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Puerto Rico Senate approves Open Government Data Act

By on December 12, 2017

SAN JUAN – With 21 votes in favor and six against, Senate Bill 236 was approved Monday to create the Open Government Data Act so information handled by government agencies be published online and managed by the Statistics Institute Puerto Rico (PRSI).

The data to be published will include official travel reports including their purpose and expenses, government entity budgets and quarterly expenses, strategic plans, legal expenses and reimbursements.

Also, announcements, resolutions approved by governing boards, hearing and administrative proceeding calendars, regulations, notices, information on operations, bids or proposals, audits and other reports related to executive branch agency and municipal budgets.

The filing of the bill by the legislative majority was by petition, the senators said, in light of the administrative, economic and fiscal crises facing Puerto Rico and to achieve the goals established by the federal Promesa law.

“Transparency in the publication of public information and data should be the guiding principle between the Government and the fiscal board and the Financial Administration for Puerto Rico as well. Also, between the State and its constituents,” the measure reads.

PRSI Director Mario Marazzi (Courtesy)

The measure would also establish a Puerto Rico chief information officer, a position that would be served by PRSI Director Mario Marazzi.

In a written statement Tuesday, Marazzi, said implementing the law will not cost a “penny to the public treasury” and that it “orders specific actions of proactive disclosure of data, which are essential elements of a culture of openness.”

For the first time, the publication of data in open machine-readable formats was mandated, one of the elements that gave Puerto Rico the greatest difficulty the last time that Open Knowledge International evaluated the opening of our databases,” he added.

“At the same time, as in every measure, there are always specific issues that could be improved. We look forward to the analysis of this measure in the House of Representatives,” Marazzi said, adding he is aware of Speaker Carlos Méndez and Government Committee Chairman Jorge Navarro’s commitment to transparency and access to public data, and was “sure” the House would give “a high priority to this measure.”

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Any claim of confidentiality or privilege by agencies and municipalities to protect and prevent the disclosure of information must be made according to the following criteria: that a law so provides, that the information is protected by some of the evidentiary privileges invoked by citizens and that it infringes on fundamental rights of third parties, and that it is confidential information under the Rules of Evidence of Puerto Rico.

These exceptions include data on national security, internal rules or practices of agencies, internal communications between agencies, and public information that falls under some of the privileges recognized in the U.S. and Puerto Rico constitutions.

Asimismo, datos asociados a litigios civiles o criminales en los que un organismo gubernamental sea parte o empleado o funcionario público, información que si fuera divulgada invade la privacidad de terceros, secretos de negocios obtenidos por una persona que es confidencial por contrato, estatuto o decisión judicial.

Also, data associated with civil or criminal litigation to which a government agency, employee or public official is party, information that if disclosed, invades the privacy of third parties, and business secrets that are confidential under contract, statute or legal decision.

Likewise, confidential or financial information whose disclosure “would cause competitive damage to the person from whom the information was obtained,”among others.

The bill makes reference to the case brought by Senate Minority Leader Eduardo Bhatia against Gov. Ricardo Rosselló regarding the publication of the island’s fiscal year 2018 budget. The Supreme Court argued in that case that “it has not specifically been legislated [on the island] to limit access to government documents of public scrutiny.”

“It is necessary and indispensable to implement measures that promote a more agile, transparent and efficient government that fosters economic development by opening all public documents to the public,” the bill reads.

 

The law would take effect six months after enactment. However, the adoption of regulations, preparation of databases, work plans, reports and manuals would take effect immediately.

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