24 Apr 2013

Chilean Project Exposes Connections between Business and Politics

Conflict of interests in the public administration is a central issue in the anti-corruption agenda. It is among the main concerns of international organisations and donors engaged in efforts to promote anti-corruption practices. Provisions for the prevention of conflict of interests also integrate the international anti-corruption framework, as part of instruments such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and regional protocols and codes of conduct regarding anti-corruption measures in the public sector. In the last years, this issue has also become the focus of civil society initiatives to fight corruption, and a project from Chile has recently set a great example for others interested in fighting conflict of interest through increased transparency.

The project, entitled Poderopedia (poder is the Spanish word for power), consists of an open database where the most influential individuals in Chilean business and politics are featured in personal profiles, with information on their biography and connections through family, education, personal friendships, former employment and positions in different levels of government. The platform also allows users to visualise connection maps, where a certain individual is shown in its connections with other individuals and organisations in the database.

According to Miguel Paz, a career journalist who is also the founder of the initiative, this kind of information is particularly relevant in Chile, where social mobility is limited, certain families exert influence in multiple sectors, and conflicts of interest are a common problem. The project seeks to show Chilean people “the who is who of business and politics in Chile” with information that is high relevant and useful for journalists, researchers and civil society organisations to understand how these connections affect policy-making.

The project is conducted by the organisation Poderomedia and is currently financed by a three-year $200,000 grant won at the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge in 2011. The database was developed and implemented on a test phase in May 2012, and since December 2012 a beta version has been publicly available. The information is collected from public sources, or contributed by users through crowdsourcing and then reviewed by journalists, who are responsible for editing the content. Within a week after its launch, Poderopedia had already almost 800 users registered on the webpage and was receiving an average of 26 new facts and connections per day.

The concept of Poderopedia is not revolutionary. Similar initiatives have been successfully implemented in the United States: the platform theyrule.net, created in 2001, shows connections between board members of the main corporations, foundations and think-tanks in the country, and the project LittleSis, implemented by the Public Accountability Initiative, uncovers the links between influential individuals and corporations and the US government. Nevertheless, Poderopedia has an interesting new feature: an effort to disseminate its platform for replication in other countries. The project has already been contacted by people from Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Colombia, Canada and Mexico, who are interested in creating local chapters to apply the Chilean to their context.

(The picture featured above is from straitstimes.com and is credited to AFP.)