Spain: "Transparency and silence" report on freedom of information throws up alarming results
In the framework of an international project on freedom of information organised by the Open Society Justice Initiative and entitled "Transparency and Silence", Sustentia, a Spanish organisation that promotes human rights and seeks to improve the social effects of actions taken by actors from civil society, has published a report on Spain that throws up some alarming results. The report features an analysis of the legal situation in relation to access to information in Spain, as well as figures that were compiled after requests for information were filed with a number of institutional bodies (ministries, judicial bodies, local and regional institutions) and private companies that carry out duties involving the general interest. Only 24% of the information requests received a satisfactory response, a figure that is lower than was the case for Bulgaria, Romania, Armenia, Mexico, Peru and France, who were also part of the project's 14-country sample. The report highlights the lack of a law to regulate access to information in Spain, apart from law 38/1995, which applies exclusively to environmental issues, law 30/1992 of administrative procedure and Royal Decree 208/1996, which refer to access to archives and documents, but not to general information and make frequent reference to the requirement that applicants should be interested parties. The chart illustrating the responses indicates that in 62% of cases it was "silence" although it was drawn from an admittedly small sample of requests. The authors call for the passing of a law on access to public information that complies with international standards, for public administrations to establish and improve procedures to satisfy information requests from the public, and for official campaigns to be run to inform, promote and stress the importance of this right to the public at large.
The conclusions of the report stress findings such as a: "rather generalised non-compliance with the law" involving over half the information requests, whereby no response (neither access nor denial of access) is given to applicants, and that in cases involving environmental concerns, 30% were answered correctly, 20% were answered outside of the time limits, and no response was received in 50% of cases. Law 30/1992 is deemed inadequate to guarantee citizens' right of access, the existing deadlines for providing responses are considered "in excess of reality and practical needs", as well as comparing unfavourably with parameters in countries such as Peru and Mexico. The lack of adequate procedures, difficulty in getting hold of civil servants responsible for managing access to information requests, and the absence of a culture of informing citizens as part of the duties of civil servants, are other aspects that are highlighted. The conclusions result in a series of recommendations made by the authors, most importantly a Law on Access to Information that should comply with ten principles drawn up by the Open Society Justice Initiative in this field, most notably that "access should be the norm - and secret the exception".
1. Website of Sustentia: http://www.sustentia.com
2. The introduction to the report (pdf, in Spanish)
3. Full-text of the report "Transparencia y silencio. Estudio sobre el acceso a la información en España", Madrid, October 2005 (pdf, 41pp., in Spanish): http://www.sustentia.com/transparencia_y_silencio_espana.pdf
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