Whether openly acknowledged or not, corruption is a problem that people face all over the world. Corruption by it's very nature erodes democratic processes and usurps power from the people while their representatives engage in criminal acts more often that not without accountability. Transparency is a key first step toward countering this effect and expanding participatory democracy because it allows the people to expose corruption as well as see directly the effects of their votes and their own voice within the government, or lack thereof. Many social movements and NGOs are working toward transparency within central governments, but we have a long way to go before this corruption is revealed to the extent necessary to make the general populace aware of just how rampant it is in most cases. The following article from Trinidad and Tobago demonstrates one example of efforts to promote transparency in favor of democracy. - Editor
Letter: People's right to know
Published on Thursday, June 19, 2008
The Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) has had cause in the past to voice its concerns over Government’s selective use of transparency in its approach to governance.
In 2001, Government inherited the Freedom of Information Act from the previous administration and, in the ensuing years, reduced its effectiveness by exempting from the Act first the Central Bank and then selected State-funded agencies. This was a major curtailment by government of the people’s right to information and, at that time, very few civil society voices were raised in protest.
Next we saw government’s habitual delays in answering questions raised in Parliament and, in some cases, either refusing to answer or giving very limited information. This trend continues today.
Government also attempted to limit citizens’ right to bring public interest litigation against the state by proposing revisions to the Judicial Review Act.
Public procurement practices are replete with examples of Government’s unwillingness to provide timely information to the public whose money is being spent. One example is the continued refusal by Government, in the face of many calls from TTTI and others, to make public the technical studies (paid for by taxpayers) which the Prime Minister and the Line Minister told Parliament recommended the adoption of the multi-billion dollar Rapid Rail System over other less expensive options.
More recently, government sought to protect UDeCoTT from public scrutiny in the face of serious concerns voiced and allegations made by many respected persons and organisations in the society. Eventually, government bowed to the pressure of those calls but still sought to control the process by opting for a Joint Selective Committee of Parliament and only later agreeing to the Commission of Enquiry called for.
The latest example of the lack of transparency was seen when government refused to disclose in Parliament how much of taxpayers’ money was spent on fees for professional services on the dubious grounds of protecting the recipient’s rights to privacy.
We note that some important independent voices have been raised against this latest curtailment of the people’s right to information on how their money is being spent. More civil society organisations should raise their voices in protest over this latest development. Government’s decision in this matter must be reversed because of its far-reaching implications.
TTTI senses that there is a wind of change blowing through this country and bringing with it more national consciousness. