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Access to information bill at risk

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - São Paulo, 25.8.11 - Former president Fernando Collor de Mello has published a 40-page proposal that seriously undermines Brazil's access to information bill. ARTICLE 19 calls on the senate to reject the proposal and pass the bill as was approved by the Chamber of Deputies.

"Mello, who is now chair of the Commission for External Relations and National Defense, which is overseeing the final stage of the bill, is jeopardising a combined effort, involving public consultation and long debates within congress, to agree on an access to information bill according to international standards and best practice," says Paula Martins, Coordinator, ARTICLE 19 Brazil and South America.

"If accepted, Mello's proposals would lead to very problematic changes in the bill, where secrecy is the rule and freedom of information is the exception."

The proposal would remove the onus on the government to provide pro-active disclosure, the ability of citizens to request information without providing justification, and the time limit on how long information can be classified as confidential. It would establish additional levels of secrecy, expand the number of officials who can classify information as secret, and allow unlimited renewals of classification periods.

Mello has argued that proactive disclosure and unjustified requests would overly burden the Brazilian government and affect its efficiency and efficacy. But his argument fails to acknowledge that the right to information is fundamental to democracy, and that such information is the property of the people, not the government. Establishing an access to information bill will, in the long term, strengthen Brazil's democracy, provide checks and accountability, and improve efficiency at all levels.

The access to information bill must now face a final vote by the senate plenary. ARTICLE 19 urges senators to reject Mello's proposal.

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