Sunday, February 17, 2013

Attempt to scale back government transparency blocked

A wave of protest from civil society and advocates for transparency has prompted president Mauricio Funes to veto a recent legislative attempt to scale back transparency laws.   The law in question is the Law of Access to Public Information (LAIP).   As the Voices from El Salvador blog reports, the National Assembly acted a week ago to weaken that law.
The Legislative Assembly passed the LAIP in 2011 with 55 votes after civil society organizations, led by Grupo Promotor de LAIP, advocated for years for greater transparency and the right to access public information. The LAIP covers most aspects of information management by government agencies – classification of information, release of information, and promoting a culture of transparency. The LAIP also creates an administrative infrastructure to facilitate citizen access to public information. 
Friday’s reforms weaken the LAIP in many ways, according to Grupo Promotor. The Institute charged with implementing the LAIP no longer has the authority to resolve conflicts over what information should or should not be restricted – they can only make recommendations that government agencies can ignore. The reforms also remove the sanctions that were to be imposed if a government agency withheld information. These reforms mean that the Institute will no longer be able to implement the law and guarantee free access of public information.
Grupo Promotor, the Catholic church, and many other organizations criticized this attempt to weaken transparency law in El Salvador.   It seemed only fitting that the National Assembly, uncomfortable with seeing the sun shining on the inner workings of how governing is done in the country,  decided to pass this "reform" at 2:30 in the morning on a Friday.

Now comes the news that Mauricio Funes, himself a former respected journalist, has decided to veto the reform law.  

In my view, this is another triumph for the the demands of civil society for good governance and respect for the rule of law in El Salvador.   Just as the National Assembly backed down from its attempt to punish the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court during the constitutional crisis of 2012 after an outpouring of demands from civil society, now Funes has acquiesced to those same forces and vetoed another law which went against good government.


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