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Record Count: 30

Teaching institute or dance bar? Putting local freedom of information legislation to use in Argentina

In this article, the author explains her ordeal with filing a complaint against a noisy bar across the street from her residence in Buenos Aires. Nothing happened. Next, an inquiry to the bar's operating license was filed under the city's 1998 acces to information law. The city said the bar was a "teaching institute, techinal institute [or] academy." Just days after the city's reply, a fire broke out in a different dance club, República Cromañón, killing 193 people. Seizing the opportunity for reform, the author's partner wrote to the Clarin, a widely-read daily publication. His letter to the editor highlighted the public safety implications of corruption and championed democratic efforts to get involved in regulating license verification. The ensuing media attention promped the city government to crack down on bars and safety regulations, but the story stands as a testament to how freedom of information laws can actually help government be more effective through citizen engagement.

The freedom of information campaign in Argentina

This article mostly focuses on the history and process of passing national laws. However, some anecdotes on information requests and why they are important are included. The first describes a situation in which a public hospital stopped giving medicine to transplant patients for unexplained reasons. To find out why, patients used the city's FOI law to demand an explanation from the hospital. Multiple requests surfaced evidence that the hospital was low on funds, giving the patients the necessary information to obtain their medicine through the legal system. The second is the story of journalist Sandra Crucianelli, who was involved with an information request to the city of Bahia Blanca regarding water quality, using the Buenos Aires province's FOI law (weaker than the city's). The request was turned down as the information was perceived as potentially harmful to the reputation of local companies, who were suspected of contaminating the supply. The third is about one of the country's leading environmental groups, Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (Environment and Natural Resources Foundation, FARN), who represented a Buenos Aires city resident concerned about the construction of a rainfall reservoir in his neighborhood. Under Law 104, he was able to see environmental impact reports on the project from the city government for himself, empowering him to learn about its effects on his home.

Little data exists on Argentina's state-funded airline

A state entreprise and recipient of state money, Aerolineas Argentina (AA) does not publically provide a summary of financial balances on their website. When Chequeado, an Argentine website for fact-checking, called in a request for that information, they were turned away. AA's answer was that although the info was supposed to be public, it could not be provided at the time. As a result, we still do not know where state money to AA went, or how much. Perhaps it could be understandable that finances from the previous year, 2010, may have not been ready yet, but even those from the year before that were inaccessible. Although some may point to AA's transition and ambiguous status as an excuse, AA has been managed by the state since 2008. Furthermore, many public/state and private companies around the world do provide this information on websites. This information is important to citizens who finance the company through their taxes — as such, they have the right to know how their money is being used, especially in the case of publically subsidized businesses.

Answers to requests for access to information on the Chinese base in Neuquén

In 2012, China signed two cooperative agreements with Argentina — one with Argentina's National Space Activities Commission (CONAE) and one with the province of Neuquén — for contruction of a satellite space station to "support activities related to interplanetary exploration, astronomical observation, monitoring and control of satellites in orbit and data acquisition." The agreement stipulates China's lease on and use of this station for 50 years in exchange for CONAE's lmited access to it. The Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that supports the project, which will be finalized in 2016. Chequado asked Argentina's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship for access to this agreement. Because there were criticisms and suspicions regarding the reason for the station linking it to possible military use, this information was deemed important to the public interest. On orders from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship, Argentina's National Space Activities Commission (CONAE) responded by releasing the the full copy of the agreement, complete with all clauses and annexes, here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/256407065/Acuerdo-Argentina-China. According to the document, there appear to be no clauses related to ambiguous uses of the station.

Public energy and Chevron: a secret contract and a presidential investigation

The Supreme Court ordered an investigation into President Kirchner's signing of a contract between YPF (Argentina's energy company) and Chevron given concerns over a conflict of interest and abuse of power. Chequeado made a request for access to information about the contract under Decree 1172/03. YPF answered by denying access to the information on the grounds of being a "publically held company" that has "securities in the capital market," leaving it outside the scope of the Decree's jurisdiction. However, this argument has been called into question given that the law applies to private companies that receive public funding, as is the case of YPF.

Does Kirchner actually have a law degree?

There has been a lot of commotion surrounding the President’s law degree and whether she actually has one or not. Chequeado made a request to receive a copy under Decree 1172/03. On December 5, 2014, Chequeado received a response from the Secretary General of the Presidency dated November 25th stating that a copy cannot be given as it contains “personal information” (Law 25.326). This same statue was cited by the Ministry of Social Development to the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC) over information on beneficiaries of social plans. However, that request involved information from private citizens, whereas the position of President is not covered by the same protections.

