The Catalan transparency law drags on for seven years half unfolded | Catalonia

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The meeting of the Table of Parliament, this Monday
The meeting of the Table of Parliament, this MondayQuique Garcia (EFE)

The revelation of the early retirement system with 100% of salary in Parliament is not only a political scandal but also an unflattering mirror for the health of the Catalan transparency law. According to the latest report from the Síndic de Greuges, from April last year, the progress of the standard in its seven years of validity has “stalled”, while the Antifrau Office of Catalonia focuses on the fact that there are no specific tools to that bad practices and breaches do not go unpunished. Your deployment is halfway. The experts agree on the need to speed up the process in order to have a text in keeping with the new times.

Although the Parliament has its own control mechanism on transparency issues (to respect the separation of powers), the regulations make it clear that the adaptations that are made “cannot entail a lower guarantee regime” than that already foreseen. The law, approved in 2014 in the heat of the claims of 15-M and the wave of oversight by public powers, has two main components: on the one hand, guarantee access to information and influence good governance practices.

In the case of early retirements in the Chamber, both legs failed, but in the Executive there are also examples of flagrant non-compliance. The newspaper journalists ara who exposed the golden pensions of the Chamber faced an extreme version of the ordeal that the media or citizens who appeal to the mechanisms to request information face on many occasions. In his case, the route included nine months since the data on early retirees and the collection of trienniums were requested; the discrepancy between the transparency guarantee bodies (with the block resignation of those who agreed to deliver the information) and the delivery of two files without complete information.

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“On issues such as salaries, and especially when there are incentives, the model should actively force more information to be given,” believes Manuel Villoria, professor of Political Science at the Rey Juan Carlos University and member of the Spanish chapter of Transparency International. The law establishes the principle of active publicity, that is, the catalog of data that must be presented in a mandatory manner on the Administrations’ websites. For the rest of the information, it is necessary to make a formal request, with a scheduled process. According to the Ombudsman’s report from last year, the Catalan Administrations as a whole received 11,199 requests for access to information, 2.3% more than in 2021 and with special incidence in the local world.

The obstacles to obtaining information are also reflected by the Ombudsman in his report, which he carries out based on 860 surveys of different entities. The text collects 63 complaints (none against the Generalitat) from citizens who believe that their right to access public data is violated. In six of them sanctioning proceedings were initiated but there is no record of any sanction. The Commission of Guarantees of the Right of Access to Public Information also makes a count, but in this case of people who file a formal complaint: 1,155 claims in 2019. 71% against administrative silence.

The law itself includes sanctions in the event that deadlines are not met, but the figures reflect few corrective measures. For Óscar Roca, director of Antifrau prevention, this goes against the philosophy of the standard. “Without punishment, the feeling of impunity increases and that is counterproductive for transparency,” he says. In many cases, adds Roca, due to lack of resources and clarity in the law, the same body that denies information ends up being the same one that has to respond to the complaint for non-response.

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Part of these problems lie in the lack of implementation of the law. Roca recalls that a year ago a decree was approved that developed, for example, issues regarding the conditions of access to information. As far as the sanctioning regime is concerned, much remains to be done. The Government has been missing the deadline for publishing the assets of its members for two legislatures, as this newspaper advanced.

“We are seeing how many scandals are discovered, but the mentality towards transparency still needs to be worked on,” adds José Rodríguez Teruel, professor of Political Science at the University of Valencia. A criticism that the Síndic himself picks up in his report: we must review the execution of a model that does not advance globally at the same pace.

The limit of data protection

The complexity of guaranteeing transparency is not only due to access but also due to the quality of the information received. Invoking data protection regulations is one of the main arguments used by Administrations to avoid giving data. This is not entirely an excuse: the 2019 report of the Commission on Guarantees of the Right of Access to Public Information shows that 87 of the 824 claims resolved by that entity involved assessing a collision of rights with that of access to information .

In the case of Parliamentary pensions, it was argued that disclosing certain data on remuneration would imply indirectly identifying the public servant. The limit between both things still generates debate. Professor Manuel Villoria, from the Rey Juan Carlos University, recalls that it will be one of the challenges of the new transparency law at the state level if you want, for example, to shed light on productivity bonuses.

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Óscar Roca, prevention director of the Antifrau Office, recalls that data protection is recognized as a fundamental right while access to information is not. Although it is usual for data such as the place of residence to be anonymised, there are situations in which it is impossible to ignore the identity and that is where Roca believes that data protection is used as a wild card. “The law establishes that access to certain personal information must be given if it is strictly related to the activity of the public servant. Denying access can only be exceptional,” he says.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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