Access to information law in Guatemala requires urgent approval
Free access to public information is a fundamental human right, an essential element of transparency in public institutions and the main antidote to all types of corrupt practices. Currently, 72 countries -nine of them in Latin America - have passed a law guaranteeing access to information. Transparency International (TI), the global coalition against corruption, with chapters in more than 90 countries around the world, deems essential all efforts oriented towards creating laws granting all citizens the right to access information.
In 2001 the Republic of Guatemala ratified the Inter-American Convention against Corruption and in 2006 it ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Both international legal instruments include provisions on access to public information, committing states to taking concrete steps towards legislation in favour of this human right.
However, since 2002 to the present, seven legislative initiatives regulating access to public information have been presented to the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala. None of them has been approved. The current situation, which is characterised by corruption scandals involving high-ranking public officials, has led the legislative body to know and discuss an eighth attempt to pass an access to information law. This initiative is now in the final phase of approval.
It is important to highlight that corruption scandals in any country tend to greatly affect public opinion and the credibility of governments or institutions implicated, especially when those responsible for investigating or rectify corrupt actions do not proceed in an efficient manner. In 2007, Guatemala scored 2.8 on a scale from 0 to 10 on TI’s yearly Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The approval of an access to information law would contribute to increasing hope and trust in Guatemala’s public institutions among citizens and investors.
Transparency International considers this access to information law a pivotal opportunity for Guatemala to reduce its lag in the fight against corruption and for the country’s congressional representatives to demonstrate political will in favour of transparency and better prospects for a more just future.
Throughout history, the people of Guatemala have suffered grave injustices hidden under the cloak of impunity. A law on access to information goes beyond a fundamental right. It is the first step towards a society, in which accountability is a reality and where tackling corruption is possible. The Guatemalan people have a right to know, to inquire and to fight corruption.
The approval of the law on access to public information in Guatemala is an urgent priority. Such a law should adhere to international standards and to lessons learned from experiences around the world. Without a doubt, this is the time for the Congress of the Republic to show its commitment to the fight against corruption, it is the moment for Guatemala to act in favour of transparency and democracy.
Transparency International is the civil society organisation leading the fight against corruption.
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Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, Senior Press Officer
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