Spain’s new law on transparency a good first step

Once the new law takes effect, all levels of government in Spain will have to publish information on the companies they have contracts with and how much they are worth.

After a summer of corruption scandals in Spanish politics, the country’s Congress passed a new piece of legislation on transparency and access to information this September.

Public tolerance for corruption had reached boiling point with companies, parties and even the royal family seemingly acting with impunity after graft allegations.

The new legislation is now headed for the Senate, where it will be debated before coming into effect.

The proposed law is a welcome opportunity for Spanish politicians to clean up their act. But five years into a tough economic crisis, driven in part by corruption in an over-inflated construction and housing sector, more issues need to be addressed to mitigate the risks of graft.

Until now, Spain was the only European Union country which did not give the public the right to know how public funds are spent. Once the new law takes effect, all levels of government will have to publish information on the companies they have contracts with and how much they are worth.

Transparency International Spain views the new proposed law as a welcome improvement on previous drafts. It will make it easier for citizen participation and should improve the quality of Spanish democracy.

The current version now contains better provisions for the publication of public contracts, new rules on good governance, access to information, and better definitions of which institutions and which people are covered by the legislation.

But we believe there is still much to be done to raise the bar against political corruption as the new law is debated in the Senate.

There is still a long way to go, for example in bringing Spanish law in line with European standards on transparency. Transparency International Spain has already expressed concern over the attitude demonstrated by political parties until now in failing to come to a consensus on the proposed legislation on transparency.

Anti-graft measures and transparency are issues that stand above political posturing and cross-party support would be welcomed by both citizens and civil society.

There are a number of areas where the current version of the draft law could be improved, namely:

  • The sanctions and penalties for public servants and politicians are not explicit.
  • There is no obvious denial procedure for freedom of information requests. If a query is not answered within one month, it should be considered as a refusal to answer the request.
  • The draft law in its current form does not apply to issues that can threaten “economic and commercial interests”, “economic and monetary policy”, and “environmental protection”. There needs to be greater clarity on what areas these terms actually cover and why the public does not have a right to access this information.
  • Although the new draft makes it mandatory for public institutions to publish their property details, it excludes other possessions and assets. This should be changed.

As the draft legislation heads to the Senate, we believe there is still time to improve it. Citizens deserve a better and more comprehensive transparency law that gives them full rights to access the information they need to hold their leaders to account.

Carousel image: Creative commons, Flickr / Thomas Roessler

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