Access to public information is a fundamental right for citizens to build better relationships with institutions and governments.
To the Senators of Colombia
The undersigned Civil Society Organizations, including all those that make up the Open Government Partnership Committee in Colombia, request the Senate of the Republic to reject President Iván Duque’s objections to the bill that seeks to re-establish the deadlines for responding to petition rights, respecting the mandate of laws 1437 of 2011 and 1577 of 2015 that regulates the right to petition for public information in Colombia.
The right to petition is a fundamental right for citizens to access relevant and pertinent information and build better relations with institutions and governments. In this regard, Law 1437 of 2011 provides that all petitions must be resolved within 15 days of receipt. However, Article 5 of Decree 491 of 2020 (artículo 5 del Decreto 491 de 2020) extended the terms of response to petition rights and requests for information “within thirty (30) days of receipt to all petitions filed or in progress” during the validity of the Sanitary Emergency" of Covid-19. This change was established as an emergency measure to guarantee public authorities' attention and provision of services. The Constitutional Court endorsed this measure as constitutional with Ruling C-242 of 2020 and stated that it was proportional “in order to allow the rational exercise of the fundamental right to petition” since its nature was temporary.
Two years after the beginning of the pandemic, the state of sanitary emergency remains in force, even though the epidemiological control allowed the Colombian State to re-establish the rhythm of its political and economic activities, and thus overcome the conditions that initially justified the measure. Despite this, in December 2021, the National Government objected to the legislative project that sought to re-establish the response times to the rights of petition to the times of law. This decision limits the fundamental right to access to public information and calls into question the political will of the National Government towards the consolidation of an Open State model.
The objection to the project was given to inconvenience in view of the continuity of the sanitary crisis produced by COVID-19. However, as indicated by the House of Representatives in its report rejecting such presidential objections, “the sanitary emergency that gave rise to the extension of the terms and the authorization to suspend proceedings has not worsened, and although it is true that the presence of the COVID-19 coronavirus still persists in the social dynamics of the country, such continuation cannot represent the perpetuity of measures that made sense at the beginning of a mandatory preventive isolation, but not so in a scenario of a return to face-to-face work of all State employees” (bolding out of the original text)
Likewise, the Government, in the Documento Conpes 4070 del 2021, “Policy Guidelines for the Implementation of an Open State Model”, defines this model as “a form of relationship between all the actors of public institutions and society that balances citizen expectations and public responsibilities, strengthens the model of participatory democracy and the fight against corruption, through the principle of dialogue, integrating the elements of transparency and access to public information, integrity, legality, citizen participation and innovation.”
The permanence of the extension of the terms of response to petitions represents a serious threat to building trust between public institutions and society, a central axis of the document mentioned above. Open State practices focus on transparency and access to information as a channel for relations between public institutions and civil society. Maintaining the terms of Decree 491 of 2020 (Decreto 491 de 2020) discourages the whole Colombian society from making requests to the State, carrying out monitoring exercises, and controlling public resources. It hinders investigative journalistic practices and diminishes the capacity and opportunity of organizations and citizen exercises to contribute from their participation effectively to the country’s development.
The Civil Society Organizations signing this statement request the Senate of the Republic of Colombia to reject the presidential objections to the bill, which the same corporation already approved during the year 2021, and to proceed with the corresponding constitutional procedure to guarantee to all people in Colombia the effective exercise of the fundamental right to petition, linked to the right of access to public information. We trust that the Senate of the Republic will guarantee the fundamental rights of citizens prevail over the objections presented by the President of the Republic, based on arguments that no longer correspond to the national reality.
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa
Extituto de Política Abierta
Biblioteca y Ruralidad
The declaration is signed on April 8, 2022.
It can be downloaded at this link.