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Puerto Rican NGO Asks Court to Reconsider Releasing Tax Report

POSTED ON Mar. 14, 2019

A not-for-profit organization has said it will ask a Puerto Rican court to reconsider a decision denying it access to a report on tax expenditures and tax abatement agreements granted by the island’s government.

Espacios Abiertos, a nongovernmental organization that advocates for greater transparency in public expenditures and accountability in public affairs, sued Puerto Rico in November 2018 for a copy of the report, which the government had submitted to a federal board established by the U.S. Congress to oversee its finances. On December 4, 2018, Superior Court Judge Lauracelis Roques Arroyo said that while there could be justification for denying access to a public document on confidentiality grounds, the government failed to adequately describe the documents at issue to justify its claim that they were confidential. Roques Arroyo ruled that the report was a public document and should be turned over to Espacios Abiertos. 

Puerto Rico’s government asked the territory’s Court of Appeals to overturn that decision. On March 6 two of the three judges on the court agreed with the government, holding that the federal law creating the oversight board expressly prohibits the board’s members, its staff, the governor of Puerto Rico, and his representative on the board from divulging the contents of the report. 

The third judge issued a sharp dissent: “This is not the time to deny the Territory of its right to know how the government manages fiscal affairs as fundamental as the awarding of discretionary agreements that reduce the taxes of private parties,” said Judge Gina Méndez Miró. 

Espacios Abiertos said March 10 that it would ask the appellate court to reconsider its decision. “Why delay the publication in Puerto Rico of information that is public in the rest of the world?” Espacios Abiertos Executive Director Cecille Blondet said in a statement on the NGO’s website. “Puerto Rico needs a transparent and open government that offers an opportunity for effective and real participation for [its] citizens. We strongly disagree with the decision of the court. Our claim is to access information that originated in a public agency and, in and of itself, that information must be public.”