The Transparency Labyrinth in Argentina

13 April 2004

[See also: “The Freedom of Information Campaign in Argentina,” by Martha Farmelo, 14 OCTOBER 2003]

A leader of Argentina’s openness movement, María Baron of the Centro de Implementacion de Politicas Publicas Para la Equidad y la Crecimiento, describes for freedominfo.org the reasons why President Nestor Kirchner decreed access to information rights in December 2003 (while Congress stalled any legislative proposals), and the challenges facing the decree’s implementation.

Download the entire report in Adobe PDF format:
The Transparency Labyrinth in Argentina (124 KB)
El Laberinto de la Transparencia en Argentina (116 KB)


The Transparency Labyrinth in Argentina
By María Baron
[Excerpt]

“El argentino a diferencia de los americanos del Norte y de casi todos los europeos, no se identifica con el Estado. Ello puede atribuirse al hecho general de que el Estado es una inconcebible abstracción; lo cierto es que el argentino es un individuo, no un ciudadano”.
– Jorge Luis Borges, Obras completas I, p. 162

“Argentines, as opposed to Americans from the North and to almost all Europeans, do not identify themselves with the State. That can be due to the general fact that the Argentine State is an unconceivable abstraction; the truth is that the Argentine is an individual, not a citizen.”
– Jorge Luis Borges, Complete Works I (translated)

As in the myth of Sysiphus, condemned to push a heavy rock uphill just to see it roll down time and time again, for the last three years the Argentine Congress has represented a steep mountain for those who advocated and pushed bills on access to information and the regulation of lobbying activities.

Advocates directed their efforts to highlighting the importance of access to public information for a better performance of the institutions, but they also had a clear and concrete objective: the approval of a bill that would regulate that right. Nevertheless, all of the proposals before Congress stalled, due to the lack of political will that neither the Congressional debates nor media pressure could overcome.

But three years of hard work were not in vain. The campaign “More Information, Less Poverty” contributed during all of that period to create real public awareness of the urgent need to democratize public information – a concept that not long ago was practically unknown but is now a widespread complaint.

The right to access to public information is a constitutional right according to the international treaties on human rights incorporated to the Argentine Constitution with the 1994 reform. Therefore many analysts believe that it is not an issue to be regulated by decree and that it would be more appropriate to do it through a law.

The bills presented to Congress were crafted through a novel mechanism in Argentina of “participative elaboration of norms” and were implemented by the Anticorruption Office . This means that opinions from different sectors of civil society, and members of the private and public sectors that could be affected by these regulations were brought to the table. These sectors participated in seminars and agreed to a “mother bill” to be introduced before Congress on behalf of the Executive Branch . This mechanism was conceived to give the bill the strength to differentiate it from the other 12,000 bills introduced each year in the legislature.

This “mother bill” arrived in Congress, where unfortunately stumbles and falls prevented it from turning into law. The first of these reverses was the opposition – in some cases implicit and explicit in others- of one or another political party or of particular legislators within the parties. But within the frame of a crisis that threatened to bring down the whole system, the political and economic emergencies set the pace for the last three years in Argentina.

Download the entire report in Adobe PDF format:
The Transparency Labyrinth in Argentina (124 KB)
El Laberinto de la Transparencia en Argentina (116 KB)

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