El Salvador Legislature Amends Access Law

8 February 2013

The Legislative Assembly in El Salvador on Feb. 8 passed amendments to the 2010 access law that critics say will weaken it, according to sources and a media account (in Spanish) in La Prensa.

The proposed changes (in Spanish) were submitted Feb. 7 by representatives of the ruling party, FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional), and approved a day later by a party-line vote of 47-27. (For an account in Spanish see related report by Natalia Torres, senior researcher for the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Argentina.)

The coalition for access to information charged that “adopting this reform would constitute an unfortunate drawback. The Assembly should reject it and promote the proper implementation of the right.” The Twitter statement added: “This proposal is an important obstacle for the right to know and empowers governmental secret. It will also turn silence into a common practice within the administration.”

According to Fusades, one of the nongovernmental organizations that leads the coalition for access to information in the country, the project is alarming for a variety of reasons:

–          It will take the process of solving controversies on the classification and declassification of information out of the hands of the Institute for Access to Public Information.

–          It adds new areas of exceptions from disclosure, including information related to the activities of intelligence, presidential security and wire-tapping.

–          It sets up new mechanisms for the appointment of authorities at the oversight body.

–          If sets more bureaucratic rules for situations in which an agency fails to answer a request.

La Prensa reported that FMLN deputy, Jaime Valdez, said amendments responded to a request made by the Prosecutor General of the Republic, Luis Martinez, but the official later said via Twitter that he had not requested any reform.

Patricia Salazar, of the ARENA party, said the changes “take away the most important tool that is able to work to classify and declassify information,” according to a quote in La Prensa.

ARENA deputy, Roberto D’Aubuisson, accused the FLMN of seeking to cover up corruption.

 The bill now goes to the president for his signature.

El Salvador is a member of the Open Government Partnership, a multinational organization of 58 countries that pledge to take steps toward more open government.

The 2012 national action plan does not mention amending the law, but does include a pledge to open Offices of Information and Response throughout the government.

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