Requests for official communications between the Cabinet and Homeland Security

On December 20, 2013, Chequeado, along with La Voz Interior de Cordoba, a newspaper, made a request for communications between the Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Homeland Security during protests in the province on December 3-4 to confirm whether or not the provincial government asked for assistance from the national government. La Voz had previously requested the same information from the provincial Ministry of Communication and Development. They were sent responses detailing communication attempts between officials during the protests, helping journalists unravel how Homeland Security Act No. 24.059 — the law that allows for such requests for assistance to be made — was being used in the chaos.

Making public the salaries of the President and ministers in less than 24 hours

An unnamed NGO asked for information regarding the President and public officials' wages. La Nacion composed a similar request asking for only the highest of government workers' salaries. Both requests were denied due to Argentina's sensitive data law (25.326). On February 20, 2014, La Nacion published the records of this correspondence, piling pressure on the government to release the data. Consequently, the Secretary General of the Presidency published a list of the top 20 earners in the Argentine government (http://blogs.lanacion.com.ar/projects/files/2014/04/PlanillaSueldos2012.jpg). The next day this information became front page news, revealing the power of the media to ignite change and action in government when equipped with the right tools.

Access to legal abortion and contraception: information requests from the health ministry of Mendoza

This article concerns a recent information request on behalf of numerous organizations and Amnestry International to the Minister of Health in Mendoza. It asks for data on access to contraception, legal abortion and the overall health of women, adolescents and children throughout the province. Inquiries into the matter were all prompted by César Mosso Gianini, an advisor to Mendoza's government, who published a series of opinions on the "unconstitutionality" and "illegality" of abortion. Access to such information can be helpful in determining whether public officials are following the rule of law or letting their personal opinions sway their sworn actions.

Requests for information from Argentina's provinces on access to abortion

This is an article and a couple of reports on requests for information from Argentina's provinces on access to abortion. Many provinces did not receive any response from their Ministry of Health. In October 2012 & February 2013, the Association for Civil Rights (ADC) made requests to the provinces regarding the Program of Sexual Health and Responsibility and did not receive a response. By April 2013, only the provinces of Buenos Aires, Jujuy, Neuquen, Entre Rios, Corrientes, Missions, San Juan, Santa Cruz, and Buenos Aires (in total 9) had responded. Finally, ADC contacted Programs on Sexual Health in those provinces through email and phone between September and October 2013. Letters sent by ADC to the provinces in September 2013 were also not acknowledged. In September 2014, ADC made another round of requests to the Ministry of Public Health of each province — once again to to no avail. In February 2015, ADC called the ministries themselves, who told them that they had received a judicial notice the previous month that health providers ought to avoid administrative impediments so as to complete abortion procedures without delay. No data was received from numerous provinces, which is further detailed in the report — but the agencies' fear of open information is quite telling.

How does the government calculate economic indices?

On July 18, 2007, the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) asked the National Statistics and Censuses Institute (INDEC) for information regarding their methodology and variables when calculating the consumer price index. ADC asked again through legal means in August 17, 2007 after INDEC did not initially respond. INDEC then responded with limited information, notably leaving out variables and not specifying their methods. In October 2008, a court ruled in favor of ADC and asked INDEC to provide the solicited information. The data was made publicly available on INDEC’s website August 2009. This ruling represents a significant recognition of the constitutional right of every person to have access to public information held by the state.

NGOs ask the house and senate for information on government employees, budgeting information and subsidies

In 2011, the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ), the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC), the Fundación Directorio Legislativo, and Poder Ciudadano requested information on employee contracts (part-time or full time), community expenses, and the grants and subsidies given to the Congressmen of the House and the Senate. In August 2014, they, along with several NGOs, once again requested this information, indicating that the information was not made available on their websites. In February 2015, after receiving no response, the NGOs filed two lawsuits suing the House and the Senate. The Administrative Court ruled in favor of ADC, ACIJ, Directorio Legislativo and Poder Ciudadano. The Senate has 15 days to respond now. The rest of the information requested was made public on the Senate website, signaligning a huge victory for civil society groups trying to bolster public engagement.

Judges mandate personal data be produced on the appointment of department director

In 2013, Manuel Garrido, an Argentine deputy, requested information from the National Directorate for the Protection of Personal Data about the appointment of the department's director, but was initially denied because it was argued that deputies waived their rights to such requests once in office. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Garrido, sponsored by the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC). This solidified the fact that being in certain positions of employment does not limit your ability to make information requests.

Courts order release of information on teacher absenteeism

As a result of the efforts of the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) beginning in 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the Director General of Culture and Education of the Province of Buenos Aires to release information on the amount of days no classes are taught due to the absence of teachers, specifically in 36 schools. The Director General has 15 days to respond. The request serves as yet another example of how freedom of information laws give citizens tools to evaluate how tax dollars are being spent, especially when it comes to their welfare and that of their children.

The right to access to information in Argentina: a roadmap

Although not a FOI request, this site lists Argentina's national, provincial, and local FOI laws. The following serves as a useful resource for those interested in how laws vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and can aid in the creation of top-level, wider-reaching laws on the subject.