Abril 21st, 2020
In a previous entry of this blog series we talked about the impossibility of knowing what the world will be like after the pandemic is over, while pointing out that trying to rebuild our current world order is absurd, and it would be smarter to redesign it based on the lessons learned. With that premise in mind we now start a series of publications that will present ideas on concrete steps towards this end.
We will start by focusing our attention on a critical issue: transparency in decision-making. Had there been transparent operational mechanisms, the World Health Organization would have probably learned of the existence of COVID-19 before December 31, 2019, and it is likely that the global health emergency would have been declared way before the 22 days they took to do it. The delayed response was undoubtedly due to insufficient and unclear information available.
Transparency, together with accountability, are necessary not only to face any crisis, but fundamentally to prevent them. They are the sap that makes democracy much more than a mere political-institutional order, by giving it the status of social order. Transparency is also a tool for the protection of rights, especially human rights, and what enables multiple actors to work jointly in the promotion of the common welfare. The list could go on.
The world order in which we live shows “transparency gaps” at different levels.
Lack of transparency at the global level:
- On April 8, 2020, Transparency International, Human Rights Watch and Global Witness sent a joint note to the Board of Governors of the International Monetary Fund stating: “In no way do we want to stop the IMF response to the crisis or prevent countries to receive the money they need. Instead, we want to highlight the need for the Fund to establish basic measures to ensure that the money received by countries is used in a transparent and responsible manner”. Although there has been progress, the lack of transparency (and democracy) in the work of institutions such as the IMF must be resolved in the world order that results from the current pandemic, especially when economic resources will be essential for the least developed countries, but also those with middle incomes, to resume growth and national viability.
Lack of transparency at the national level:
- Even before the crisis, the increasing reduction of the participation spaces for civil society in multiple countries was denounced. Examples of these are the articles “Is civic space really shrinking, and if so who’s to blame?”, “Shrinking Civil Space: A Digital Perspective” or the 2019 State of Civil Society Report, all of them published in 2019, and in all cases, affecting transparency in public decision-making.
Are transparency requirements being considered in the national management of the pandemic in Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries? Let’s check it out.
Although there is a broad access to data to monitor the situation, and there are global maps and dashboards, including the one from the John Hopkins University, most of the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) countries have established their own data and information centers on the national situation of COVID-19 (with the exception of Haiti, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines). The case of Nicaragua draw our attention, because the Ministry of Citizen Power for Health of that country issued a statement expressing that “Nicaragua has not established, nor will it establish, any type of Quarantine.”
However, when checking out the structures defined by the governments of the region to manage the response to the pandemic at the national level, we found out that in the 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries, the Ministries of Health are leading the crisis management mechanisms. A strong involvement of the Heads of State and Government was also identified. In all countries, and especially in those of the Caribbean, pre-existing rapid response bodies to emergencies have become executive arms of health decisions. Some countries have formally incorporated national experts carrying out advisory tasks (these are the cases of Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Chile, Granada, Panama, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Saint Kitts and Nevis).
In no case, however, have institutional channels for the participation of other actors or rules for transparent communication of the decisions, processes and debates that take place within the countries have been established.
An initiative we would like to highlight is that of Peru: the country has created a monitoring mechanism (clic here to visti the Website) that allows to follow-up on how public resources are being managed during the emergency.
Although the urgency of managing a crisis requires to reduce the number of people involved in decision-making, this cannot imply a restriction of transparency. One solution may be to have rapid response bodies, such as the existing ones, complemented by more detailed analysis, which include visions of a greater number of actors.
Preferring urgency over transparency can have dire consequences, all the more so as new crises will come in the future. I’m not pessimistic, but I believe in data: since 2009 the WHO has declared 6 global health emergencies (H5N1 avian influenza in 2009; polio outbreak, a disease believed to be eradicated, and Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014; the Zika virus in 2016; Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019 and COVID-19 in 2020), indicating an acceleration in its recurrence. All prospective reports from United Nations experts on environmental issues, such as the IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C, prepared by the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change, warns of the risks ahead of us; The increase in the number of forced migrants and refugees presents associated risks repeatedly pointed out, and to date the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner has 13 emergency situations, including the Coronavirus.
Promoting transparency, creating incentives for the participation of multiple stakeholders in monitoring public decisions, “opening data access” and democratizing the tools for their production and use, are all necessary measures to redesign the post-COVID-19 world order.
“An additional 31,345 cases and 2,601 deaths were reported in the past 24 hours, representing a 4% (cases) and 5% (deaths) relative increase compared to the previous day. Majority of the new cases (25,634 cases, 82%) and deaths (2,154 deaths, 83%) continue to be reported from the United States of America”.PAHO, April 21, 2020.
Check out the updated information day after day 👉 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19)
Other blogs of the series