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Global index gives low marks to access to information in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has been ranked 87th in a roster of 187 countries included in the Centre for Law and Democracy’s Global Index of the Right to Information, according to a report released by local nonprofit, Transparency Network.

The RTI Ratings analyzes the transparency and open data laws, enacted in Puerto Rico last year. It points to the strengths, as well as to the shortcomings of said laws and makes recommendations on the areas that need attention.

According to the report presented by CLD Executive Director Toby Mendel, the two local laws earned a score of 73 out of a possible 150 points on the RTI Rating scale, putting Puerto Rico in the bottom third of the rankings when its laws are compared to those of 128 other nations on the basis of the CLD’s international parameters.

“Puerto Rico needs stronger rules guaranteeing the right to information if it truly aspires to adequately implement this constitutionally guaranteed right,” said Mendel, considered an international authority on transparency. “Its current laws are much weaker than most national laws adopted in the Americas.”

Mendel “has collaborated extensively with inter-governmental players — including the World Bank, UNESCO, the OSCE and the Council of Europe — as well as numerous governments and non-government organizations in countries throughout the world.

His work spans a range of areas, including legal reform and analysis, training, advocacy and capacity building. He has published extensively on a range of freedom of expression, right to information, communication rights and refugee issues.”

Among the key weaknesses identified in the Puerto Rican laws governing access to information were the following:

  • Important gaps in procedures for lodging requests for information and responding to them;
  • The exception regimen is too broad, so that only 23% of the possible points were given this item in the RTI Rating;
  • There is no independent administrative body for appeals;
  • The protections and sanctions system is very limited; and,
  • There are few dissemination measurements to support good implementation.

The CLD conducted the analysis of the legal framework for access to information in Puerto Rico at the request of the Transparency Network, a group of diverse Puerto Rican organizations and individuals that promote the free flow of information and transparency in Puerto Rico, Espacios Abiertos, the Center for Investigative Journalism and Sembrando Sentido.

Despite warnings from local experts that the two legislative bills (Law 141, Transparency, and Law 122, Open Data) would actually limit access to information, they were signed into law by Ricardo Rosselló just hours before he was ousted as governor in August of 2019.

“We wanted an independent entity with an international reputation like RTI Rating to analyze the two laws, approved less than a year ago,” said Issel Masses, spokesperson for the Transparency Network and founder of Sembrando Sentido. 

“The report in fact confirms what has been long denounced by local organizations that due to the shortcomings of the laws, they limit, rather than guarantee, the citizens’ of Puerto Rico constitutional right to access to information,” she said.

Given Puerto Rico’s current situation, and the results and recommendations of this study, Masses urged Gov. Wanda Vázquez and the Legislature to correct the limitations on access to information created by the two laws passed less than a year ago, saying they should be amended before the end of the current legislative session.

“The RTI report gives detailed suggestions for the necessary amendments, along with justifications, and can be used as a clear guide to best practices in government transparency. An open government is possible in Puerto Rico,” Masses said.

The CLD in Canada and its counterpart in Europe, Access Info Europe, developed the RTI Rating, which was first published on “Right to Know Day” on Sept. 28, 2011. It and has been updated continuously since then to include all national RTI laws.

The Index’s parameters constitute the only authoritative methodology evaluating the solidity of the legal frameworks protecting this right on an international level. The instrument has been recognized by such entities as UNESCO and the World Bank, the local nonprofit said.

The RTI Rating measures the strengths of countries’ laws enabling access to public information on the basis of 61 indicators divided into seven major categories: right of access; scope; requesting procedures; exceptions and refusals; appeals; sanctions and protections; and promotional measures. Mendel stressed that the index measures the legal framework, not enforcement of the laws.

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

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