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An end to the culture of secrecy

Spain needs a transparency law to make public administrations more accountable

In the course of this legislature, Spain may well cease to be an anomaly in Europe. The proposed Transparency and Good Governance Law that the government of Mariano Rajoy is to bring forward on April 17 would be an important step forward in the consolidation of Spanish democracy, supposing it were to incorporate the basic recommendation of multilateral organizations such as the Council of Europe. Democracies similar to ours have advanced in this manner.

It seems, however, that only a devastating crisis and the deep discredit of politics have been able to overcome the reticence of the governments of one major party and the other. So far, they have all refused to give the citizens their right to full information on the activity of their elected representatives, and on how they handle the public money that is entrusted to them.

This is no small matter. Transparency in public management is the best instrument the citizens have to exercise real control in politics. Voting once every four years is not enough for the expectations of an advanced democratic society. The rooted Spanish culture of secrecy robs the taxpayer of this essential right, and only serves to foment corruption and bad government, both of these being phenomena that are increasingly difficult to conceal from an electorate that is growing ever more irritated by the economic crisis.

The former government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero failed on two occasions to deliver on its electoral promise of introducing a law that would oblige the public administrations to give the citizens the information they request, without need for any particular explanation for the petition, and as long as the data requested did not endanger national security. But Zapatero's proposed bill, much in line with international standards of transparency, was set aside, and without the explanations that seemed called for.

Spain needs a transparency law to put an end to the culture of secrecy. This is a widespread demand throughout Spanish society, and one that has been voiced by the grassroots May 15 movement and by some political parties, such as UPyD and IU. During the last three decades, Spanish democracy has been furnished with a multiplicity of local and regional administrations, which are supposedly closer to the citizen but that have extended the same opacity that has prevailed in national politics. It is intolerable that Spanish citizens are denied the right to know data on the waiting lists in hospitals, the quality ratings of schools, the contracts signed by public administrations, and the environmental reports that are prepared and paid for with public money.

The previous government's unpassed bill will give Mariano Rajoy's administration a good basis on which to work. To utilize it would go against the sectarian inertia habitual in Spanish politics, but it would be a magnificent sign of good governance and responsible management of public resources — exactly what the future law ought to promote.

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