Public Officials Asset Disclosure: making public documents more open

BEFORE: Scanned PDF

 

In order to make public documents even more public, Declaraciones Juradas Abiertas, our Open statement of assets project, pushed borders of transparency once again.

We believe that opening data is a huge change inside journalism, but we also believe that we must open our building process of the platform to complete the cycle and to make easier for others to build sites like this one in their own contexts.  Seguir leyendo

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How community and open source code drive LNData

The web, or more than that, digital media consumed from any platform, is the richest place to express any form of communication, to enrich any content or message and reach a large audience. Journalism has the greatest opportunity ever to access to all these formats and platforms, to produce and reuse the best quality content and at the same to become the best service for a committed society who already has the tools and the talent to collaborate and create meaningful change.

So when we speak about “open data journalism” and we think about the open data world, it is a chance for journalism to be open to new challenges, open for change and open to share and make teams with developers, NGO´s, universities and others and co produce better content together. We have the power to add value, transforming from documents from raw to open data, but publishing raw material as evidence as well. Easy and free!

Documentcloud is great for that and easy for everyone to use.

When it comes tocollaboration, a couple of experiences in our case were: Vozdata, our Open Collaboration Platform to transform PDF into datasets that was inspired by the  Free The files project from Propublica and The Guardian´s MP´s Expenses case.

It was developed from scratch by our OpenNews fellow Manuel Aristaran, and Gabriela Rodriguez to fulfill a need we have in many countries that lack a FOI law and open data: documents published in PDFs, sometimes unstructured and scanned as images, and on the other hand, a community of people that wants to help and is ready to prove it.

So, together with more than 1100 volunteers from universities and NGOs we processed and transformed more than 10.000 PDF with Senate Expenses, and articles from these datasets produced front page stories and even judicial investigations of public servants.

Again, journalism helps raise these datasets “voices” , that would be kept in silence and trapped in those PDFs. Vozdata is open sourced as “Crowdata” and is being reused by other countries and projects.

Open Statements of Assets:   a collaboration project that produced open data from manually typed print copies of 1200 Statements of Assets (Affidavits) that were requested of the three powers: Executive, Legislative and Judicial. We worked in collaboration with three transparency NGOs that monitor these powers and more than 30 volunteers who typed and checked in our “checkathons” (full days checking and having fun!) thanks to collaborative tools and coordinated work. We are now open sourcing this platform and adding more content and features to it.

Election granular data presented in interactive maps can help citizens monitor in detail. Another project we are working and amplifying this year is Elections. With Juan Elosua, taking the original map from Manuel Aristaran.

We can see in every school that there is the detail of every vote.

And after that he built a tool that allows us to compare and make more in depth analysis by “zone” drawing polygons that selects points and adding the results inside these new polygons.

So here technology is helping citizens and journalism analyze and understand in a time lapse and in detail the changes regarding limits, a great tool we can build once and reuse many times is a tool worth investing in. Journalists that are open to experience new tools and technology don’t need to understand everything, they need to trust.

To learn where innovation is, there is an opportunity to assist and engage with movements like Hacks/Hackers or Open Knowledge, where as an example, in a hackathon we met Andy Tow who specializes in elections data and gathered with a team, together with Gaba our Fellow, we applied for a challenge and won a little fund to build an app that presents a searchable database, maps and analyzes campaign financing data since 2007.

When technologists embrace activism to apply their skills for change, they become the best: hacktivists! Those are the ones that gather the power or apply technology and the proactivity to surprise journalism with incredible discoveries in large volumes of data, platforms of entity extraction, machine learning, interactive visualizations that cross all platforms and intelligent ways of solving problems.

We loved to feel the magic of talented fellows who really helped us leapfrog, make big steps, take risks and learn, but also together with our journalism and open collaboration platforms prove that the power of working together accelerates changes, is efficient and multiplies its effect when open sourced and shares with others.

Regarding the Knight-Mozilla Opennews fellowship, If you have the opportunity to apply to be a Fellow, do it! you will learn, experience and help with what you already know.

