The goal of this project was to reveal –through a rigorous process of data collection and analysis– how public officials, beyond the parties they represent, their ideologies or even their position inside or outside the government, can behave with impunity even in such simple matters as traffic infractions, either because they actually committed them or because they just chose not to comply with the payment of their debt. The result? An amount of $ 2,376,685.82 (or u$s 64,286.87 according to the exchange rate at the time the article was published) owed in traffic fines. In fact, one man alone, Javier Tizado (Minister of Production of Buenos Aires Province), had accumulated 64 tickets.
But the history of open data in Argentina is brief –the current Law on Access to Public Information was passed in 2016– and still today the process is quite bureaucratic and the result is not always guaranteed.
In this context, gathering information on Politically Exposed Persons (PEP) or certain actions that may involve the government, can be challenging. In fact, through this research I learned that in the Registry of Public Hearings –Registro Único de Audiencias, an organism under the Ministry of the Interior, Infrastructure and Housing, which task is to keep a record of the hearings between the President, his Cabinet and third parties in the Casa Rosada–, there were some key errors: for example, Emilio Monzo (Speaker of the House of Representatives) appears with two different identification numbers.
So having ruled out the Registry as a reliable source of information I turn to another public document, the “Informe Previo de Ingresos y Egresos de la Campaña Electoral” (a series of PDF files hosted on the web of our national Department of Justice). According to the Law for the Financing of Political Parties, ten days before any election “the president and treasurer of the party and those responsible economically-financially and politically for the campaign” must present a previous report of the incomes and expenditures of the campaign, before a federal court with electoral competence. I figured this was a safer option since any mistake in the reports could have consequences later on. There I got the identification numbers for most of the public officers listed on the article (a large number of them being congressmen). The rest of the data was based on the official gazettes of the Republic of Argentina, the Province of Buenos Aires, and the City of Buenos Aires.
Once the dataset with the names of more than 400 PEP was completed, I individually checked each ID number with the Agencia Nacional de Seguridad Vial (our national traffic safety agency) and the traffic agencies from the jurisdictions of Córdoba, Santa Fe, Chaco, Province of Buenos Aires and the City of Buenos Aires, and I was able to find out that almost 32% of the officials in question (including representatives, senators and members of the Executive Branch) had committed more than 500 infractions
What makes this project innovative?
On a smaller scale I think it was innovative because it was a way of showing in the newsroom the quality of content that can be created through data journalism. On a larger scale, I think it was also an excellent example of the beauty of open data: how, even with limited resources, you can access information that is already circulating on the web, and present it in a meaningful way to your audiences. It's a great reminder that a lot of data is out there and sometimes it's just a case of knowing where to look. News about corruption, offshore accounts, billions of dollars in taxes evaded every year, briberies, etc. are extremely important but sometimes they can be so overwhelming that audiences may feel a little detached from them. This article is about something that people can relate to in their everyday life. Traffic fines are expensive, sometimes arbitrary, but people don't get to not pay them. However, some politicians or Politically Exposed People who are supposed to set an example for the community, can drive through the streets carrying thousands of dollars in fines, with no major consequences. And when that is made public, a lot of people can feel touched because they have to deal with those sort of “little scenes of explicit impunity" every day.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
Aside from a few politicians who felt compelled to give an explanation, the article generated approximately 5000 interactions on Twitter alone (including the case of fellow colleagues from other newsrooms like @martinpietru who tweeted the story and got 528 retweets and 487 favs). The average session duration of the article was 5, 79% above the average of the whole month, according to Google Analytics. Even a thread on Reddit was created, which is particular since the community in Argentina does not have as many subscribers compared to other parts of the world. It also had great impact in the local media, given that a large number of the people involved came from different states of the country. Finally, the news was picked up on two of the largest national tv channels.
Source and methodology
Once I had defined the number of people who were going to take part in the article (Representatives, Senators and members of the Executive Branch at the National level, of the Province and of the City of Buenos Aires), which totaled 409 people, I had to find out the identification number of each one of them in order to be able to check their traffic infractions on the different websites. After retrieving each identification number from different sources (the Previous Report of Income and Expenditures of the Campaign, the Official Gazette of the Argentine Republic, the Official Gazette of the Province of Buenos Aires and the Gazette of the City of Buenos Aires) I started to check them one by one with the webs of the National Agency for Traffic Safety and the Government of the City of Buenos Aires –since it is the political headquarters of the country and most of the people in the list have to come to Buenos Aires for work– and with the agencies of their different provinces of origin. I used the official webs of the Agencia Nacional de Seguridad Vial (www.consultainfracciones.seguridadvial.gob.ar/consulta/); the Dirección General de Rentas de la Provincia de Córdoba (www.rentascordoba.gob.ar/mirentas/rentas.html?page=consulta_caminera); the Subsecretaría de Seguridad Vial del Gobierno del Pueblo de Chaco (http://www.policiacaminera.chaco.gov.ar/multas.asp); the Agencia Provincial de Seguridad Vial de Santa Fe (www.santafe.gob.ar/juzgadovirtual/consultaInfraccion.do?method=BusquedaVehiculo); the Dirección Provincial de Política y Seguridad Vial de la Provincia de Buenos Aires (infraccionesba.gba.gob.ar/consulta-infraccion); and the Gobierno de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires (www.buenosaires.gob.ar/consulta-de-infracciones). Also the web of Poder Judicial de la Nación (www.pjn.gov.ar) , the Boletín Oficial de la República Argentina (www.boletinoficial.gob.ar); Boletín Oficial de la Provincia de Buenos Aires (www.boletinoficial.gba.gob.ar); Boletín Oficial de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires (www.boletinoficial.buenosaires.gob.ar); the Honorable Cámara de Diputados de la Nación (www.diputados.gov.ar); the Honorable Senado de la Nación Argentina (www.senado.gov.ar); Argentina (www.argentina.gob.ar); Buenos Aires Provincia (www.gba.gob.ar) and Buenos Aires Ciudad (www.buenosaires.gob.ar).
The technology used was simple but quite effective at the same time. I used Microsoft Excel to clean and analyze the data, Infogram to visualize the information in a table, and the official webs of the Agencia Nacional de Seguridad Vial; Dirección General de Rentas de la Provincia de Córdoba; Subsecretaría de Seguridad Vial del Gobierno del Pueblo de Chaco; Agencia Provincial de Seguridad Vial de Santa Fe; Dirección Provincial de Política y Seguridad Vial de la Provincia de Buenos Aires; Gobierno de la Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires; Poder Judicial de la Nación; Boletín Oficial de la República Argentina; Boletín Oficial de la Provincia de Buenos Aires; Boletín Oficial de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires; Honorable Cámara de Diputados de la Nación; Honorable Senado de la Nación Argentina; the National Government of Argentina; of Buenos Aires Provincia; and Buenos Aires Ciudad.