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Yesterday, Chile’s first comprehensive access to information law came into effect and the websites of many government offices collapsed. Everyone wanted to know how much money the President on down actually makes.
For the first time, there are clear rules outlining what the public has the right to know, and procedures for requesting information. There are important limitations, however. The Judicial Power, Congress, the Armed Forces, the Central Bank, State companies and the Public Prosecutor are exempted from providing their information and are not subject to the procedures of the new law. They are supposed to create their own regulations… someday. Additionally, the reasons for withholding information are so broad that they may be easily interpreted to serve someone’s interest.
The new law establishes the principle of “active transparency,” which means that not only can citizens request information, but also that government institutions have to make information on their service available on their web pages and update it on a monthly basis. The web page of each ministry and service has a box called “Transparent government” that people can click on and find out who works there, how much they make, how the budget is spent and many other items.
In spite of its ugly spots, the law is a huge step forward in the right to information. One of its novel aspects is the new Council for Transparency which oversees the use of the law and resolves possible disputes over denials of information. Before, if someone was denied information, that person would have to take the case to court — an expensive and lengthy process that almost no one was willing, or able, to resort to.
Yesterday, an avalanche of eager citizens went online. Their enthusiasm may die down as time passes, but for journalists and others this is just the beginning of an investigative feast — of cross-checking information and discovering potentially juicy, behind-the-scenes operations. Already today the local media was reporting on the many relatives of pro-government politicians or government officials working in government. This includes the president’s son at the Economy Ministry — something that is not supposed to happen.
So, how much does the President of Chile make? Over $12,600 a month, gross.