Contributed by Tonatiuh Paz Aguilar, Investigador, ControlaTuGobierno, A.C.
Transparency is an obligation that all democratic government must fulfill. In Mexico, the first Federal Law of Transparency and Public Information Access was approved by the Congress and published in 2002. During these first years, the Federal Institute for Access to Information developed the Proyecto Comunidades (Project Communities), an initiative that intended to disseminate the right of access to information among marginalized communities. The project was deployed between 2005 and 2008, with the support of an American foundation. When the project ended, different grassroots organizations kept in contact looking for advice or capacity building workshops. As a result, we created ControlaTuGobierno, A.C. (CTG), a not-for-profit organization that inherited the learnings of Proyecto Comunidades and was funded by the field members of the project in 2013. CTG's main goal is to help marginalized communities to take control of the public decisions that affect their everyday life using their right of access to information.
We work from a human rights perspective: during the last three years our project we have worked specifically on the human rights to territory, health, water, and sanitation. Our current project is in a watershed of the State of Mexico and looks to support communities that are defending their water supplies. We back up processes that already exist with capacity building workshops to develop skills that help communities to lead social audit using information access tools. As an organization, we believe that social auditing is a complex type of citizen participation that involves different actors, both governmental and civil society. Our methodology engages with different groups of actors around public works and services provided by the State. At the same time, CTG does not look to create a dependent relationship for any of the parties involved. The main goal is to strengthen the capacities of the communities so that eventually, they don't need us anymore.
We are aware that we must go directly to the communities, they are the ones that know what they need, and their voices or points of view are rarely considered or even heard. Attending to and being respectful to their voices is what has led to our work with them.
CTG first went through the equivalency determination (ED) process with NGOsource in June 2018. The ED has allowed us to spread the word of our work, to grow as an organization and to support other communities with problems that affect their life quality. We believe that we help to fight corruption and encourage the construction of an active citizenry that is more alert to the public decisions that affect everyday life. Without the ED, we would not have received the funds that allowed us to implement and facilitate the capacity building workshops. Without the workshops, we would miss out on the opportunity to engage with different community actors that shared other problems beyond our main project that also required attending to.
During 2017, for example, we worked with residents of San Pablo Atlazalpan, Chalco municipality, near Mexico City. A company there had started to extract basaltic stone. Neighbors started to protest because the mining works were very close to the local elementary school and used chemicals that started to infiltrate an underground water source. Very soon, consequences were very visible among the community: the dust, a product of the mining works, was causing respiratory diseases to the children; the water started to produce gastrointestinal diseases and a historical building was damaged by the passing of heavy-duty vehicles.
After a local independent organization contacted CTC and explained the situation, we got to work. In addition to gathering information from government institutions involved in the permissions for the construction, we asked for public information through online platforms. Local authorities overseeing education, the environment, and historical heritage made inspection visits to the mine and finally concluded the company was operating illegally, damaging the health, environment and historical monuments of the community. They ultimately decided to close the mine.
Assembly on April the 14th of 2018 to open with the community the information found around the mine.
Wall journal with photocopies of the documents delivered through public information requests.
We are now growing as an organization, we believe that this is a full-time job and we know that without the ED we received from NGOsource, we could not have access to international funds that have allowed us to do this work.
This guest post is by Tonatiuh Paz Aguilar, Investigador, ControlaTuGobierno, A.C.
Top photo: A capacity building workshop about transparency and information access in Amecameca, State of Mexico.
All images used with permission from ControlaGobierno © 2019.