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Still a Long Way to Go for Spain's First Transparency Law

BY Antonella Napolitano | Monday, April 23 2012

Helen Darbishire presents the Access Info and Avaaz petition. Photo by Tuderechoasaber

It seems like a transparency law in Spain has still a long way to go.

Last Wednesday, the Spanish government presented a draft freedom of information law at the Open Government Partnership conference in Brasilia, but faced strong criticism coming from civil society and NGOs, voiced by human rights NGO Access Info.

For the first time in Spain, the law will create specific rules for information access and transparency. Activists, though, argue that the draft is not strong enough and does not meet international standards, as it fails to recognize access as a fundamental right and gives a restrictive definition of the information that can be accessed.

Helen Darbishire, Access Info’s executive director, presented an Avaaz petitition to José Luis Ayllón, Secretariat of State for Relations with the Parliament, calling for a law that gives wider access to public administration's information. Access Info and Avaaz gathered 86,000 signatures in less than a week.

Ayllón declared that some of the citizens’ suggestions will be incorporated in the final text, as the draft was opened to public consultation right before the OGP conference (the consultation ended on April 10.) In 15 days the draft received more than 80,000 visits and 3,600 comments, a result that was praised by Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. Comments were not included in the draft presented at the conference, though.

Coalicion Pro Aceso, a group of 55 organizations advocating for freedom of access in Spain, recently published an analysis of the draft that says the law is limited is in scope and highlights a lack of sanctions and safeguards — to protect whistleblowers, for example.

Last week, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe also published a report that welcomed the creation of the draft but criticized several of its provisions. OSCE pushed for the draft law to recognize access to information as a fundamental right, widen the scope of the law to include judicial bodies, and to guarantee the independence of its oversight body.

The OSCE recommendations were not accepted by Secretariat Ayllón, who recently defined some of the criticism as “unfair, wrong and absurd,” the right-leaning newspaper El Mundo reported. Ayllón also declared that the observations of the organization show a lack of knowledge of the Spanish law and cannot fit in Spain's constitutional frame.

The draft will be discussed by the Spanish Parliament where it could be improved, Ayllón said in Brasilia.

Although the Spanish government does not appear to be accepting criticism about the transparency law, officials do seem available to discuss it. Access Info was invited to be part of a working group created by the government to discuss the law. The full list of participants has yet to be released.

Spain’s page on the OGP website reads that definitive approval of the text is expected before the end of 2012.