Giving citizens access to information about the government is a necessary tool in a democracy. It helps people know what is going on and how their representatives and the government’s bureaucracy are behaving.
Therefore, we are extremely concerned about the Parliament in El Salvador implementing measures in a hurry and in the middle of the night to restrict the public’s access to information.
Specifically, last Friday, deputies from the FMLN, Gana and PCN weakened the Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIPI) by watering down the Public Information Access Law (LAIP). The original law gave citizens the option to appeal to the institute when they thought a public entity was hiding information from them by claiming that it was classified. If the IAIPI thought that the information in question should be public, it could order the government agency to declassify it.
The public information law reform takes away from the institute the power to resolve conflicts about information between citizens and the government by “recommending” instead of “ordering,” and makes it easier to have more of information considered as classified.
From the beginning, the IAIPI had problems, from funding to the appointment of its members. However, the Legislative Assembly’s action is a lethal blow to the spirit of transparency of the law.
For years, the FMLN advocated for access to information during the ARENA administrations and supported the foundations of the LAIP. The change of attitude now that it is the ruling party is political myopia, because soon it may once again be the opposition and the one with restricted access to information. That is how a democracy works.
What is hopeful is that President Mauricio Funes somewhat distanced himself from this reform of the LAIP, despite claims that the reform has the approval of the executive branch.
A presidential veto of restrictions to the access to public information will be the right action for El Salvador’s democracy.