MADRID (AP) — Spain's government gave the green light Friday to a new freedom of information law aimed at giving taxpayers a better look at how their money is spent, while punishing officials who miss budget targets.
The approval came at a Cabinet meeting amid a wave of public disgust over corruption and the mismanagement of public funds in a country saddled with an economic crisis.
Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said the bill will go to Parliament for debate after the Summer and — if approved — take effect in a year or so, once government Internet portals for information-sharing are set up.
The bill was first announced in March and followed by an unprecedented 15-day period in which the public could view the draft online. More than 78,000 visits were recorded, and the government also received more than 3,600 emails with suggestions on what should be accessible to the public and how the law should work.
Although the salaries of the prime minister and government ministers are already public information, as are the national budget and much other money-related data, until now not all of it was easy to access.
But under the new bill, information on subjects including senior public servants' salaries and detailed data on government contracts and subsidies will be published online. Spaniards will also be able to file requests for other kinds of information, providing they do not breach national security or personal privacy.
The goal of the new law is to make public officials at all levels much more accountable for how they spend taxpayer money. People will be able to get information just by the click of a mouse. Officials at any level of government — local, regional or the central administration in Madrid — who miss deficit-cutting targets can be removed from office.
Saenz de Santamaria said this legislative process will end Spain's status as the last major EU country not to have a freedom of information law.
"This is costing us points in the area of institutional confidence on all international rankings," she told a news conference.
Freedom of information groups on Friday criticized the proposals as being too limited for a modern European state. Access Info Europe director Helen Darbishire said the definition of information in the proposed law contained exceptions that were unacceptable by modern international standards.
"There are severe limitations on what you can ask for," she said, adding that both the legislative and judicial branches of state cannot be questioned.
Darbishire criticized the body that will be set up to oversee implementation, saying it was non-independent.
Associated Press writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.Tags: