Jorge Bermudez Soto
Comptroller General of the Republic of Chile
Executive Secretary of OLACEFS
Crises are also moments of reflection. This pandemic should leave us with many lessons regarding the environment, life in society, and of course, the State and its functioning. On the one hand, we should revalue the people who perform public services that are indispensable, such as household garbage collection, ATMs in commerce, public attention at windows, the role of educators, among others. From our perspective, we must emphasize the importance of public control for democracy and, by extension, the care of public resources in times of a pandemic.
During this period, the Comptroller’s Office has had to harmonize three elements: how to protect the health of its officials; how to continue to carry out its work in the best possible way; and how to carry out control tasks without interfering in the work of those who are directly fighting the pandemic. To achieve this difficult balance, we have applied three concepts to our work:
Timeliness and a sense of urgency. In all of our functions, control has had to adapt to the need to give timely and urgent responses ─essential for the function of the State─ from the review of the legality of decrees and resolutions that require reasoning, opinions that enable flexible hours and teleworking, to on-site inspections and the prioritization of audits linked to the pandemic. Facing this, the exercise of external control, far from being seen as an obstacle, constitutes a guarantee that the decisions were taken legally and with the protection of public assets, which is supported by the autonomous exercise of the powers of the Comptroller General.
Intelligence and technology. The Comptroller’s Office quickly adapted to teleworking, thanks to the experience of a pilot program implemented last year, which showed that many functions could be performed remotely by taking certain security measures with the appropriate technology, which we had already been developing and adopting. We should also highlight the progress made in electronic processing, which now accounts for more than 90% of documentation, and also the work with databases, both our own and those of other public services, which has made it possible to carry out audits based on artificial intelligence. If the audit was previously on-site and based on a non-statistical sample of financial transactions, with access to databases and the use of algorithms, the sample reaches 100% of transactions and can be carried out remotely. Obviously, this is a path under construction, but we already have a head start in the use of big data.
Transparency. Beyond the legal obligation, transparency helps to build trust, which is why, shortly after the state of catastrophe was declared, we built an electronic site that gives an account of how the State, and in particular, the Comptroller’s Office, are acting to cope with this pandemic. This is in addition to the efforts of the Proactive Transparency portal that provides information of public interest about the institution.
There is no external control body in the world that has been prepared to carry out its work under the conditions imposed by the pandemic. Therefore, there is no administrative control expert in such pandemic times. Nevertheless, from our experience, it is possible to reflect on three final points.
Public control is inherent to the functioning of the democratic state and must be exercised regardless, even in times of a pandemic; however, control cannot work by paralyzing the action of public services; the end justifies only legal and democratic means, which are validated when control exists and are legitimated when they are transparent; and finally, there can be no going back for the Comptroller’s Office after this state of catastrophe is over, in the sense that our way of working must enhance flexibility and be oriented towards quality results, procedures must aim to be totally electronic and the use of big data must continue to be incorporated into all our functions.
All this with a single aim: the care and good use of public resources, even in times of a pandemic.
About the author:
As of December 17, 2015, the Comptroller General of the Republic is attorney Jorge Bermúdez Soto, who until then was an academic at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso.
The current Comptroller has a degree in Legal Sciences from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (1993), a Master’s degree in European Community Law from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (1996) and a PhD in Law from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (1998). Subsequently, he carried out post-doctoral studies in Environmental Law at the Universität Gießen (Germany) (2002-2003) and at the Universität Heidelberg, Germany (2012).
As for his academic experience, he is an undergraduate and postgraduate professor in Administrative and Environmental Law at the Law School of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (since 2003, Head since 2011).
He has worked in the public sector as an official of several institutions of the State Administration: National Forestry Corporation, State Defense Council and Legal Division of the Undersecretariat of Fisheries. In addition, he has been legal advisor to various state entities and international organizations.
The Comptroller General has participated in important forums, seminars and international conferences in his area and has written numerous books related to Administrative Law and articles in legal journals in Chile and abroad. Among them, we can highlight his authorship of the books “General Administrative Law” and “Fundamentals of Environmental Law.”