Madrid, 10 December 2019 – Five years after Spain’s transparency law came into force on International Human Rights Days, 10 December 2014, Access Info urged the Spanish government to take bolder steps towards complying with international standards on this fundamental right, and to ensure citizens can exercise their right to information without the multiple obstacles that are currently resulting in serious underuse of the law.
Access Info highlighted the low number of requests – under 5,000 per year at the central government level, and with a shocking 69% of requests being made by men, just 26% by women and the remaining 5% by legal persons (businesses or NGOs).
Three key obstacles explain this situation. The first is that to make a request online requires a digital certificate, something that most citizens don’t have, so requests tend to be by a small number of professional users. Second, there is a hugely complex legal structure, with different laws – and different systems for requesting – in Spain’s 17 autonomous region, compounded by some municipal level ordinances as well. Third, the lack of awareness of even journalists and civil society activists of this right, let alone the wider population.
Another problem is the poor quality of answers, which led in 2018 alone to a 25% increase in the number of complaints to Spain’s Transparency Council. Furthermore, there is an increasing tendency of public bodies either to go to court to challenge the Transparency Council’s decisions or simply to ignore them, resulting in a full half of all the Transparency Council’s decisions not being complied with.
“The lack of political will to comply with the decisions of the Transparency Council is scandalous, and only worsens the messy and incomplete state of respect for this right in Spain,” commented Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info.
“The incoming governments priority must be to strengthen both the powers and the resources of the Transparency Council, so that it’s able to play its key role in defending this key democratic right. The next government should also recognise a fundamental right, in line with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, and eliminate the ID requirements so that it’s easy for everyone to request information,” concluded Darbishire.
Access Info notes that in December 2016, over 50 of Spain’s top constitutional experts, lawyers, and academics signed an open letter calling upon the Spanish government to recognise access to information as a fundamental right in line with international jurisprudence which links the right to information to freedom of expression.
Building a Culture of Transparency
Spain is a member of the 80-country strong Open Government Partnership, as well as the only country in the world with two sub-national entities members of OGP – Madrid City Hall and the regional government of the Basque Country.
Spain’s open government work has recently ground to a standstill, with no movement on the IVth OGP Action Plan – which should have been finalised by mid-2019 – because of the lack of a government after a series of inconclusive general elections.
Access Info and members of the almost 100-strong civil society platform the Coalicion Pro Acceso have called for a series of measures to be included in next OGP Action Plan, including:
- Adopt a Lobby Regulation law and set up a comprehensive register of lobbyist so that the corporate influence on decision making becomes transparent,
- Adopt a full Whistleblower Protection law, in line with the new European Directive;
- Commit more resources and powers to the Transparencia Council,
- Approve the Regulation for the Transparency Law, which should have been adopted in the first quarter of 2014, prior the law coming into force in December 2014.
Read Access Info’s comments on the draft Regulation during the public consultation opened, here.
- Open the Company Register, as a vital anti-corruption data set.
“Without serious action to strengthen the transparency law and to improve its implementation, with the Spanish public be able to obtain the information needed to participate actively in decision making on the many urgent social, economic, and environmental issues facing this country,” explained Helen Darbishire, Executive Director, Access Info.