"One Year of the Transparency Law in Mexico"
On July 1, 2004, the Mexico Institute hosted Maria Marván Laborde, President of the Council for the Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI) to discuss both the legislative passage and implications of the Federal Law for Transparency and for Access to Governmental Public Information , approved by the Mexican Congress on June 12, 2004. According to Marván, the law was created to promote a culture of transparency and accountability.
Although Article 6 of the Mexican Constitution affirms the right for freedom of information, and Article 8 the "right to petition", for 25 years no mechanism had been created to give citizens access to public information. The establishment of the IFAI created an avenue for soliciting public documents, albeit only those of the executive branch. Marván acknowledged that the law in theory extends to the other branches of government; however, there are no mechanisms for soliciting information from them. According to Marván, the IFAI as a body has autonomy in its operation, budget allocation and decisions regarding compliance with access to information of the executive branch. The law charges the IFAI with regulative and resolution functions, oversight and coordination, promotion (to teach citizens how to use the newly created system). The council of the IFAI has five members, four commissioners and one president.
Marván emphasized the importance of legal and institutional frameworks of the law. Important elements of the transparency law include the establishment of transparency obligations on executive agencies (i.e. standard dissemination of information through the internet); specification of classified information as reserved or confidential and establishment of personal data management and protection. Additionally, the law specifies the access to information in the hands of the executive branch and other obligated actors. Finally, it establishes sanctions and responsibilities when the law is violated. When information is requested, a government agency has 20 working days to produce the requested documents or explain why it cannot do so. If the agency maintains that the documents requested are confidential, the commissioners of the IFAI have to make a decision on whether this classification is warranted. The IFAI's Internet website [www.ifai.org.mx] receives over 90% of requests for public information, including some from the United States. About 80% of requests are answered positively and documents are released. While in the beginning mostly journalists used the system, now academics, lawyers and entrepreneurs are increasingly representing the pool of requesters.
In 2002, the Mexican Congress passed the Transparency and Acess to Information Law, providing citizens for the first time with access on demand to federal government documents. In November 2002, Dr. María Marván Laborde was named by President Fox to serve as president of the collegial citizen council that oversees the work of the Federal Institute for Access to Information, which is charged with overseeing the implementation of the transparency law. Dr. Marván holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the New School for Social Research and was a professor at the University of Guadalajara until she assumed her current position.