Political Parties Reject Public Access to their own Finances

On Monday, the Legislative Assembly began going through the proposed Law on Transparency and Public Access to Information line by line.  According to Elfaro.net, the ARENA and FMLN political parties, the two largest, have rejected the provision that would require political parties to make their financial information available to the public.

The provision is one of many proposed by the Funes Administration to limit corruption in the government.  Unless it is removed, the provision would help end the system of political debts, in which a person or institution donates to campaigns in return for political support.  The provision is not limited to political parties but includes all entities, public or private, that manage public funds.

Article 6 of the Salvadoran Constitution guarantees the freedom of expression to all citizens. Over 10 years ago the Inter-American Court of Human Rights determined that the freedom of expression includes the right to access public information. The ElFaro.net article points out that El Salvador is required to respect that decision and give people free access to public information so that they are able to express themselves in an informed manner. The only provisions in Salvadoran law that give such a right is Title IX of the Municipal Code, which requires local governments to give citizens access to information.

El Faro notes that in recent years there is evidence that organized criminals have infiltrated political parties. They cite recent examples of diputados from the PAN (National Action Party) and the PCN (National Conciliation Party) who were arrested in the U.S. on charges related to drug trafficking. In our own investigation into the mining issue in Cabañas, we found several instances in which Pacific Rim is thought to have donated to local political campaigns or paid politicians for their support.

This new provision will allow citizens and civil society organizations the tools necessary to monitor the financial interests of those who manage public funds. It will allow people to see where political parties and politicians are getting their support and to whom they might be indebted politically. The law does not provide additional restrictions on who may make political donations or limits on how much they can give.

Representatives from the two largest political parties, FMLN and ARENA, rejected the proposal outright. Mario Valiente, a former mayor of San Salvador and an ARENA diputado, “expressed his disagreement with the possibility that political parties would have to reveal their sources of funding,” though he did not say why. He indicated, however, that such a provision is better suited for the Law on Political Parties, but acknowledges that it is unlikely that they will reform that law anytime soon.

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