of the country, and Orazio’s goal is to spread this part of FARO’s work to other parts of the country, creating momentum for transparency that will eventually transform the way public policy is executed.Orazio’s goal is for FARO to be a platform for obtaining and exchanging information between the public, citizen, and business sectors. Through information that is valuable for diverse stakeholders, Orazio brings fragmented groups of citizens and organizations together. Only together can they create a shared vision and take action for change and development in Ecuador, building a new relationship between the state and its citizens. One of FARO’s recent projects, for example, was an assessment of the state of education in Ecuador. In comparison to other countries, Ecuador was particularly remiss in early education programs. Orazio created three early education pilot programs to create a successful model that he can later use to put pressure on the government to support adequate early education. In this way, Orazio is helping inform and build pressure from citizens for government services that will address deficiencies and spur development. Orazio is involving Ecuadorian immigrants living outside the country in FARO’s activities to promote the flow of intellectual and financial capital back to Ecuador. Through FARO, he provides an avenue for philanthropic investment and paves the way for business investments. Within the next several years, Orazio will replicate his model in agreements with strategically chosen government bodies and significantly expand the scope of his community level work in partnership with COs and local governments. His spread strategy is guided by the principal of creating “islands” of transparency that can be used as positive examples to exert pressure for change elsewhere. Orazio also teaches two university-level courses on transparency for local public servants from around the country, an important leverage point because they work at the level where average citizens come in contact with public servants. Internationally, Orazio plans to spread his ideas through a network of anti-corruption organizations in the region. He has built strong partnerships with COs in Peru and Argentina in particular, and has published a book of case studies with a Peruvian organization.
Orazio grew up in a small village in Ecuador as a child of a low-income farming family. His parents were shrimp farmers, like many people in his village. Orazio says now that they were entrepreneurial because they had to be—state services were few and of poor quality. It was after Orazio left his village to study agricultural engineering at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana in Honduras that he realized how poor his state-sponsored education had been. After a few years working in the private sector in Ecuador, Orazio turned to the citizen sector, where he worked on a microenterprise project for indigenous people and then for the International Labor Organization, conducting a study on child labor in Ecuador. He was disillusioned when the published study had little effect on public policy in Ecuador. With time, Orazio understood how his parents—intelligent, creative, and energetic individuals—had been limited from reaching their full potential to contribute to society by societal norms of passivity, cynicism, fragmentation, and ineffective governance. This realization, along with his work experience, eventually led Orazio to study public policy; he wanted to be able to intervene in a systematic, widespread way to build a society that would work actively for positive change. Orazio studied public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. There he built networks that continue to help his work today. He was particularly impressed in making ties to an organization in Argentina which combines transparency and education, and they remain in close contact. Other contacts have helped him garner financial support and start to expand his work throughout Latin America.