Transparency and accountability in social programmes in Latin America

Filed under - Poverty and development

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What’s at stake?

In the past decade, Latin America has seen an explosion of government social spending targeting human development for the region’s poorest citizens. Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programmes, which link cash payments to the provision of education and health care, have been widely adopted. An estimated 20 per cent of the population in Latin America receive CCT benefits, and they are credited with improving health and education outcomes in most countries.

Unfortunately these social programmes often lack effective transparency, accountability and participation mechanisms. Frequently, beneficiaries and potential beneficiaries:

  • Cannot easily find even basic information about how the programmes work, such as whether or not they are eligible
  • Cannot easily find where or how to make complaints about the programme, such as when payments are delayed or fail to arrive, or if programme officials or politicians abuse the scheme for political or personal gain
  • Are not actively involved in designing and adapting the programme to their needs.  

What we´re doing about it?

Transparency International’s EELA (Economic Equality in Latin America) programme provides a clear and simple framework for civil society organisations to advocate for stronger transparency, accountability and beneficiary participation mechanisms in Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programmes.

The EELA approach is based on participatory activities at the national and regional levels, working both with CCT programme officials and with beneficiaries in vulnerable communities. The approach is also being adapted for use in other social programmes, such as housing programmes in Venezuela.

Who’s involved

The EELA Programme is rooted in the experience of Transparency International’s national chapters. Each of the participating countries has several active CCT programmes and our national offices have a unique proximity to the beneficiaries. The chapters involved in EELA are:

  • TI Argentina
    Programme of focus: Asignación Universal por hijo para la Protección Social
  • TI Bolivia
    Programme of Focus: (Bono) Juancito Pinto
  • TI Colombia
    Programme of focus : Familias en Acción
  • TI Honduras
    Programme of focus: Bono 10000
  • TI Dominican Republic
    Programme of focus : Programa solidaridad
  • TI Guatemala
    Programme of focus: Mi Bono Seguro (formerly known as Mi Familia Progresa)
  • TI Peru
    Programmes of focus:  PRONAA, FONCODES, Wawa WasiJuntos and Pensión 65

Our approach

In the first stage of the EELA programme, partner organisations evaluate the transparency, accountability and participation mechanisms of local CCT programmes and identify key weaknesses. For example, in Guatemala our partner organisation Acción Ciudadana found that the helpline set up by the CCT programme Mi Bono Seguro to handle complaints was understaffed, under-resourced and unknown to the majority of beneficiaries they interviewed in local communities.

In the second stage, our partners work with programme officials to address the weaknesses identified. In Peru, for example, our chapter Proética is now working with the Social Development Ministry as an independent external advisor to help strengthen five major social programmes.

Link to human rights and gender

In order for transparency, accountability and participation mechanisms to truly meet the needs of programme beneficiaries and vulnerable populations, it is essential for them to be designed so as to take the human rights and gender of beneficiaries into account.

For example, in many Latin American countries a significant number of CCT beneficiaries belong to indigenous communities which do not always speak the official language of the country. If the information provided by the social programme is not available in indigenous languages, it will be of little use to those who need it most, as well as this being a violation of the cultural rights of beneficiaries.

Gender is an important factor in CCTs because the recipient of the cash payment is usually the female adult member of the household. Typically, the conditions required to continue receiving cash payments under a CCT are that children attend school and that family members receive health check-ups regularly. The responsibility for ensuring these conditions are met tends to fall to women.  As a result, female beneficiaries usually find themselves interacting with representatives of state institutions on a regular basis. In contexts of weak accountability mechanisms and oversight, the (often male) representatives of state institutions can have significant discretionary power, leading to increased risks of abuse and corruption.

Research on gender and CCTs
Researchers have shown that gender-based corruption risks in CCT programmes are an area of concern. Gruenberg and Pereyra (2009) analysed 5,000 complaints registered by the Jefas y Jefes de Familia CCT programme in Argentina, and found that the highest frequency of cases – 38 per cent – was of a woman making a complaint about a man, compared to only 8 per cent for a man filing a complaint about a woman. Hevia and Gruenberg (2010) analysed 8,366 complaints received by the Oportunidades CCT programme in Mexico, finding that the most complaints (38.9 per cent) involve the health sector, out of which almost half relate to abuse while 35 per cent relate to demands for bribes. In the Mexican study, local CCT representatives were the second highest risk factor (34.3 per cent), with 49 per cent of complaints derived from local representatives seeking bribes.

The EELA programme seeks to integrate human rights and gender into its research and advocacy activities, to ensure that the recommendations to ministries and donor agencies take these into account. 
Ultimately, EELA seeks to empower citizens to exercise their rights.

Timeline and results

  • 2008-2009: Our chapters Proética in Peru and Acción Ciudadana in Guatemala start evaluating and monitoring Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) in their countries.
  • 2010-2011: Pilot EELA project carried out in Bolivia, Guatemala and Peru. Standard approach developed and tested. Initial results show weaknesses of CCTs in selection of beneficiaries and in complaint mechanisms, among others. 
  • 2011-2012: EELA approach validated and adapted to include human rights and gender aspects. Please see standard toolkit for the first research phase here (in Spanish).
  • 2012: Research phase of EELA II programme in seven countries: results due December 2012.
  • 2013: Advocacy phase of EELA II programme in seven countries.  


Contact us

Jacopo Gamba, Programme Coordinator, Americas department

Other organisations working on cash transfers

World Bank

Overseas Development Institute

Council on Foreign Relations

Global Extension of Social Security (GESS)

The Cash Learning Partnership

Acción Ciudadana

Centro de Análisis y Difusión de la Economía Paraguaya (CADEP)

Proyecto Capital

PNUD España

Supplementary downloads

Country / Territory - Argentina   |   Bolivia   |   Colombia   |   Dominican Republic   |   Guatemala   |   Honduras   |   Peru   
Region - Americas   
Language(s) - English   
Topic - Education   |   Gender   |   Health   |   Human rights   |   Poverty and development   |   Public services   

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