Report shows central & muni gov’ts lagging in compliance with 3-year-old transparency law
By The Star Staff
More than three years after its enactment into law, the Puerto Rico government has failed to implement the Transparency Law, according to a report issued by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI by its Spanish initials) on Thursday.
The CPI described the execution of Act 141 of 2019 as “inconsistent and deficient” and announced legal actions against agencies and municipalities that have failed to execute public policy in support of government transparency.
The Transparency and Expedited Procedure for Access to Public Information Act establishes a procedure for requesting public information from public entities, which have a maximum term to release the information. Therefore, the CPI evaluated the execution of the law by some 120 public agencies and the 78 municipalities of Puerto Rico to document their compliance.
The report’s main findings are that 25% of the information officers in the executive branch and 68% in the municipalities were appointed after and in response to requests for information made by the CPI, noted Carlos Francisco Ramos Hernández, author of the “Report on the (Non)compliance of the Government in the Implementation of Law 141 of 2019.”
Ramos Hernández, a public interest attorney and a fellow at CPI’s Equal Justice Works, used a sample of 22 agencies. He found that only 13 offered the information officers the educational training required by the law.
“According to the data we have collected, the current administration has done very little to improve the state of transparency in the country,” Ramos Hernández said. “This [inaction] has the consequence that citizens, three years after Law 141 was approved, still do not know how and from whom they can request public information. There are compelling examples in this report.”
Although the executive branch appointed 98% of the information officers, only 39% of the agencies have the contact information (name, email and telephone number) of those officers on their web pages. While 76% of the municipalities appointed their information officers, only two towns have their contact information on their web pages.
The information officers are the officials responsible for receiving requests for information, processing them, and facilitating access to documents. Unfortunately, La Fortaleza and the Office of Management and Budget (OGP by its Spanish initials) still need a centralized directory of information officers available on their web pages, as required by law. To remedy this problem, the CPI collected, centralized and standardized this information and has published two directories of the information officers of the executive branch and the municipalities.
Since the law went into effect, only 26% of the agencies have submitted at least one monthly statistical report that includes the number and type of information requests received and their status. Moreover, only 18% have these reports available on their web pages.
Meanwhile, the municipalities still need to submit their reports.
“Each agency is developing its regulations and forms in a fragmented and erratic way, which hinders access to information and accountability,” Ramos Hernández said.
The CPI filed legal actions against several agencies and municipalities to remedy the breach of the law. Specifically, the journalistic organization sued the departments of Education, Public Safety and Housing. Likewise, the CPI sued 16 municipalities: Añasco, Arroyo, Camuy, Fajardo, Florida, Guayanilla, Jayuya, Lajas, Maunabo, Río Grande, Santa Isabel, Toa Baja, Trujillo Alto, Utuado, Yabucoa, and Yauco.
The research and data analysis led by Ramos Hernández was carried out with the support of students from the Inter American University Law School’s Pro-Bono Program, led by Professor Marilucy González Báez. In addition, the data was collected with the volunteer work of students Gabriela M. Vélez Martínez, Lia Sophia Di Fiore Tavárez Cortés, Adriana M. Muñoz Mena, Génesis S. Rivera Carrasquillo, Jorge A. Flores Torres, and Abner M. Otero Rosario.
The report offers recommendations for strengthening the public policy of government transparency, Ramos Hernández pointed out.
“Transparency is a basic obligation of any democratic government. A titanic work like the one done by Mr. Ramos Hernández and the pro-bono students of Inter Law should not be required for a government to comply with its own law three years after its implementation,” noted Oscar J. Serrano, co-founder of the CPI and co-director of its Transparency Program. “Nor should we be forced to go to court to achieve that compliance. It is particularly notable that municipal administrations, which ask to have more resources and public responsibilities under their control, show the same laziness, or worse, in terms of complying with transparency, than that of the central government.”