The ‘lobby’ regulation project in Colombia: what does it entail?

Recently, the Anti-Corruption Tsar Camilo Enciso stated his commitment to a new proposed law to regulate lobbying, or cabildeo, in Colombia.

The initiative attracted attention from the public during the corruption scandal involving  Odebretch and different public officials. Enciso says that the Government must implement a law that regulates the relationship between private sectors who make use of lobbyists and public officials at every level.

The Political and Legislative Framework for Lobbying in Colombia 

Initiatives to regulate lobbying in Colombia have been seen before. In 2001 Germán Vargas Lleras presented three proposed laws to regulate the activity, which were rejected in 2001, 2003 and 2005, respectively.

More recently, in 2014, Senator Carlos Fernando Galán and Representative of the Chamber Alfredo Deluque presented two initiatives to regulate lobbying but these were defeated after the first debate before the end of the 2014-2015 legislative term. Currently, the Senator Carlos Fernando Galán is leading Law Project No 97 of 2016, which is now under consideration by Congress and proposes the regulation of lobbying, including a Public Register of Lobbyists (RPC) to which natural or legal persons must sign up to be able to carry out the activity.

It also establishes a set of obligations for lobbyists, with a special focus on reporting the reason for which their clients wish to come into contact with public entities as well as information about the issues addressed, among other conditions. It further mandates that any public entity or official meeting a lobbyist must report this to the applicable monitoring body, in this case the Office of the Public Attorney.

However, although attempts to regulate lobbying date back a fairly long way, this also comes as a result of the country’s current application to join the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) which has very clearly stated that lobbying is a constitutional right as part of the exercise of free expression and participation in political, legislative and regulatory debates, strengthening the democratic framing of public policies.

However, the OECD has also stated that poorly regulated lobbying can lead to corruption, clandestine links between the private and public sectors and unfair biases towards different sectors or actors, among other problems.

More and more countries have thus sought to regulate lobbying not just to meet the requirements of the OECD but also to generate spaces of transparency, integrity and fair relationships in the interaction between citizens, unions, the private sector and public servants. Currently, 15 countries have regulated lobbying across the world, the pioneer being the United States. Other countries to adopt such legislation recently include Chile and the United Kingdom in 2014:

Given the proposed law, it would be useful to analyze the current status of public sector lobbyists in Colombia as said law only refers to the relationship between a natural or legal person from the private sector, or representing an individual, in the defence and promotion of their interests. It would also be interesting, however, to include the role of ministerial advisors (and similar) and also the Legislative Work Units which influence the actors in the public sector for a specific objective.

Advances in the regulation of lobbying in Latin America

Initiatives to formalize of the exercise of the management of individual interests relating to the Executive and Legislative branches, to make the agenda of activities transparent and to legalize the activity in order to avoid informality and corruption have grown far more common in recent years in countries such as Chile and Peru (which now have their own law regulating lobbying), Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and, of course, Colombia.

However, although each of the above countries has legislation that punishes acts of corruption (e.g. the Anti-Corruption Statute in Colombia), with the exception of Chile and Peru, the other countries have not passed a law that specifically regulates lobbying.

Argentina and Mexico have incorporated other regulations and obligations related to lobbying without these amounting to a law on lobbying, which is what is being proposed in Colombia. These obligations are related to publishing public records, audiences and interest management activities as well as an obligatory public registry for lobbyists. Chile and Peru, meanwhile, do have special legislation that regulates the lobbying of public administration (lobbying laws).

It is thus clear that Colombia has fallen behind in the field of regulating lobbying and that we can learn from the experiences of similar countries to ensure an up to date version of lobbying laws.