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HONDURAS: The Data You Seek Will Be Available – in 2018

Thelma Mejía

TEGUCIGALPA, Jul 5 2008 (IPS) - In a highly controversial decision, the Honduran Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) has decided to keep from public scrutiny for 10 years key documents from the Finance Ministry and the tax collection authority.

The IAIP determined that Hondurans will not be able to access any public information that is classified as confidential because of a potential “threat” to the sovereignty, governability or security of the state.

Included in this category are the national budget, budgetary payments, transfers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and the results of probes into fraud, tax evasion, state rental contracts and the terms and fees of consultancies.

Under the transparency and access to public information law, which has been in force for nearly two years, certain government agencies must get approval from the IAIP to classify the public information they produce as confidential for 10 years.

The Finance Ministry and the Revenue Directorate (DEI) had requested confidential classification of 36 items, including socially useful statistics that formerly were public information, such as the production of cigarettes, spirits and beer.

In response, the non-governmental National Anti-Corruption Council (CNA) asked for the repeal of the resolution on Monday, and warned the people of Honduras that such actions only confirm the culture of opacity and secrecy that has been traditional in this country.


The CNA was created by the transparency and access to public information law as its enforcer, and to supervise the IAIP’s role in guaranteeing maximum publicity for state actions and the right of access to public information.

Rolando Sierra, of CNA’s Analysis Unit, told IPS that classifying for a decade information that is of public and social interest “does not make sense in a country that is aiming for transparency, an information culture and accountability.”

“These resolutions by the IAIP not only grant enormous discretional powers to the Finance Ministry and the DEI, but also leave the door open to continue creating a climate of corruption, and prevent society from scrutinising tax collection by the government,” Sierra said.

Much of this information was already in the public domain, and now, by withholding it, “the state is isolating itself from the public sphere. What, then, will we have access to? We think these resolutions even violate the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, which Honduras has signed,” he said.

Arturo Echenique, one of the three IAIP commissioners, said that “if we act according to the law, the constitution and other special laws on confidentiality, we will not be breaking the law, but of course, our aim is transparency.”

IAIP chief commissioner Elizabeth Chiuz said, “We did not make the law; what we wish to do is maintain stability and the rule of law.”

According to Mauricio Díaz, of the non-governmental Social Forum on the Foreign Debt, the IAIP confidentiality resolutions “only confirm our initial suspicions that the people in this body are there to protect impunity, not to promote a culture of transparency.”

“We support the efforts of the CAN, because its warning and the arguments in its document analysing the impact of these resolutions are serious and valid,” he told IPS.

“We cannot just set our sights on laws that restrict information. Other ideas and values must prevail, because the people have a right to know about public affairs,” he said.

Five years ago, civil society organisations launched a campaign for a transparency law. After intense lobbying of the government and the public, the law came into force nearly two years ago, but certain limits were introduced, providing for information to be classified as “restricted” or “confidential”.

A CNA report released a year ago found that over 70 percent of interviewees in this country of seven million people did not trust their government officials. Less than 50 percent had confidence in the Catholic and Evangelical churches, and barely two percent in the political parties, according to a national survey involving 1,500 interviews in 16 of the country’s 18 provinces.

Transparency International’s corruption perception index awards Honduras only 2.5 points on a scale of zero to 10, marking it out as an extremely corrupt country.

To date, according to the IAIP, it has received 900 requests for information to be made public, the majority of which have been granted. But nine strategic areas are shielded by a “confidential” classification, including security, electricity, finances, taxes, banking and insurance.

 
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