List Summary

   
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.

The government continues to turn its back on providing official data on poverty

This article describe's the Argentine government's refusal to provide official data on poverty rates. The last official index on poverty was published in 2013, but was discontinued due to problems with how its methodology determined levels of poverty. Although Argentina's National Statistics and Censuses Institute (INDEC) stated that there are about 6000 ways to calculate poverty, nothing was ever published regarding how this could be done. When Axel Kicillof, Argentina's Minister of Economy, was asked to explain why the data was not published, he didn't address the issue, but rather answered evasively. As such, the silence raises questions on how citizens can remain engaged in awareness and action around improving the standard of living for everyone when information on its metric is kept hidden from the public.

Social planning should not be kept secret

This article describes sitatuations in which the government denied requests for information that the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC) sent out, namely one that asked for a list of names and ID numbers of social plan recipients due to a violation of privacy. The article criticizes Argentina’s transparency and access to information laws, as current legal means in acquiring information are often rebuffed, resulting in incomplete responses with no justification or agencies citing privacy and “personal information” as excuses. These anecdotes are indicative of laws filled with loopholes and create momentum around bolstering the power of public information legislation.

Shards of light: Freedom of information in Argentina

On March 26, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the government must release information related to the programs administered by the ministry of social development, including lists of beneficiaries. Requests for this information have been previously rejected on the grounds that such information affects vulnerable groups. The Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (CIPPEC), an Argentine think tank, had its 2007 request for this information denied. When CIPPEC requested finanicial information in the same vein from 14 state-run companies, only three sent more than half of the requested data. In a similar move, the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) sent 49 requests to various government departments, oh which only 47% were answered satisfactorily. The Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) sought to investigate the Executive Decree's power and submitted 44 requests of info between January 2012 and 2013: 14 were not answered, 14 were answered after 10 days, and 16 were answered on time. Regarding the quality of answers, only 12 answered completely and adequately as stated in the Decree. Reports of insufficient responses to information requests are rampant, and perhaps make the case for stronger consequences in the case of shoddy replies.

Sensitive information and TV contracts: what's being publicly funded

The Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) demanded access to contracts with the production company “Pensado para Televisión” (Thinking for TV). In December 2012, journalist Mariel Fitz Patrick asked the Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers for a copy of the 2010, 2011, and 2012 contracts between this production company and Radio y Televisión Argentina SE, the public entreprise that manages the national/state media, and was turned away. The Chief responded that she would have to demonstrate a legitimate interest to have access. Furthermore, access was denied to the contracts as they included "sensitive information." The situation is indicative of loopholes in the procedure for responding to requests, both around the supposed privacy of certain information even when it involves public funding, and interest in the outcome of the request, which in many cases extends beyond the individual.

Investigations into the railroad tragedy of 2012

In August 2012, the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) made a request to access information from the National Commission for Transport Regulation (CNRT), the Railway Infrastructure Administration (ADIF), and the Secretary of Transportation in order to learn more about the functions and responsibilities of these organizations following the Sarmiento railroad accident on February 22, 2012. ADIF responded to ACIJ's request by saying that it does not have jurisdiction over the railway line in question. CNRT responded to ACIJ’s request on transportation responsibilities with a report detailing numerous economic sanctions and fees from CNRT to TBA, a dealership/concessionaire related to the Sarmiento and Mitre lines. In response to ACIJ’s question, “Did CNRT have any report on the risks that TBA and the way it ran its service?”, CNRT stated that the agency limited itself to inspections, reports, and penalties, but did not send any report proving this to be the case. Thus, ACIJ sent a new request for information to verify the response that was provided. The requests are demostrative of the ways in which revelations from freedom of information laws can help better inform public safety outcomes.

Why doesn't a registry for gifts to public officials exist?

ACIJ and CIPCE (Centro de Investigación y Prevención de la Criminalidad Económica) asked for information from the Anticorruption Office (OA) regarding regulations on gifts to public officials. CIPCE and ACIJ asked the OA information regarding a) whether or not a mechanism from the Registry of Gifts and Benefits to Public Officials had been implemented b) "if not, what where the reasons, and c) how long until some mechanism is implemented?" OA responded on November 28 and gave no specific reasons for the absence of a mechanism and no timeline. The OA’s Director of Policy Planning on Transparency did not respond to most of the ONGs’ questions. Specifically, there was no response to why Article 18, dealing with public ethics, is not applied to gifts. Article 18, Ethics Law of Public Administration, is 12 years old and there is still no Registry of Gifts and Benefits.