The search ends August 21, 2015 and the application form >> is here. <<

 

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Public officials salaries and assets for reporting and accountability

“Click to access to Statements of Assets integrated Tag”

LA NACION decided to fight for transparency in public officials salaries and declaration of assets as we feel that even in a country without FOIA, journalism and citizens must know and share what they know about how politicians earn their money, and how they compare with others or with other periods. This is a tool that is also helping detect cases of corruption, regarding public spending and companies owned by official´s relatives or friends.

To aggregate stories, we integrated the news application with the open dataset and Lanacion.com´s CMS using a TAG that gathers all the stories that are coming out about these Declarations of Assets or salaries of the president and ministers we also requested and opened .

Main stories and data:

 

Open statements of assets from Argentina’s main public officials (News App)

President’s private secretary resigns after his wealth come to light

 

 

 

Making public the salaries of the President and ministers in less than 24 hours

 

 

Salaries of officials of the City of Buenos Aires: a minister complaint, a payslip and the wrong data from the Government

 

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Open statements of assets from Argentina’s main public officials

In Argentina, where we don´t have an access to information law yet, LA NACION and other three NGO´s that work towards transparency (Poder Ciudadano, ACIJ and Fundación Directorio Legislativo) worked together to develop the first site concerning the heritage of public servants, making the information accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.

The work included more than 30 volunteers manually entering data and generating a structured and searchable dataset from scanned PDFs. The project included all of LA NACION DATA team, using  collaborative tools, coordinating cross checking procesess and 6 full day check-a-thons that included the volunteers.

As they assume their public duties, public officials in Argentina,  are required to fill out a statement declaring their assets and then they are asked to update that information every year, while they’re in office. Even though the records are public, the information was not easily accessible to ordinary citizens, and of course when asked, it were given in print copies.

Declaraciones Juradas Abiertas was born in a unique political scenario. A new law regulating public officials’ affidavits was passed, which omits asset information of the children and spouses of public officials in future affidavits, reducing the amount of information previously available. The family asset situation is vital to create a chart of the current patrimony of a public servant for an illicit gain investigation. The application, which was launched on Sept. 28 (International Right To Know Day)  includes 1540 affidavits from more than 800 public officials (the members of President Cristina Fernández’s cabinet of ministers, legislators and judges, among others). It contains detailed information about their financial assets and properties over the years.

The interactive application that allows users to read a large volume of information and do comparisons, with an easy visual interface, includes the possibility to explore every original PDF document in detail, using DocumentCloud.

After the requests of the statements of assets was made to the Anticorruption Office (OA) and other offices, all the information came in print and in boxes. Each file was around 5/7 pages long.

The priority was given to the affidavits of the most relevant seats of each power and to the candidates for october 2013 legislative elections.

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Making public the salaries of the President and ministers in less than 24 hours

Press release announcing the publication of the salaries of the President and ministers

Press release announcing the publication of the salaries of the President and ministers

From the beginning we were interested in taking the greatest advantage of Declaraciones Juradas Abiertas (Open Asset Declarations), the site we created to inform in an understandable and accessible way the statements of wealth of the main officials of the three branches of government. That is why we thought of working with their salaries.

The investigation started when we wanted to analyze the evolution of the salary of the president and her ministers for the period 2012-2014. The first thing we did was to search for this information in the patrimonial statements, containing a specific field where they have to give this information in detail. We found here a first problem: some specified their monthly wages instead of the annual amount. To solve this first problem, we decided to ask for the information from the office of the General Secretary of the Presidency, making use of the current regulation on access to public information (decree 1172/03).

This agency in the year 2012 in its website published a form specifying the gross and net salary of these officials. In the process we learned that NGO had asked for the same information a year before and that it had been denied, with the argument that the salaries were personal data. After brief meetings with members of the staff of the newspaper we agreed to ask for the same but in a different manner. Thus, we asked for the last version of the document in which the Presidency informed the remunerations of the highest posts in the executive branch.

The answer again was negative. “We are informing you that salaries are considered sensitive information, according to the law 25.326 (law of personal data). Thus we turned this negative reply into a story. On February 20 we told what had happened (The presidency denied the information on Cristina Kirchner and her minister’s salaries).

