What is transparency?

Transparency and access to information are fundamental principles in democratic systems. They guide the management of public institutions, allow citizen empowerment and vigilance with regard to public affairs, reduce the risk of corruption within the State, and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 16, which is focused on promoting “Peace, Justice and Solid Institutions.” Inter-institutional and multi-level collaboration within each country, as well as cooperation between regional and international networks and organizations, are crucial to promoting these principles.

In this regard, legislative openness or transparency makes it possible to strengthen and improve democratic systems by promoting a culture of transparency and opening the spheres of power to the public space. This is achieved by making public information available to the public, so that it is managed in an open, accessible, and reusable manner, promoting public participation in the country’s legislative process, as well as implementing accountability mechanisms as an instrument for evaluating policies and their represent. 

Why is it important?

Transparency and access to public information contribute to parliamentary work by making it possible to:

  • Keep strengthening the legitimacy of and public trust in the legislative branch;
  • Promote and improve the dissemination of information on legislative work;
  • Democratize the information provided to citizens on parliamentary activities;
  • Facilitate co-creation and collaboration between parliaments and citizens in the establishment of public policies;
  • Ensure integrity in public administration to combat corruption.

What is the difference between Active and passive transparency?

The right of access to information involves two mechanisms: active transparency and request for access to information (also known as passive or reactive transparency).

Active transparency: This is the obligation of State bodies to publish useful, timely, and relevant information on their respective web pages, continuously and without it being requested by citizens. This information should be updated periodically according to the country’s legal framework or transparency provisions and policies, which establish the obligation to keep the information permanently available to the public.

Request for access to information (passive transparency): This is the right that every person has to request and receive information from any State entity. It is not necessary to state a cause or reason in order to exercise this right. In addition, this right means that State bodies are required to respond to requests for information made by individuals and deliver the information required, unless an exception applies, as established in their respective laws or general transparency provisions.

The following are the basic principles that support the exercise of the right of access to public information and that have been recognized in such systems across the world:

• Principle of maximum disclosure: Any information in the hands of public institutions is complete, timely, and accessible, subject to a clear and precise regime of exceptions that must be defined by law and also be legitimate and  strictly necessary in a democratic society, as well as applied in a justified and proportionate manner.

• Principle of transparency of civil service: Consists of observing and protecting the disclosure of the Administration’s acts, resolutions, procedures, and documents, as well as that of its grounds, and facilitating the access of any person to such information through the means and procedures established for this purpose by law.

• Universal accessibility: All information shall be comprehensible, easily accessible, and free of charge. It shall be made available to people living with disabilities by appropriate means or in appropriate formats to ensure that it is accessible and comprehensible, in accordance with the principle of universal accessibility and design for all.

• Openness: Information must be accessible in open electronic formats facilitating its processing by automatic means and allowing its reuse or redistribution by third parties.

• Non-discrimination: Information must be provided to all persons who request it, on equal terms, excluding any form of discrimination and without requiring a statement of the cause or reason for the request.

• Maximum promptness: Information must be published as promptly as possible and within time periods that are compatible with the preservation of its value.

• Facilitation: No public authority may refuse to state whether or not a document is in its possession or deny the disclosure of a document in accordance with duly indicated exceptions, unless the damage caused to the protected interest is greater than the public interest in obtaining the information.

• No charge: According to this principle, access to public information shall not result in any cost to the requesting person; only the cost required for the requested means of reproduction and delivery may be charged in accordance with the law and other applicable legal provisions.

Next section: Active transparency