Guatemala’s Transparency Law in Action

1 May 2009

Over 8,000 NGOs and Private Contractors Also Subject to the Law

Guatemala City, Guatemala — On April 21, 2009, Guatemala’s Law for Free Access to Public Information went into effect, officially allowing citizens to request information from 1,000 government offices and over 8,000 NGOs that manage public resources.

Manfredo Marroquín of the citizen action group Acción Ciudadana made a symbolic first information request the day the law went into action and received in response information from the Vice President on the salaries of his staff. Marroqun told Prensa Libre that his organization has observed that Guatemala’s federal agencies have taken the necessary steps to prepare for the implementation of the law. In a video interview, Marroquín emphasized how important it is now for the public to utilize the tools at their disposal to push for more transparent and open government.

The law, passed by Guatemala’s Congress on September 24, 2008, mandates the active dissemination of information on government salaries, agency expenditures, and the criteria for contractors and organizations that receive state funds. The law also applies to the country’s security institutions and includes an article declaring that human rights information cannot be kept secret by national security classification (Article 24). Human rights defenders uphold this as an important tool for advocates who continue to push for the opening of long-sought military and police records from the country’s 36-year internal armed conflict.

Shortly after the law went into effect, Guatemala’s Office of Human Rights (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos — PDH) received its first complaints that some government bodies had not yet complied with the mandatory publication of their internal rules and regulations.

Juan Fernando Archila, the Secretary of the Commission on Free Access to Information (Comisión de Libre Acceso a la Información) created by the PDH, said his office is prepared to receive complaints, review cases, and produce resolutions in accordance with the law. The oversight commission is in charge of monitoring government bodies and sanctioning employees who do not comply with the new law. Archila made clear that the more than 8,000 nongovernmental bodies that manage public resources will also be subject to the transparency law. These bodies include government contractors, international organizations, committees, and various associations that receive state funds.

Deputy Nineth Montenegro, a member of Congress active in the final passage of the law, called the law an advancement for transparency and an emphasized the importance of applying the law to government contractors, because they receive vast sums of money to carry out public services and there are complaints that they receive political favors in exchange for lucrative contracts.

During a press conference, Vice President Rafael Espada stated that the law will create positive change for Guatemala’s political administration and emphasized that only agencies that are not transparent have reason for concern. The Vice President also reiterated the point that access to public information is a human right because the public has the right to know how their taxes are being spent. “We’re in the pubic service,” stated Espada, “and those who dont want [to release information] should not be here.”

NEWS COVERAGE

Unas 8 mil ONG estarn obligadas a dar informacin, Prensa Libre, April 19, 2009.

Guatemala: Today starts Free Access to public information, The Guatemala Times, April 21, 2009.

Espada: Al que le preocupe la Ley de Acceso es porque no tiene transparencia, Prensa Libre, April 21, 2009.

Entra en vigencia ley de acceso a informacin que asegura la transparencia, EFE, April 21, 2009.

Informacin empieza a fluir, con limitantes, Prensa Libre, April 22, 2009.

Presentan primera denuncia en la PDH por incumplimiento de Ley de Acceso a la Informacin, Prensa Libre, April 22, 2009.

Integrantes de Accin Ciudadana invitan a pedir informacin, Prensa Libre, April 22, 2009.

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