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Is It Time for Transparency in Spain?

BY Antonella Napolitano | Monday, April 2 2012

Image: h de c / Flickr

The right-leaning government of Spain is working on the creation of a new transparency and information access law.

Faced with economic hardship and in a turbulent political time — Spain's Indignados movement began less than a year ago — a freedom of information law would be one way to boost credibility with the public. But open government advocates say the proposed law does not go far enough, and fails to meet international standards.

Last Monday, the government published the draft of the “Law on Transparency, Access to Public Information and Good Government” and opened it to comments.

"Spain is one of the last democratic countries in the world to adopt an access to information law and it really should be in line with the minimum international standards such as the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents,” argues Helen Darbishire, executive director of human rights organization Access Info.

In the expectation that Spain will adopt the new transparency law soon, Access Info and Spanish NGO Fundacion Ciudadana Civio recently launched a new site, Tuderechoasaber.es (Your Right to Know). The site helps citizens find the right body to address a freedom of information request. The process is similar to that of AskTheEu.Org, another Access Info initiative whose launch I covered back in October: The request will arrive via email, and the answer will go back to the requester through Tuderechoasaber staff and be made public on their website. In this way, the thinking goes, citizens will be able to track other people’s requests and find useful information. The site was created with the help of 152 people who contributed €6,138 through the crowdfunding platform Goteo.

The scope of access excludes areas like national security, defense, external relations and Spain's royal family, Access Info writes in a list of areas of concern on the draft of the transparency law. Also, many exceptions to access are included and if the public administration does not reply in the fixed time of a month, the lack of a response can be considered a refusal.

“Spain is the only EU country with over one million inhabitants with no access to information law and research shows that over one in two requests (54%) never get any kind of response, while only 20% receive the information requested.” Access Info and Ciudadana Civio staff wrote in the joint press release that launched Tuderechoasaber.

In Spain the only regulation on access to public documents and archives is contained in a 1992 law on public administration and, among other restrictions, requires citizens to show a “legitimate” interest related to the access request they’re making. A specific access regulation exists since 2006 for issues related to the environment.

The Spanish government is expected to present the Transparency and Information Access law on April 17 during the Open Government Partnership conference, as part of their commitments as a member of the partnership. OGP is a multilateral group of governments that have made commitments to improve transparency and participation, and non-governmental organizations acting as advisors and watchdogs.

Spain joined the OGP last September; on the OGP website, it is listed as “developing commitments”.