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"The Exchange of Experience is very Enriching to Strengthen the Right to Access to Public Information in the Region"

September 2, 2015


“The exchange of experience is very enriching to strengthen the right to access to public information in the region”

Photo: Ruth Gonzalez Llamas/World Bank

Conversation with Mariana Gatti, adviser to the Unit of Access to Public Information (UAIP) of the Agency for the Development of Electronic Government and Knowledge and Information Society (AGESIC) of Uruguay

Question: Could you briefly tell us about AGESIC’s work on the implementation of the Law in Uruguay?

Answer: The Law on Access to Public Information was passed in Uruguay on October 17, 2008. The law created an oversight body within the executive branch: the Unit of Access to Public Information (UAIP), a deconcentrated body from AGESIC. The UAIP has authority towards both the law reporting entities, as well as citizenry.

Its mandate involves supporting the implementation of the law by advising offices of access to information, but also by working on awareness-raising programs on the existence of the law among the people. It also has a monitoring role and receives complaints from citizens who requested information from state authorities but have been denied the right to information for causes that do they may not consider legitimate or because deadlines to provide the requested information have expired without avail.

The first years were focused on strengthening and training of public entities, as the law imposed new obligations. Now we are working on a much more citizen-centric perspective by promoting the use of the law in order to increase the exercise of this right among the population.

P: What is AGESIC’s support to the Ministry of Justice of Paraguay?

R: Support to carry out the action plan for the implementation of the law in Paraguay envisages two lines of work: first dissemination, citizen awareness, and seeking alliances; and secondly generating capacities among public officials. The most frustrating experience for citizens is to request information and don’t receive an answer, therefore we must put emphasis on strengthening institutions’ capacities. Now, the regulations of the new law will be an essential element here, because they will further clarify or explain aspects of the law. So, institutions must be prepared so that citizens do not feel frustrated when exercising their right, and we will move forward in the performance that these laws require in the different countries.

" This kind of exchange of experiences is very enriching for participating countries, since it contributes to strengthening the Right to Access to Public Information in the region and allows for instances of further joint work to be identified. "

P: What was your specific contribution during this visit to Paraguay?

R: During the past days we identified that Uruguay could support the Access to Information (ATI) Directorate of the Ministry of Justice of Paraguay in terms of training and dissemination of the law. Since Uruguay has been coordinating the training and disseminating group of the RTA (launched with the support of the World Bank in 2011), the idea is to identify those areas of work related to training of public officials and raising public awareness. We identified distinct target audiences for these two areas. At the end of my visit, in coordination with the ATI Directorate, we sought to capture activities and potential allies in these two areas in a first draft of the strategic plan that had previously been discussed during the visit of the expert from the Council for Transparency in Chile. The next step is to formalize these forms of cooperation with other actors.

P: What do you think will be the main challenges of the process in Paraguay?

R: Part of the challenge is to provide the Directorate with more human and financial resources, as it is difficult to formulate a strategic plan without resources for its implementation. Now the plan must be shared more broadly.  Moreover, given the institutional design for the implementation of the Law (as there is no specialized ATI enforcement body such as IFAI in Mexico or CPLT in Chile), it is important to build the capacity of the Judiciary to resolve disputes arising in the event of denials from information requests.

P: What about the demand side?

R: I had a positive impression of the civil society's willingness to cooperate; there is a very good relationship and certain activities such as the international celebration of the Right to Know Day (September 28) as an opportunity to join were discussed. I think that working in coordination with civil society and the authorities is crucial because the ultimate goal for both is the same.  Sometimes the interests cannot be compatible, each actor plays its role, but they are aligned towards a common purpose.

P: What can Paraguay learn from Uruguay on the implementation of the ATI Law?

R: We have many commonalities with the ATI Directorate of the Ministry of Justice in Paraguay, since we share a common institutional design. I think it is no small thing to be able to share the strengths and limitations from both experiences, such as how with a similar institutional design within the executive branch and without being an autonomous body, we can carry out the policy. Moreover, for us being placed within the executive branch can work very well with public information offices, and in establishing a network of ATI offices for capacity building.

This kind of exchange of experiences is very enriching for participating countries, since it contributes to strengthening the Right to Access to Public Information in the region and allows for instances of further joint work to be identified.