Just like many other nations, Trinidad and Tobago, a resource-rich country from Latin America, has serious issues with the accountability and transparency of its politicians. Despite over a decade of activism and reform, the country is yet to implement an overarching public contracting statutory framework, and not surprisingly, allegations of corruptions abound. Major issues like campaign finance and electoral reform are still bandied about like political footballs at every general election, but local advocates say there is a lot of lip service without much action.
Disclosure Today (DT!), a ”social governance” project developed by a Trinidad and Tobago-based nonprofit intends to tackle some of these issues by providing citizens with information on public decisions, legal advice and a safe channel to blow the whistle. Built around the principles of initiatives like Open Contracting or the Money, Politics and Transparency project, the core innovation behind DT! lies in connecting lawyers and public authorities with citizens in a more sustainable and confidential way, both online and offline.
As a collaborative platform with web and mobile components, DT! not only tries to help citizens access information on public sector spending and government contracting decisions, but also provides a space to debate these decisions and to facilitate meaningful contributions and proposals from citizens. The platform empowers public engagement early on in the procurement process, and focuses on offline legal advice from public interest lawyers. Basic services are pro bono, and premium service offerings are being developed to make the project sustainable in the long-term as well.
Another crucial feature of DT! is its confidentiality: The strategic use of privacy provides a sense of protection to users fearing repercussions when making requests for information or public interest disclosures. By protecting citizens and their data, as well as offering legal advice, DT! makes it easier to take actions while mitigating the risk of possible reprisals.
DT! is a mixture of Alvateli, change.org and more traditional advocacy services, and the long term goal of the platform`s developer team is to expand the project to other countries with public interest advocates willing to commit to customizing the platform for their jurisdiction. As DT! places unprecedented pressure on politicians and gives citizens greater voice in Trinidad and Tobago, the rest of the world will be looking on to see whether this combination of technology and passion can drive real civic change.
Its Facebook presence has allowed DT! to gain a lot of traction in a short time, and the first campaign – the Political Finance Transparency Initiative (PFT) – launched from the platform last month. The initiative puts election campaign finances and the challenges lying ahead the powerful political and financial elite of Trinidad and Tobago in the spotlight.
DT! has already challenged 16 registered political parties in Trinidad and Tobago to commit to eight obligations for the general elections held this September, with a special focus on campaign budgets and spending, asking them to disclose the names of their donors prior to the general election. And although major political parties have not yet signed on, three political parties have agreed to endorse the commitments, representing, if these parties field candidates in the upcoming election, an unprecedented breakthrough in political finance transparency in Trinidad and Tobago.