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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.