Espacios Abiertos presents 4 proposals for an open government in Puerto Rico
On the occasion of the celebration of Sunshine Week, nonprofit organization Espacios Abiertos urged the leadership of the three branches of government to adopt four “open government proposals” to achieve a “fairer and equitable” Puerto Rico.
The proposals call for: amending the Transparency and Open Data laws; adopting an “Open Checkbook” program; creating the public tax and fiscal expenditures registry; and publish financial reports “proactively and expeditiously.”
Espacios Abiertos Executive Director Cecille Blondet said the proposals were adjusted according to what each branch can do to support them. Letters were sent to Gov. Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, the heads of the Puerto Rico House and Senate, and Puerto Rico Supreme Court President Maite Oronoz-Rodríguez.
“We aspire to a more open and democratic society that results in a more just and equitable Puerto Rico,” she said.
“To achieve this, we need an open government that proactively encourages access to public information, that is accountable for the use of public resources and funds, and that guarantees a broad and effective participation of citizens in public policy decisions,” said Blondet.
In the letters sent to the House and Senate, Espacios Abiertos stressed on the need to amend several laws: Act 122 (Puerto Rico Government Open Data Act) and 141 (Transparency and Expedited Procedure for Access to Public Information Act) to align them with internationally recognized open government best practices.
“When both statutes were approved, they ignored the recommendations and objections presented by organizations and research groups on transparency issues. The situation worsened when the transparency laws were signed hastily and without notice a few hours after Ricardo Rosselló finished his term,” said Blondet, noting that “the result was a deficient legal regulation, but that can be corrected.”
“Espacios Abiertos — and the nine organizations that make up the Transparency Network — are convinced that open government is possible in Puerto Rico. And in that to bring the transparency of the word to the action, it is necessary to begin by correcting the deficiencies that Acts 122 and 141 have and establishing an executive directive that firmly and unequivocally promotes the proactive and timely disclosure of public information,” she said.
“This is the only way we’ll be able to change the culture of opacity that has prevailed for decades and that threatens everyone’s well-being and development,” said Blondet.
Likewise, she urged promoting, through an executive order and legislation, the “timely and proactive” publication of all payments and disbursements made with public funds from the executive, legislative and judicial, with an “open checkbook” program like those existing in US jurisdictions — Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Chicago — and that the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics had in effect until recently.
The third proposal is to ensure the periodic publication — annual or biennial— of a Tax Expenditures Report including all fiscal or tax expenditures through legislation or executive order.
“The credits, exemptions, decrees and tax incentives are considered fiscal expenses because it is money that doesn’t flow into the government’s coffers,” Blondet said. “Knowing the total amount of fiscal expenses and their return on investment, whether of an economic or social nature, should be a natural part of the budget approval process.”
Senate Bill 206, recently filed by Senator Juan Zaragoza, proposes to legislate on the matter.
Finally, the Supreme Court was urged to also adopt the open checkbook program for the judicial branch and also proactively publish financial reports of members and officials.
“Of the three branches of government, the judicial branch has been the only one that has truly defended the right of access to public information in Puerto Rico. Even extending this right the rank of constitutional law. However, there’s still a long way to go,” said Blondet.