Puerto Rico

Report to the Midyear Meeting
April, 19-22 2022
During this period, several bills have emerged that seek to rectify the flaws in the laws on access to public information, in particular, the "Transparency and Expedite Procedure for Access to Public Information Act" - No. 141-2019, and the "Puerto Rico Government Open Data Act" - No. 122-2019 - both approved by the ousted governor, Ricardo Rosselló.

However, there were government measures and proposals to promote transparency.

To guarantee access, a group of legislators proposed designating Information Officers in each agency, establishing a uniform protocol for channeling information requests, and having an oversight entity to ensure compliance with the processes. The legislators also proposed the creation of a registry of requests or portal - to keep a record of the petitions.

The Transparency Laws have yet to achieve their purpose, because they lack accurate wording - thus hindering achieving the goals for which they were enacted.

Also, Bill 1303 establishes that the Institute of Statistics will be the government entity responsible for implementing the Public Policy of Access to Information; and responsible for managing the internet portal with all the information on the petition process. Bill 1303 also establishes that every government entity shall disclose certain information on a routine basis, without the need of a request, including: official travel reports, budget of the government entity and quarterly expenditures, among other topics.

Failure to comply with these obligations will result in administrative sanctions, fines and the assessment of attorney's fees.

Journalists Alex Delgado and Yesenia Torres Figueroa are listed as co-defendants in a libel suit filed by prosecutor Idelfonso Torres for reports published in 2018 about an investigation of PREPA employees for allegedly charging for certifications to restore electric service after Hurricane Maria. Prosecutor Torres has insisted that Delgado reveal his source - which was ordered by the First Court and ratified by the Court of Appeals.

Because of this case, Senator Joanne Rodríguez Veve submitted Senate Bill 734 to establish the "Protection of Journalistic Sources Act" - so that journalists are not forced to reveal the identity of their confidential sources nor penalized.

Furthermore, Senate Bill 743 seeks to establish the "Reporter's Privilege" - so that journalists cannot be held in contempt for refusing to disclose the source of any information.

On December 27, 2021, the Drone Act was passed to prohibit persons, entities or state agencies from taking or recording images by means of unmanned aerial systems on private property or where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, in the absence of consent and a search warrant, and makes such practice a crime. This law has caused concern among some legal experts because it would affect freedom of expression rights.

The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) has been forced to go to court on multiple occasions to obtain access to public information. In January, the CPI and journalist Omar Alfonso - editor of the regional newspaper La Perla del Sur - filed a writ of mandamus to demand the release of information related to the renegotiation of the contract between the coal company AES and PREPA.

In November 2021, the CPI and journalist Hermes Ayala Guzmán filed a Special Appeal for Access to Public Information against the DNER and the OGPe, so that the latter would deliver certain information on the cutting, pruning and transplanting of trees that had been requested, without success.

Most of the cases were settled for the petitioners and in favor of access to the requested public information. The courts are the best tool to enforce access to information held by the Executive and the Legislature.