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Espacios Abiertos will seek review of P.R. Court of Appeals decision

In a two-to-one divided opinion, a three-judge panel of the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals ruled to keep information on tax abatements confidential and inaccessible to the public, in a case filed by nonprofit Espacios Abiertos.

In doing so,the panel reversed a San Juan Superior Court decision compelling the Puerto Rico Treasury Department to publicly disclose information that it shared with the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico.

Espacios Abierto’s Executive Director Cecille Blondet said the nonprofit will file a petition for reconsideration to the Court of Appeals and turn to the Supreme Court if necessary.

In a decision penned by Judge Maritere Brignoni-Mártir, the panel majority adopted a non-disclosure position arguing that Section 208 (B) (2) of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) prohibits Fiscal Oversight Board members and their staff from disclosing the contents of the report, and resolving that the limitation of disclosure established in PROMESA extends to the governor of Puerto Rico and his representative on the Board.

Judge Gina Méndez-Miró, in her dissenting opinion, argued that “this is not the moment to deprive the [island] of its right to know how the state handles such key financial aspects as the granting of discretionary tax reduction agreements.”

On Nov. 6, 2018, Espacios Abiertos filed a writ of mandamus before the San Juan Superior Court to have access to a report on tax abatements and similar agreements on tax concessions prepared by the government of Puerto Rico and submitted to the Fiscal Oversight Board in 2017.

Espacios Abiertos considers this document to be public in light of Puerto Rico’s Public Documents Law and extensive jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico.

“Why further delay the publication of information in Puerto Rico that is public in the rest of the world? What is Puerto Rico waiting for to insert itself into the global trend of increasing citizen access to public data? Puerto Rico needs a transparent and open government that offers opportunities for effective and real civic participation,” said Blondet.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s decision. Our claim seeks access to information that originated in a public agency and which should inherently be publicly available. The laws and jurisprudence of Puerto Rico are clear in this regard: they protect and guarantee citizens’ right to access public information. We will not renounce our efforts to assert this right,” Blondet added.

In December, the Court of First Instance granted Espacios Abiertos’ petition and ordered the government of Puerto Rico to immediately disclose the requested information.The government, for its part, insisted on keeping the information secret and appealed the ruling to prevent the publication of information that, according to Espacios Abiertos, “is public in the United States and many other countries.” 

“Espacios Abiertos has been very specific in its request for information. The government can no longer say that it does not have data on exemptions and other tax concessions,” said Blondet.

“We know now that this information was compiled in a comprehensive report and shared with the Fiscal Oversight Board. The information contained in that report is not available anywhere else. The point is not to gain access to anyone’s confidential information — we have reiterated time and again that any confidential taxpayer information should be redacted from the report,” she added.

“Tax exemptions are a part of the budget of fiscal expenditures, which in Puerto Rico is currently beyond public scrutiny. It is a hidden budget. Those are public funds, and the people have the right to know what is done with their money,” Blondet said.

In a two-to-one divided opinion, a three-judge panel of the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals ruled to keep information on tax abatements confidential and inaccessible to the public, in a case filed by nonprofit Espacios Abiertos.

In doing so,the panel reversed a San Juan Superior Court decision compelling the Puerto Rico Treasury Department to publicly disclose information that it shared with the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico.

Espacios Abierto’s Executive Director Cecille Blondet said the nonprofit will file a petition for reconsideration to the Court of Appeals and turn to the Supreme Court if necessary.

In a decision penned by Judge Maritere Brignoni-Mártir, the panel majority adopted a non-disclosure position arguing that Section 208 (B) (2) of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) prohibits Fiscal Oversight Board members and their staff from disclosing the contents of the report, and resolving that the limitation of disclosure established in PROMESA extends to the governor of Puerto Rico and his representative on the Board.

Judge Gina Méndez-Miró, in her dissenting opinion, argued that “this is not the moment to deprive the [island] of its right to know how the state handles such key financial aspects as the granting of discretionary tax reduction agreements.”

On Nov. 6, 2018, Espacios Abiertos filed a writ of mandamus before the San Juan Superior Court to have access to a report on tax abatements and similar agreements on tax concessions prepared by the government of Puerto Rico and submitted to the Fiscal Oversight Board in 2017.

Espacios Abiertos considers this document to be public in light of Puerto Rico’s Public Documents Law and extensive jurisprudence of the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico.

“Why further delay the publication of information in Puerto Rico that is public in the rest of the world? What is Puerto Rico waiting for to insert itself into the global trend of increasing citizen access to public data? Puerto Rico needs a transparent and open government that offers opportunities for effective and real civic participation,” said Blondet.

“We strongly disagree with the court’s decision. Our claim seeks access to information that originated in a public agency and which should inherently be publicly available. The laws and jurisprudence of Puerto Rico are clear in this regard: they protect and guarantee citizens’ right to access public information. We will not renounce our efforts to assert this right,” Blondet added.

In December, the Court of First Instance granted Espacios Abiertos’ petition and ordered the government of Puerto Rico to immediately disclose the requested information. The government, for its part, insisted on keeping the information secret and appealed the ruling to prevent the publication of information that, according to Espacios Abiertos, “is public in the United States and many other countries.” 

“Espacios Abiertos has been very specific in its request for information. The government can no longer say that it does not have data on exemptions and other tax concessions,” said Blondet.

“We know now that this information was compiled in a comprehensive report and shared with the Fiscal Oversight Board. The information contained in that report is not available anywhere else. The point is not to gain access to anyone’s confidential information — we have reiterated time and again that any confidential taxpayer information should be redacted from the report,” she added.

“Tax exemptions are a part of the budget of fiscal expenditures, which in Puerto Rico is currently beyond public scrutiny. It is a hidden budget. Those are public funds, and the people have the right to know what is done with their money,” Blondet said.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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