Brazil: Murky waters and Olympic opacity

Brazil: Murky waters and Olympic opacity - Transparency

Water pours onto a boy's hands from a pump provided for the village by NGO Water Aid.

In August, up to 1,400 athletes will be in sailing in the waters of the Guanabara Bay during the Olympic Games. However, pollution concerns have marred preparations. ARTICLE 19’s latest report, Murky water: transparency of depollution programmes in Guanabara Bay, investigates the transparency of two government programmes that were designed to depollute the Guanabara Bay, an area covering 15 cities located in Rio de Janeiro, ahead of this year’s Games.

The Depollution Programme of Guanabara Bay (PDBG – Programa de Despoluição da Baía de Guanabara , ran from 1994 to 2006, and the Environmental Sanitation Program of the Surrounding Municipalities of Guanabara Bay (PSAM – Programa de Saneamento Ambiental dos Municípios no Entorno da Baía de Guanabara), began in 2006 and is still currently active.

ARTICLE 19 examined the depollution programmes regarding the information available on their websites (active transparency) and the responses to information requests that were sent (passive transparency) based on a criteria of accessibility, quality, and intelligibility of information

Findings showed a lack of transparency across the board with no area of the two programmes enjoying a classification of high transparency and there being a resistance to responding openly to information requests that were submitted.

Lack of transparency should not be understood as a purely technical or methodological problem. “The problems that we see in access to information for depollution programmes should be seen as a constituent part of the environmental crisis facing Guanabara Bay before,during and after the Olympic Games. There is a direct relationship between the opacity of the bay waters and the opacity of information regarding its pollution and the use of public funds to tackle this pressing problem”, said Mariana Tamari, Access to Information Officer, ARTICLE 19 Brazil and South America.

Research focused on resources used to deliver the programme of works; the scheduling of sewage treatment works; the budget for the programmes; bidding and commissioning processes; number of people and houses that benefited from the improvements that were planned; and sources of funding.

“The depollution project of Guanabara Bay has encouraged high value investments into the search for solutions. However, numerous promises remain unfulfilled. Even with all the attention that the Guanabara Bay has received in recent years due to the Olympic Games, the lack of transparency of these projects is significant and the neglect of the bay management is evident,” added Tamari.

The PDBG borrowed the equivalent to more than  2 billion Reais at current values. Besides not having succeeded in depolluting the bay, the programme has accrued a debt of around 1.19 billion Reais. As for PSAM, it was budgeted at 1.13 billion Reais and has also not reached the depollution targets in the terms and to the extent which was promised.

While the websites of the Rio de Janeiro Government, the State Secretariat for the Environment (SEA), the State Company for Water and Sewers of Rio de Janeiro (Cedae) and the Department of Finance of the State of Rio de Janeiro (Sefaz-RJ) were noted as ‘low transparency’, the PSAM website was deemed as having ‘no transparency’. Most of the information available on the website is outdated and the only available document provides information on the sewage treatment plants programme, but nothing on the budget of the works.

In the analysis of passive transparency, ARTICLE 19 sent 19 requests for information to three public agencies: SEA, Cedae and Sefaz-RJ. SEA, the agency that coordinates the development of PSAM, did not respond to any of the nine requests sent and achieved the lowest rating in terms of transparency. On the other hand, Cedae responded fully to all seven information requests, while Sefaz-RJ was sent three information requests and provided two full answers.

In light of the report, ARTICLE 19 calls on the ministries and public bodies responsible for depollution programmes and environmental projects to take pro-active, positive steps in order to increase transparency and ensure that important information about public works is easy to seek, share, and discuss.

Read the report in Portuguese.