This is a guest post – and infographic – from the Argentinian civil society organisation CIPPEC. Their mission is to promote a just, democratic and efficient State that improves the quality of life for all Argentine citizens. The post looks at the long battle to get an Access to Information law passed in the country, and CIPPEC’s role in achieving this. We hope you enjoy reading it, and that it provides learnings that can be applied in other countries where similar battles are underway.
After an over decade-long legislative debate, edged on by tireless civil society advocacy and citizen engagement, on 29 September this year, Argentina finally saw its long-awaited Law on Access to Public Information come into effect. Suffice it to say it has been a long, and tortuous, time coming – a journey marked by myriad small wins, setbacks and false dawns, and crucially too by the coming together of a critical mass of actors calling for change. In retrospect, the feat has required the (very challenging) fitting together of six pieces of a puzzle. CIPPEC has been involved in each step, to a greater or lesser extent. This is the story of how we helped make this law a reality.
Right from the start
Shortly after its founding in 2000, CIPPEC set up a Transparency Programme. Its goal was to push for public policies supporting access to information, an objective that has been central to us since. María Barón, Manuel Garrido, Eugenia Braguinsky, Natalia Torres, Martin Böhmer, Christian Gruenberg, Fernanda Araujo, Agustina Novillo, Dolores Arrieta, Noel Alonso, Laura Zommer, Sandra Elena and Natalia Aquilino – each has contributed to this work. And each has been implicitly backed by CIPPEC’s successive boards and directors down the years.
Working for a Law an Access to Public Information has seen some of Argentina’s highest profile civil society organizations join forces. Whether to engage Congress, launch publications or to adopt a policy stance, collective and mutual support has been vital. ADC, CELS, ACIJ, FARN, Poder Ciudadano, FOPEA and Directorio Legislativo. These are among the NGOs most commonly cited in this regard, and referenced in the media.
On the long road to this Law, CIPPEC has offered and relayed rigorous, balanced research findings on wide-ranging access to information issues. We have helped, in this way, to inform and drive public interest and debate. And as befits a think tank, every step of our involvement has been underpinned and characterized by robust analysis and considered, evidence-based recommendations.
Public opinion has been an indispensable ally over these years. The media helped us harness this, lending impetus and credibility to our calls for the Law and creating a space for citizens to learn more and get involved.
In 2008, CIPPEC’s access to public information work landed it in the country’s Supreme Court. But it was we, backed by another NGO, the Association for Civil Rights (ADC), that were filing the suit: against the Government for its refusal to share information on its social policies. Several years of litigation later, in 2014, Argentina’s top court ordered the National Ministry of Social Development to release the data in full. The so-called “CIPPEC ruling” was a significant precedent for the Law on Access to Public Information.
Few bills have been in and out of Argentina’s upper and lower houses as much as that for Access to Information. Congress first – and repeatedly from 2003-2005 – reviewed proposals that had been drawn up by the government’s Anticorruption Office. Another bill, widely backed, was then tabled in 2010. But it too came unstuck despite getting initial Senate backing. Throughout this, CIPPEC was constantly involved, working side by side with legislators, sharing research findings and offering advice, such as on approaching deadlines. Looking back, of all the roles we have played, this was probably the most costly and consuming – yet crucial.
An open chapter
The passing of the Law on Access to Public Information (27.275) does not close the chapter on debating access to government data. Far from it, it opens another and arguably more urgent one: in order for the Law to acquire real meaning, the public information to which access is now being legally guaranteed must obviously be made good use of. It must, that is, become central plank in the design, implementation and evaluation of government policy. This demands a legal framework to classify the information, regulate its storage and determine procedures for its sharing, internally and externally.
This new stage will also see CIPPEC contribute in the way it knows best: monitoring the implementation of the law, focusing on issues arsing in the promotion and protection of the right to accessing public information, making optimal use of the data now available to propose improved public policies. Be assured that as committed as CIPPEC has been to the creation of the Law itself, it will be now to its usage, upholding and evaluation.