By: Adrián Alcalá Méndez, INAI
The purpose of this text is to point out the relevance of open parliament and its impact on the country’s democratic life. Progress in this important agenda has brought benefits that are currently established in a cutting-edge legal framework that allows Mexican citizens and public servants to have legal certainty.
Mexico has been part of the efforts to implement an open parliament in conjunction with civil society organizations that have set a new path in relation to government activities with a democratic orientation that allows for the strengthening of the rule of law and therefore, has enhanced effective environments to conduct accountability processes. The above has been achieved through mechanisms of citizen participation that influence the decision-making processes; therefore, it is an initial effort but not the final goal.
A legislator who is committed to working in favor of open parliament responds to any request for information with certainty and diligence; they speak to society with the frank language of someone who has such an important activity like representing the interests of the majority. The legislator places in the public sphere his or her probity, respect for the laws and gives an important value to public ethics. Yes, adhering to the practices of open parliament is usually approached from the perspective of administrative processes and procedures, not from an ethics and probity perspective of those who make up the legislative body.
After the electoral process in which congressmen and congresswomen are elected, "party discipline" usually conditions many of the actions and decisions they will take, even ignoring the commitments made in the campaign; this affects accountability, since the representatives stop giving interviews, do not make their votes public, do not propose initiatives, are absent when faced with uncomfortable issues, or reserve information because of a request to access public information, so as not to face the public eye. Of course, this is not the rule, but in order to advance beyond the principles, it is necessary to propose that open parliament should be evaluated with special emphasis on the actions of the legislators, not only with respect to the opening of doors or live transmissions, but also with respect to the justification and motivation of their actions, as well as the accountability of the commitments assumed before their constituents.
As the inter-American legal framework on the right to freedom of expression has pointed out, democratic control of public administration, through public opinion, fosters transparency in the activities of the State and the accountability of public officials for their performance, as well as broader citizen participation. Therefore, in the democratic context, expressions about public officials or persons exercising public functions, as well as those about candidates running for public office, should enjoy a particularly reinforced margin of openness. In this sense, open parliament constitutes a powerful tool for regaining confidence in the institutions that regulate our actions, since decisions also constitute an opportunity to advance the open justice agenda. Based on this premise, I present three key examples from Mexico.
The first. Open parliament allows the Congress of the Union to be a counterweight to the actions of the judges. The initiative that reformed Article 73, Section II of the General Law of Transparency and Access to Public Information1, strengthened judicial transparency, and was built in full collaboration with the collective "Lo Justo es que Sepas"2. It is evident that knowing how judges and courts act when resolving cases and knowing the sentencing guidelines, while taking care of personal data, allows justice providers to avoid lax or unlawful interpretations by knowing that their sentences are public.
The second. Open parliament allows organized civil society and citizens to incorporate fundamental articles so that human rights comply with the principle of progressiveness. The General Law of Transparency is an example of this. It was made in conjunction with groups of organizations and academia such as "México infórmate", "El Colectivo por la transparencia" and CIDE, which debated and revised article by article, fraction by fraction of the law.Due to this, today, the General Law of Transparency and Access to Public Information is one of the best laws in the world.
The third. Open parliament allows for legislating against corruption. Clearly we have the citizen’s initiative “3 de 3”, which successfully culminated in a reform of the law establishing the obligation for all public officials to make their declarations of assets, interests and taxes public, indicating clear rules of conduct for public servants and private actors, as well as various sanctions for corruptions acts.
I would like to conclude by pointing out that knowing the principles, processes and procedures of open parliament is as important as the effect that the daily actions of the legislator can have. Maximum publicity focused on the probity of public action allows transparency and accountability to strengthen access to justice and trust in institutions, undoubtedly a goal that we in the Alliance must achieve.
1 The reformed section established in the specific transparency obligations of the Judiciary, that they must publish the public versions of the judgments that are of public interest, which was restrictive to the right to information since the judges adhered to interpretation, preventing access to information.
2 The collective is made up of the following organizations: EQUIS Justicia para la Mujeres (EQUIS), México Evalúa, Borde Político, Artículo 19, Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MCCI), Controla tu Gobierno and Fundar Centro de Análisis e Investigación.