Less than 10 hours after this was published, the Presidency published a press release in which it expressed that there had been an error in not providing the information required relative to the current salary of Madam President, dr. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her ministers, and that by her express indication they have been published, with the corresponding apology”.

Ate the same time, the state agency published on its website the document in PDF format with the current information.

To make the data more understandable and add value for the reader, the text was transformed into text (with an OCR tool) and information was put online on a spreadsheet. The following day a table was added with a search tool and the possibility of downloading the data inf CSV, XLS and PDF format (“Cristina published her salary: She earns 48366 pesos per month”).

In journalistic terms, transforming a negative to present information into a story, we got the National Government to publish data of great interest for all citizens.

All the stories on the case

  1. Presidency denied information on Cristina Kirchner and her minister’s salaries
  2. After LA NACION published its story presidency changed tack and published the salaries of Cristina Kirchner and her ministers
  3. President Cristina Kirchner and her minister’s salaries
  4. Cristina published her salary. She earns 48366 per month
  5. Presidency reverses its attitude. It informed that Cristina Kirchner earns 48366
  6. Oscar Parrilli: “The salary of the president is increased if there is an increase in the salaries of civil servants”
  7. Capitanich justified the salaries of the cabinet

Some repercussions of the story

The next day the news was on the front page of the main print media.

The cabinet chief in a press conference justified Cristina’s and the minister’s salaries.

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Tecnópolis: a fair, a couple and the milloinaire that was poor

In 2012, reading the Official Bulletin (Boletín official), we started to detect high prices in the direct hiring of firms for building stands at a fair organized by the national government, known as “Tecnópolis”, and that functions as a mega show of science, art and technology, inaugurated in June 2011 by the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Officials that hire their own companies for the fair

In march 2013 we began following a lead that  Ariel Santamaría and Claudia Risolía, two officials of the federal Planning Ministry, had a firm (Multideas S.A.) that had been hired by the office of the undersecretary of Housing, part of that agency, to build the stand of the agency and carry out activities in it.  Seguir leyendo

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President’s private secretary resigns after his wealth come to light

Thanks to a new regulation on statements of wealth approved in 2013, all material on the wealth of officials is published online in the Anticorruption Office site. From there at the beginning of 2014 we took the asset statements of the private secretaries of the President: Martín Federico Aguirres and Pablo Erasmo Barreiro. Both, according to the documents they presented, were able to increase their patrimony substantially in 2012. After an analysis by journalist Iván Ruiz, the first tripled his wealth, while Barreiros increased his in 70%.

Together with the use of official information, there was a search in different press archives to further investigate the patrimony of these private secretaries.

IMPACT

Almost 4 months after the publication of the story, Aguirres resigns his position, due to the accusations of illicit enrichment against him.  Seguir leyendo

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Salaries of officials of the City of Buenos Aires: a minister complaint, a payslip and the wrong data from the Government

The Government of the City of Buenos Aires has a catalog of data where it publishes information in open format to make different areas of its administration more open to the public eye.

We  began searching among the datasets available to work with those of high relevance considering public interest.

We decided to download the datasets related to the salaries of the cabinet officials and the chief of the Buenos Aires administration.

Working with the database

As a first task, we downloaded the two files with the salaries for 2012 and 2013, we merged them in one Excel spreadsheet  so we could calculate the monthly variations. The data was distributed in several columns to facilitate the analysis and to have the chance to get a global vision of the whole set.

Because the published databases were clean, with no important mistakes, there was no need to do a lot of work on the information published by the City administration.

For a first story (More than 40 percent pay rise for BA ministers) we decided to calculate the percentage variations between July 2012 and July 2013, since the information published reached that month.

In the second story (Another pay rise for BA ministers: 20% in the last semester) with the complete 2013 data, the percentage difference was calculated for the period July-December 2013.

To facilitate the journalistic work, in both cases rankings by official were created according to salaries for all of 2012 and changes in ranking were analyzed according to salaries perceived in 2013.

The visualizations

When the work on the database was done, the journalists and the multimedia design team met to create a visualization that would clearly show the conclusions they had arrived at.

For the first publication, the percentage salary rise between July 2012 and July 2013 was considered.

 

The second visualization worked with the information of the second semester of 2013.  Seguir leyendo

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