Timing is Everything: House Democracy Partnership Furthers Relations with Colombia’s Congress through Transparency Best Practices Exchange

  • Scott Nemeth, Antonio Garrastazu

Over the past two years, use of the ballot box has become relatively routine for Colombia’s citizens. Citizens have voted in the October 2016 peace plebiscite, legislative and presidential elections and the most recent anti-corruption consultation in August 2018. Despite the latter’s failure to garner enough votes to become law, Colombia’s congress and President Ivan Duque’s administration are committed to anti-corruption reform legislation.

Calling for a Pact for Colombia, President Duque has urged congress to respond to citizens’ demands on clamoring down on corruption. The country’s policy makers are at a critical juncture, as tackling anti-corruption is a priority for the newly elected legislature, which contains several first-time members.

As a result, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the U.S. House of Representatives  organized a technical consultancy to Bogota from September 24 to 28, 2018 through the House Democracy Partnership (HDP). The week-long mission, led by former Congressman and HDP founder David Dreier, engaged members, legislative staff and the administrative arm of the congress on techniques and skills related to countering corruption, developing ethical codes and standards, constituency services, citizen engagement and encouraging ever more transparency among government institutions.

Congressman Dreier receives an award from Secretary General Gregorio Eljach, recognizing IRI and HDP’s contributions to the Congress of Colombia

As citizens continue to demand a more open, transparent government, it is incumbent upon the legislature to develop reforms that enhance citizen trust. The consultancy worked with the Ethics Commission and dedicated technical staff charged with carrying out such efforts.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” reiterated Congressman Dreier to convey the constant need for transparency. Without full disclosure and a genuine effort by congress to render information readily accessible, meeting the ever-growing demands of citizens will be difficult.

During the week, Congressman Dreier led a series of roundtable discussions on the importance of presenting information that provides citizens an opportunity to better understand the legislative process, and gain insight into how tax dollars are spent, staffing recommendations and the need for policy development. An emphasis was placed on meeting with newly elected members such as Mauricio Toro, a member of the Green Party and a strong advocate for citizen engagement.

To build trust between citizens and their representatives, Congressman Dreier stressed the need to directly engage citizens via town halls, office hours, social media and other outlets to provide constant information. The ability to connect with citizens is key for a democracy to thrive, noted Dreier. Congressman Dreier even recounted how his office proactively held a telephone town hall with over 20,000 constituents. The importance is not the methods, but the intention of connecting with citizens.  

Congressman David Dreier delivers remarks at the Instituto de Ciencia Politica

As Colombia continues to develop legislation related to anti-corruption efforts, IRI and HDP are committed to working together in achieving this goal. Over the next six months, IRI will facilitate study tours and technical consultancies across the globe in its commitment to working with partner nations to propel transparency reforms, a key element of national security, toward the top of the legislative agenda. These global initiatives are fundamental to U.S. strategic interests. More transparency leads to prosperity which benefits Colombia, the LAC region and the United States.

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