Ex-Gov. Rosselló signed laws limiting constitutional right of access to information
On the eve of becoming Puerto Rico’s first governor to resign from his post, Ricardo Rosselló signed a pair of laws whose net effect is to hinder access to public information and limit free expression, nonprofit group Open Spaces denounced.
Cecille Blondet, executive director of Open Spaces said Rosselló stamped his signature on Acts 122 and 141 on Aug. 1, and in doing so, reduced the government’s obligation to make its actions public, “de facto limiting the constitutional rights to access information, to free expression and the exercise of press freedom.”
“In an act of total contempt for the island, in the dark, Ricardo Rosselló signed the Transparency Law, which became his last law,” said Blondet on behalf of the non-governmental organization dedicated to the demand for transparency in public activity.
“The legislators who approved those bills also in dark rooms and knowing what it means to limit citizen law, are as responsible for that legacy as the governor who signed the law and will have to account for their actions,” she said.
“Two days before we directly asked Rosselló, as did other organizations, that he did not make the two ominous bills into law and not only did he do so, but he did not tell the people. At this time, neither La Fortaleza nor the State Department have announced Rosselló’s act of repudiation against democracy,” said Blondet.
On multiple occasions, both Open Spaces and other organizations, including journalistic associations, censured the bills Rosselló signed for going against the principles of access to public information recognized locally and internationally.
“The right to public information is a derivative of the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Puerto Rico Constitution’s Bill of Rights, as expressed by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court when it made access to public information a constitutional right in 1982,” Blondet said.
“Rosselló’s signature on the transparency and open data laws may present another controversy that must be resolved by our highest court, since they are laws that in effect limit constitutional rights,” said Blondet.
Among other things, the so-called Transparency Law eliminates the possibility of requesting public information verbally, as often done by members of the press corps. Furthermore, the amendments to the bill at the eliminated administrative fines, including a $250 penalty on those who obstruct the flow of public information.
It also eliminated the guarantee that if public information is easily accessible, the bureaucratic process created by the same law is omitted and the data must be delivered immediately.
In the case of the Open Data Act, 12 exceptions to the due disclosure of data are listed, including extending those contained in the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.
“Therefore, the net effect of the two laws is to make quick access to public information difficult,” she said.
Rosselló signed 58 laws in a single day
Open Spaces denounced that on the eve of his departure, Rosselló signed a total of 58 laws that are added to as many as eight others signed since announcing his resignation at midnight on July 24, for a total of 64.
The reach of many of them is uncertain, because they have not even been disclosed by the State Department, she said.
“In the final days of his governorship, after his resignation was announced, there was even less transparency on Rosselló’s part. It was even worse because we don’t know who he met with, what decisions he made even when the people were in the streets demanding respect. We don’t even know what pardons he granted or what contracts he signed,” said Blondet, adding the scope of the future implications of Rossello’s actions in the last nine days of his tenure is unknown.
Open Spaces, which is currently in a legal battle with the government over the lack of transparency in public affairs, is analyzing the possible actions it will take “in the face of this new attack against the people,” she said.