Argentine Congress Advancing FOI Law

10 September 2010

Both houses of Argentina’s Congress are moving ahead with access to public information bills, and advocates are feeling optimistic.

The Argentine Senate Sept. 9 approved “in general” an access to public information bill, and made plans for more detailed debate on its provisions on Sept. 30.

In the House, the committees on Constitutional Affairs, Justice and Budget of the Chamber of Deputies recently approved an opinion on a draft law on access to public information. This permits plenary debate in the House.

The time seems to be propitious, according to Alvaro Herrero, Executive Director of the Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) /Association for Civil Rights, who wrote:

“After several years in which Congress was largely outside the political debate, it regained a relevant role following 2009 mid-term elections, which led to a more balanced representation of political forces. In this favorable scenario, the will to legislate on access to public information was reflected in the presentation of 16 bills in the House of Representatives and 9 in the Senate by members of different political parties.”

Changes Sought

Both of the House and Senate bills have shortcomings, according to Herrero.

One issue relates to the “autoridad de aplicacion,” meaning which agency will be in charge of enforcing the law and dealing with access to information requests. Both drafts create one agency per branch (one for the Executive, one for the Legislative and one for the Judiciary), but the Chamber of Deputies [House] also creates one for the General Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Publico), the Ombudsman Office (DEfensoria del Pueblo) and one for the National Audit Office. Six agencies in all.

Concerning the legislative and judicial branch authorities, the bills are silent about matters such as format, number of members, and the appointment processes.

NGOs are asking to improve participation and transparency in the appointment of the persons to be in charge of the enforcement agencies.

The Senate version needs changes in terms of exceptions and information classification, according to activists.

Also, the timelines are not quite clear, especially those related to basic, key issues such as how many days the administration has to disclose the requested information.

“Of course, both projects are an improvement and include many interesting new features, such a proactive transparency, and the coverage of the legislative and judicial branches within those obliged to provide access to information,” commented Herraro, noting that now only the executive branch is obliged by the current access to information decree (Decree 1172/2003).

Describing recent activities, Herrero said: “In the past four months, meetings have been held in both houses to debate and listen to different knowledgeable facilitators, academics and NGOs, who spoke about the importance of the enactment of this law. Our campaign pointed out the minimum standards that we believe should be included in the future law, and seek to involve citizens in the process of sanctioning.”

 The national coalition supporting the legislation – “The right to know should now be law!” – is Campaña por una ley nacional de acceso a la información pública.

The Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE) and the Access to Information Clinic at the University of Palermo Law School wrote three technical opinions on Senator Samuel Cabanchik´s proposals that can be found at CELE´s website (www.palermo.edu/cele) The last opinion -in Spanish- is available at: http://www.palermo.edu/derecho/centros/cele/pdf/cele-cabanchik.pdf

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