The Law on Access to Information (LAI), promulgated in 2011 (No. 12.527), and the Decree establishing the Social Participation Policy and the National Social Participation System of 2014 (No. 8.243) put the public ouvidorias (ombudsman’s office) in greater evidence within the Brazilian political field. After all, from that moment on, greater responsibilities were instituted and, consequently, the expectation (and demands) was expanded so that the ombudsman’s office became more and more an arrangement of control and social participation; in some cases, including citizen information services, in order to guaranteeing the right of access to information.
The public ouvidorias was indirectly grounded legally with the 1988 Constitution, in its article 37, paragraph 3, which in its original wording says: “complaints regarding the provision of public service will be regulated by law”. This fact contributed to the ombudsman’s spreading throughout the country between the three powers.
However, other more specific measures were vital to strengthen the role of the ouvidorias in defending citizens’ rights and improving public policies and services. Two main examples can be mentioned: 1) in September 2013, the National System of Ouvidorias of the Federal Executive Branch was constituted by decree, which obligates all the organs of its structure to establish an ombudsman’s office, thus constituting the e-ouv System, a computerized system created in December 2014 that streamlines and integrates the communication flow between the various ouvidorias that make up the e-ouv System. This system was developed by the General Controller of the Union (CGU); and 2) the institution through the Ordinance (No. 50.253), in December 2015, of the Ombudsman Strengthening Program (PROFORT), which aims to support the creation and development of public ouvidorias, as well as the improvement of process management and integrated action of ouvidorias.
The e-ouv System allows a better integration of the flow of demands and requests that reach the ouvidorias, providing a better management of manifestations that are sent to these channels. The idea here is that it would be necessary to have a systemic view of the entire apparatus that involves the functioning of public ouvidorias, with a coordinated and networked action between them. Through this system, for example, it is possible to carry out an initial screening of the demonstrations, then forwarding them to the body responsible for the matter, making it easier for the citizen, who does not have to go from organ to organ until he/she can register his complaint or request. In addition, the ombudsman informs the citizen to which body its manifestation was sent, which contributed to the process of political education.
The main positive aspect of this computerized system, besides facilitating and expanding access to the ouvidorias, is that it can reduce the noise and the information losses, improving citizen service, with greater agility of receiving the manifestation, registration, and formulation of the response. In addition to this, e-ouv allows a greater exchange of experiences between the ombudsmen and their team regarding the resolution of a certain conflict and the resolution of doubts about how to treat and analyze a given manifestation, and even, in the definition of the language to be used for the response to the citizen-protester.
Another initiative to disseminate such a system, integrated into PROFORT policy, is the OUV Municipalities, which freely gives the source code of the e-ouv System (a web platform), not requiring any installation or operational-technological cost to the entity municipal. The adhesion to the Municipalities Department is also accompanied by courses and training courses on ombudsman activity, and preparation/ distribution of technical-guidance material. Currently 104 municipalities have already adhered to this system (estimate made on: 10/20/2017).
According to the Federal Comptroller General’s Office (CCGU), there was a 95% increase in registrations for the Executive Branch’s Ombudsman System (e-ouv) from January to March 2017, when compared to the first three months of 2016. This growth is due to the integration of e-ouv with the Reclame Aqui and with the Federal Government Services Portal of the Ministry of Planning. The implementation of this system and its integration for the various ouvidorias has allowed this channel to be strengthened in the public space, both for the citizens as a space for receiving and “treating” their demands, as well as for managers as an instrument for conducting and evaluating the public management.
Although, the accountability still needs to be addressed in this system. Reports of suggestions made by the ombudsman’s offices on the ouvidorias.gov portal are not publicized, which makes the principle of public justification and social control unfeasible. There is not any information about its performance, which may be in danger of considering it as an inert channel, responsible only for receiving, forwarding and responding to the message to the citizen-claimant, and thus not to develop propositional actions with based on the magistracy of persuasion and the mediation of conflicts. The accountability adopted has a more particular logic, which involves only for the one that triggered the ombudsman’s office and not focused on the collective of the citizens (external public). Finally, there is not a broader policy of communication and interaction with citizens for the public ouvidoria.
However, the aspects raised in the above paragraph are related to power relations, and refer to concepts of political and technical autonomy, which in our perception run away from the main scope of this article, and therefore (who knows?) may stay for a next post.