Access Bill in Paraguay to Face Test in House Debate

29 April 2014

Civil society groups in Paraguay are pushing to amend a proposed access to information bill that they say is too restrictive and some in Congress argue is totally unnecessary.

The House is expected to debate the legislation on May 13, according to a media report (in Spanish) and sources. The Senate adopted an access bill in December of 2013. (See previous report.)

The House debate will occur despite an unusual recommendation from its Freedom of Press and Communications Committee. The committee April 22 voted that no legislation is necessary, maintaining that the access provision in the Constitution, Article 28, is adequate (See media report here in Spanish).

This prompteda coalition of NGOs, Grupo Impulsor de Acceso a la Información (GIAI), to argue in an April 24 letter (in Spanish) that a bill is necessary to implement the access to information section of the Constitution. They also are urging that changes be made to the Senate bill.

The Constitution appears to mandate creation a law on access to public information.

Article 28 of the Constitution recognizes the right of access to public information, and Article 45 guarantees that every constitutional right is operational, that is, that could be exercised under a court of law, no matter if there is a law or not that regulates that right. But Article 28 also establishes that The sources of public information are free for all. The law will regulate the categories, periods and sanctions corresponding to those sources in order for that right (the right of access to public information) to be effective.”

Senate Bill Exemptions Considered Long, Vague

GIAI had been working with the House’s Communication and Press Committee in an effort to modify Section 22 of the Senate bill, which establishes a long and vague list of exceptions, according to its critics. The Senate bill in September drew a critical letter (in Spanish). 

The list of exceptions in Section 22 is repetitive of other laws and uses different language from the other laws that contain secrecy standards: including the Criminal Procedures Code, the Infants and Adolescents Code, the Banks Act, the National Security Act, the Intellectual Property’s Act and the Law on Protection of Personal Data.

Another concern is that Article 22 of the Senate bill establishes prior censorship since it prohibits the revealing of secret information by any means.

Court Decision Took 6 Years

In the first and most important decision of the Supreme Court on access to information, the court in 2013 ordered the government to release the salaries of the public officials. 

Transparency advocates stress that the decision came six years after the original request was filed in 2007.

Unusually, the case was decided by all nine Justices of the Supreme Court (the Court is divided in 3 Sections, the Constitutional, the Criminal and the Civil Section). The decision was read at midday, with all the major radios and TV channels broadcasting live from the court’s building. The decision cited the Claude Reyes ruling by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights. 

This outcome had some collateral effects that some observers believe is affecting the current process.

The disclosures of the salaries of public officials led to the discovery of many cases of misuse of public money. Some legislators have been prosecuted after losing their immunity privileges.

“They know that a law on access to information could change the status quo and lead to the discovery of many others cases of misuse of public money,” heard from one of the bill’s supporters.

GIAI has been drafting and trying to present an access bill since 2009.

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