Even though the City of Buenos Aires (AGCBA) has an organization dedicated to identifying and implementing strategies on environmental land, the agency under consideration does not produce specific reports on the matter, they merely validate others opinions and show "serious evidence of internal control failures".
That's what the General Auditor of the City of Buenos Aires noted after analyzing the work of CEUP, an agency that operates under the guidance of the Department of Urban Development and whose main mission is referred to in Article 29 of the City’s Constitution.
We will analyze the data provided by the federal watchdog, but before that it is important to explain what CEUP does. The Constitution itself states that the city of Buenos Aires has to define an Environmental Urban Plan (AUP), developed with the participation of academics, professionals, and the community.
Thus the Council was formed, as the government’s technical and political instrument responsible for agreeing and accomplishing initiatives related to Environmental Urban Planning, not only in the City, but also in the areas that surround the metropolitan region.
CEUP’s tasks are summarized in three main points: monitoring and updating the Environmental Urban Planning, implementation and monitoring of the PUA, and implementation of mechanisms for citizens participation in the matter.
The City’s watchdog investigated the functioning of the Board and approved their reports by the end of last year. The report states that “in 2011 the agency did not conduct an efficient nor eloquent work with regards to the Environmental Urban Planning", and affirms: "it has no meaning that the staff assigned to the (agency) has produced specific reports established by Law No. 71 (AUP), and the Rules of Procedure of CEUP".
In addition, AGCBA observed that "executive management in everything concerning urban-environmental matters was not monitored by the Board, nor where did they contribute to urban development or improvements implemented at the request of CEUP".
However, it’s not that the Council doesn’t work, the problem, according to the audit, is that "CEUP’s opinions are unfounded and their opinions have no added value. They simply validate the views of technical areas of the Department of Planning run by the Department of Urban Development of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires.
This was one of the topics that caught the attention of AGCBA. The fact is that the investigation found that there is no "technical independence in the opinions the different agencies provide" for the Council. Not only that, but the agency "does not base its actions (plenary proceedings, agreements, reports and/or expert opinions), nor is there any documentary record stating the views and/or contributions or interventions, which is the information needed to reach an informed decision on the performances referred to environmental treatment."
However, this aspect of the Council was noticed even by the Internal Audit Unit of the Department of Urban Development of the City, which says that since 2008 "as a general rule, CEUP has not exposed, in their technical opinions, the grounds on which they reach their decision. Therefore, there is no record of the administrative procedure, in the circumstances of fact and law on which it bases the opinion of the Body."
The audit’s portfolio goes even further in its observation, which takes an almost pedagogical state: "The Internal Audit Unit states that the clear and detailed exposition of the arguments by the public authorities is not limited to complying with a mere formal requirement, because it’s an essential prerequisite of a democratic system, that imposes a limit to the power and assures justice for the administration. Also, the necessity to adequately substantiate cases is because CEUP should have technical discretion in its decisions."
As an example of this behavior by the Council, the AGCBA report explains that: "It has been verified that the CEUP devoted most of its time on dealing with queries from parties on commercial licenses, which were resolved by opinions that lacked basic foundations, for example that they were based on studies and analyzes conducted by the technical areas of the Department of Planning of the Department of Urban Development."
Regardless of how CEUP interacts with the rest of the State of Buenos Aires, the investigation of the Audit includes an example of a request for information which toured several stages.
The work is written verbatim: "Following the presentation of a bill declaring the emergency sanitary and environmental infrastructure in the neighborhoods of Villa Urquiza, Coghlan, Palermo, Villa Avellaneda, and Caballito, the Legislature of the City requested an order of technical report to the Secretary of Planning of AGCBA, rather than to the CEUP. (This government official) forwards the request to the Council, which then turns the application to the Directorate General of Planning that (together) issue a Technical Report".
The particularity of the story appears in a second scene. According to the audit, "CEUP shows as their own, as well as validates, all the terms of the report prepared by the Department of Planning, their reports are uninspiring and without any real bases, they can’t even be sure about what they are expressing." Not only that, but the Council then issues rulings and then the Secretary of Planning of the Department of Urban Development "acting as such and not as CEUP Coordinator"-AGCBA clarifies-, turn the proceedings to the Technical, Administrative, and Legal Department of Urban Development, "who then sends providence required by the Commission of Urban Planning of the Legislature clarifying 'the information previously produced by the under secretariat of planning'”.
Behind closed doors
Moreover, the audit states that the Council shows "serious evidence of internal control failures." In this sense, the investigation revealed that the area "has no specific structure, resources, and separation of functions, all of which are reflected in the lack of production of documents that bring added value and serve as a monitoring tool for the management of Environmental Urban Planning by the Executive Branch."
Además, se detectó la “coexistencia de dos reglamentos internos en el CoPUA”. Y varias falencias, como que el área “no elabora el informe de metas y por ende tampoco remite documento alguno a la Legislatura que proyecte su accionar para un período determinado; no elaboró para el año 2011 Informe Anual de Gestión alguno que sirva para su difusión institucional y pública; ni elaboró los documentos de avance y finales de cada etapa del Plan Urbano Ambiental, como así tampoco realizó las evaluaciones periódicas de los resultados alcanzados”.
Furthermore, we detected the "coexistence of two internal regulations at CEUP". As well as several shortcomings, for example, they "don’t report goals and therefore do not submit any documents to the Legislature to project their actions for a specified period. They also did not prepare for 2011 the Annual Management Report which would be used internally as well as for public knowledge, nor did they elaborate the progress and final documents each stage of the Environmental Urban Plan, as well also conducted periodic assessments of the results achieved.”
For AGCBA, all the evidence shows that "the body has a lack of hierarchy", even though they are made up of 21 directors like the Secretary of Urban Planning, six technicians appointed by the Executive Branch, eight technicians from a proposal of the Legislature, five departments that are experts in the matter (environment, public works, transportation, etc.), and even the President of the Council, "the Lord Chief of Government".