Editorial – Muni, Don’t Deny Us Public Information

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In times when most information should be digitized and available to all citizens, institutions like the Municipality of Nicoya still refuse to allow media like The Voice of Guanacaste to have access to documents of public interest.

In October of 2012, this newspaper requested a copy of some building permits for a building in Nosara, regarding which there are doubts as to its physical safety for the population. The request was denied. We insisted, making more requests in January and March of 2013, but they were also rejected on the grounds that such information is protected by the Law of Individual Protection in the Treatment of Personal Data. However,  we never requested personal information but rather documents issued by a public entity.

In August 2014, while investigating a property in the Maritime Land Zone within the Ostional Refuge, we requested a copy of the land use permit issued by the municipality, but again we were denied this documentation. In November and December of 2014, we requested copies of municipal contracts with private companies as well as a breakdown of some salaries of municipal officials, but all these requests were rejected. All of this information is of a public nature.

During this period, we always tried to have a dialogue and request information in a respectful manner and exercising the right to public information. However, we met with denials and excuses. We are outraged and concerned by this action since we believe that it is a violation of the rights of Costa Ricans.

It is important to remind the public institutions that Article 30 of this country’s Constitution guarantees free access to administrative departments for purposes of information on matters of public interest.

Added to that, Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights establishes the freedom to seek, receive and disseminate information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print.

That’s why, once we exhausted all avenues of direct communication with the Municipality of Nicoya, this newspaper’s management filed a constitutional appeal before the Constitutional Court in October to demand our right to information. Fortunately, the Constitutional Court ordered Mayor Marco Antonio Jimenez Muñoz to make copies of the file containing the information related to the construction permits that were requested in 2012 available to The Voice of Guanacaste  immediately. The court also ordered the Municipality of Nicoya to pay for costs and damages incurred by The Voice of Guanacaste.

They ruled definitively that building permits are public information and decided in our favor.

“Within the nation, we find that the right to information for the effective participation of citizens in making political decisions is one of [the country]’s fundamental or structural principles,” says the Constitutional Court resolution.

The victory leaves a bittersweet taste. How sad it is that we have to resort to these measures and also that the municipality has to shell out money for a legal process that was not necessary using funds that come from the pockets of all Nicoyans.

We are still hopeful that, after this decision, the Mayor’s Office will change its attitude and allow us access to the requested public information. We do not want resort to legal channels again, but we assure our readers that we will not lower our guard and we will defend our journalistic profession and the right to information.