Spanish Government Using Obstructionism And Bureaucracy To Nullify Transparency Law

from the the-pain-in-Spain dept

For obvious reasons, many politicians hate the whole idea of allowing freedom of information requests. Former prime minister Tony Blair, whose government brought in the UK’s Freedom of Information Act, said he bitterly regretted doing so. As he wrote in his autobiography:

Freedom of Information. Three harmless words. I look at those words as I write them, and feel like shaking my head till it drops off my shoulders. You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop. There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.

The problem for governments that hate the scrutiny that FOI laws bring is that it looks a bit suspicious to kill off the right where it already exists — cynics might think they have something to hide. So the question politicians obviously ask themselves is: how can we throttle FOI laws without making it too obvious?

In the UK, the government hopes to achieve this by asking for a report on the FOI system from an “Independent Commission on Freedom of Information” that is largely made up of people who are no great friends of the idea, pretty much guaranteeing a negative outcome. In addition, the terms of reference of the Commission make it clear that the exercise is about reining in the public’s right to information, not expanding it.

Here’s how the Slovenian government is tackling the problem of that pesky FOI stuff — make it expensive:

The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) together with its affiliate, the Slovenian Journalists? Association (DNS), Transparency International Slovenia and Access Info Europe, have today called on the Slovenian Parliament to reject a last-minute amendment that permits public officials to charge for their time in answering freedom of information requests, something that would be direct interference with the right of journalists and NGOs to access information.

But these approaches pale in comparison to the cunning scheme adopted by the Spanish government. Access Info Europe has just announced that it is closing down its online service designed to help people make FOI requests in the country. Here’s why:

It is with huge reluctance that Access Info Europe and Civio today announce the closure of the request website “Tu Derecho a Saber” (Your Right to Know) because the need to have an electronic ID and the refusal to respond to emails is making it impossible to help the public send requests.

In the first year of implementation of Spain?s much-criticised transparency law, we processed requests manually, using Civio?s electronic ID to send them via the central Transparency Portal?s complex verification systems, something that was taking up to a few hours per day.

On 10 December 2015, as the law comes into force at the regional and local level, we are faced with the prospect of hundreds of different systems across the country. To make things more complex, the design of the regional and local portals, the ID system required, and the online forms used, differ from one administration to the next.

You have to admire the Spanish government’s sense of irony here. Freedom of Information, a system designed to make governments more transparent, is being strangled and rendered almost unusable by the opaque and labyrinthine bureaucracy that has been built around it. Tony Blair would be proud.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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Comments on “Spanish Government Using Obstructionism And Bureaucracy To Nullify Transparency Law”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But of course. It’s only natural that those that rule know what their servants are doing, but the servants being able to know what their betters are doing? Why the very idea is utterly preposterous.

The government isn’t there to serve the public, the public is there to serve the government, and the mistaken belief that some have that the government is answerable to the public is completely insane. What next, will some madman suggest that politicians are meant to represent those from their area, rather than the corporations that paid their way into office?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

In that case the attorney is an idiot. Even if the town government doesn’t have anything to hide, refusing FOI requests for trivial reasons sure does make it look like it does, not to mention eroding trust in the local government, both of which will lead to even more requests for information. By stonewalling now, they’re just making for even more work later.

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