Nonprofit transparency watchdog Espacios Abiertos unveils Fiscal Observatory
Aware of the difficulties that people face in inserting themselves into government debates and decisions on fiscal and budget issues, nonprofit Espacios Abiertos analyzed thousands of documents from the past 16 years to develop the new Observatoriofiscalpr.com platform, which seeks to provide greater accessibility and narrow information gaps.
Daniel Santamaría-Ots, senior analyst of public policy at Espacios Abiertos, said the new tool is an interactive digital repository of information, initially on the budget and, gradually during this year, will be expanded to include topics such as public debt, municipal finances and economic recovery.
In terms of the budget, the platform includes graphs where users can access historical data (from 2006 to the present) of government income and expenses that can be viewed by subject areas (34), by agencies (133-170) or by programs (878).
The Espacios Abiertos team manually analyzed and entered 41,740 individual fields of about 2,128 documents, broken down into: 24,677 budget expense entries; 7,652 budget entries; and 9,411 budget program entries.
The website’s topics are addressed through guiding questions and timelines are also included to locate important dates, he said.
“Through the Fiscal Observatory we provide clear information to answer those questions that people have about the use of the money they pay in taxes and that many times they don’t find an answer. Our goal is for more people to learn about these issues and to be able to participate in the debate and decision-making,” said Santamaría-Ots, of the platform that was developed with grants from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation’s Metabolic Studio.
The economist also explained that the information that was analyzed and the data entered into the website begins in 2006 because the current economic crisis in Puerto Rico began that year.
“At a time when the discussion of the budget process between the governor, the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico and the Legislative Assembly begins, we have no doubt that this platform will be a very useful tool for experts and academics as well as for the ordinary citizen, and that it can be an instrument for a conscientious debate on government revenue, its commitments and public spending,” he said.
Meanwhile, Cecille Blondet, executive director of Espacios Abiertos, said the nonprofit seeks to “continue creating new tools that promote greater fiscal transparency of government efforts and that facilitate citizens’ access to information on what government does with the money they get from taxpayers. People have the right to know and decide whether they agree with the decisions.”
“Making the government’s economic issues transparent has been a routine practice for decades in many jurisdictions in the United States and in other countries. Our goal is to change the culture of obscurity that has been cultivated in Puerto Rico,” she added.