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Brazil: Senate Approves Access to Information Bill

The Brazilian Senate has approved the access to information bill eight years after a proposal was first presented to Congress.

Source: article19.org

Date: 26 October 2011

The Brazilian Senate has approved the access to information bill eight years after a proposal was first presented to Congress.

We welcome the approval of the access to information bill and congratulate the Senate for backing legislation that is fundamental to democracy,” says Paula Martins, Director of ARTICLE 19 South America.

Once President Rousseff signs the law, Brazil will be better equipped to lead the Open Government Partnership and promote an open and transparent government to its people and the region as a whole,” continued Martins. 

The new law implements the right to access information held by public bodies guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution. It sets out the government’s obligation to disclose information proactively and respond to specific requests for information. At present, the law needs to be signed by President Rousseff, who supported the drafting of the bill whilst she was chief of staff to former-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.  

Brazil has been witnessing frequent anti-corruption demonstrations in several cities, whilst conferences on transparency and public control gather citizens and governments nationwide to discuss access to information and accountability. Internationally, the lack of an approved access to information law was a direct contradiction to the leading role of Brazil in the Open Government Partnership, an international effort to encourage transparency within governments. The bill was approved by the lower house of Congress in April 2010 but was delayed by the Senate until now.

Brazil will now face the challenge of implementing the law across 5,565 municipalities, 26 states and one federal district. At the federal level, implementation will start with a national campaign to raise awareness on the right to information and will include comprehensive training of public servants.

All official bodies will be obliged to create a citizens’ information service, to promote public participation through public hearings or consultations and to use the internet as a way to disclose information. Official websites will now be obliged to disclose information in different user- and machine-friendly electronic formats.

The law does not create an independent information commission. The Office of the Comptroller General is responsible to rule on appeals for requests to the executive branch. The legislative and judicial branches are required to create separate regulations setting out  their appeals procedures. A special commission will review and revise information which is classified. Information relating to human rights violations perpetrated by public officials can never be exempt from disclosure.