Last Friday, Mexico enacted its new transparency reform. In a country which scored 34 out of 100 in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, this amendment to the constitution is a welcome change and will enhance the system through which people access public information.
Our national chapter in Mexico, Transparencia Mexicana, participated in the consultation process leading up to this reform. Together with other civil society organisations, it also engaged in conversations with legislators as well as citizens to ensure that the reform moved ahead amid some resistance.
Why access to information matters
Information is fundamental for making informed decisions. When it is not accessible, corruption can thrive and basic rights might not be realised. When citizens’ right to know is denied, they cannot hold their elected politicians or decision-makers to account for their actions.
Ensuring the disclosure of – and access to – information empowers people and institutions to prevent and fight corruption. Governments must proactively release information about what they do and citizens must proactively utilise it in order to make full use of their rights.
Access-to-information laws are vital for transparency and a key safeguard against corruption. Over 90 countries have passed access to information legislation in the past 15 years, but implementation is patchy. Millions of people still don’t know about these laws or how to use them to their advantage.
What does it actually mean?
Some of the main points of the reform:
- The Federal Institute on Access to Information (IFAI) now has constitutional autonomy, being the only one of this kind worldwide. The institute has more freedom to act and to represent citizens’ rights.
- More bodies are subject to transparency laws: political parties and unions, civil society organisations, corporations, and individuals who receive tax-payers’ money or public funds are obliged to deliver information – this is in addition to the government, congress and the judiciary.
- The decisions made by the new access-to-information institute cannot be appealed. The only exception is that the Presidency can make an appeal to the Supreme Court on the grounds of protecting national security.
- Decisions made by local access-to-information institutes to not provide certain information can be revised by the IFAI, if a citizen asks it to do so or if the IFAI believes the case needs to be revised.
These are the next steps for fully implementing the transparency reform:
- The Mexican Senate has 90 days to name the seven commissioners of the new Access to Information Institute.
- The congress has one year to publish a new access to information law. As Mexico is a federation, the current law only applies to the federal branch and each state has its own law. The new law will be applicable to all levels and branches of government.
- Local legislatures have one year to adapt their constitutions and adapt their laws to fit the constitutional reform.
For a full timeline of past and upcoming milestones in the transparency reform (in Spanish), click here.
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