The government has to answer to information requests under judicial orders

In June 2012, the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) asked for information from the Buenos Aires city government regarding public propaganda expenses in 2011, but received no reply. ADC advocates for a law establishing clear criteria, control, and transparency regarding official advertising. A court case was scheduled for November 22 pitting ADC against the Buenos Aires government where ADC emphasized the need for a stronger FOI law.

Executive power challenges standards for access to information

This article includes a summary of requests made by the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) in 2012: 1) The first series of requests dealt with the February rail accident. ACIJ asked for information from the National Commission for Transport Regulation (CNRT), the Secretary of Transportation, Metrovías S.A., Ferrovías S.A.C., and Railways Infrastructure Administration. Metrovias has not responded, and nor has the Secretary of Transportation, despite asking for a 10 day extension. 2) ACIJ asked for information regarding the vice president and his management of the company Sudamericana, formerly Ciccone, and received a response from the Federal Administration of Public Revenues (AFIP). 3) ACIJ received no response from the Ministry of Transportation or the Ministry of Federal Planning regarding irregularities in the administration and supervision of the SUBE transportation card.

Access to information: requests without responses

The La Nacion Data team asked for a physical copy of the President's salary on February 7, 2013. In January 2014, they asked for the salaries of the primary officials in the Executive Branch, which was supposed to be provided to them following the request. The physical copy was never successfully relayed to them. In December 2012, the team asked for information regarding the travels of Guillermo Moreno, the Secretary of Domestic Trade from 2005 to 2013. The request was left for 762 days without a response. In 2013, the team requested information regarding a specific resolution of ACUMAR's (a regional government agency): number 1173/2012. On September 6, 2013, Oscar Deina, Chief Executive of ACUMAR, said that the law was not regulated by the agency. 293 days later, the agency sent the text of the resolution. Links and documents to these requests are available in the article.

The implementation gap on access to information in Argentina

This is a report regarding the Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth's (CIPPEC) public info requests to 14 state-run companies or public entreprises (with 10% or more state ownership) between June & July 2013. Together, these 14 public entreprises represent 85% of the national budget allocated to government funded companies. Nine enterprises answered the access requests and five did not. Four sent 10% or less of the requested information; two sent 25%; three sent ~65%. Companies did answer satisfactory due to "(i) the protection of commercial secrecy; (ii) [being] outside the orbit of the national public sector, so they are not affected by Decree 1172/2003; (iii) the requested information exceeded the concept of information set in the Decree; (iv) the information is confidential, [...] (v) trade balances of the last three years were not approved, so it was impossible to send information about the financial statements." These requests challenge the issue of privacy as a loophole in public information law and highlight the need for stricter legislation.

Requests for information on Banco Nación directors

The Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) requested information on the requisites for becoming a director of the National Bank. For example, they asked for the copy of the current director's Masters Degree in Economics. It has been over 10 days, the amount of time allowed for a response under Decree 1172/03. They are currently still waiting for a response. Information requests can be useful in determining if public officials are qualified in their postions, rooting out potentially corrupt actors in the government.

Challenges in accessing information on education for people with disabilities

In order to obtain information about the educational situation of people with disabilities, on May 29, 2015, the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) submitted an access to information request. The state responded to the request indicating that there was no available data about the educational trajectory of people with disabilities. The state's inability to produce information does not line up with Article 24 over the Rights of Disabled People. ACIJ, together with the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC), la Asociación Síndrome de Down de la República Argentina (ASDRA) and la Red por los Derechos de las Personas con Discapacidad (REDI), decided to take the case to court in order to require the Ministry of Education to produce the information. Such actions ensure citizen-led checking of government provided services such as education.

Transparency and budget analysis of mental health programming with a focus on rights

The National Direction of Mental Health did not respond to the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia's (ACIJ) requests for information. ACIJ made numerous requests on different aspects of mental health programming in several hospitals and health centers. These requests were also not answered.

Public information on the use of epidural pain killers

Since 2014 ,the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC) has asked for information access regarding the use of epidural painkillers when giving birth in hospitals of Buenos Aires. They asked 12 hopsitals in 2014 and 2015, with most hospitals responding to the request.

How much did the state pay for the lawyers that represented them at the Hague for the Botnia conflict?

In November 2007, Clarin journalist Pablo Abiad, sponsored by the Asociación por los Derechos Civiles (ADC), demanded information regarding the how much the state paid lawyers in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding the Uruguay River pulp mill dispute. The information was released once Clarin released an article on November 4 titled "Fees in the Hague, a State Secret" The following day, the Foreign Ministry issued Resolution 2363, which stated that providing the requested information does not jeopardize Argentina's position before the ICJ.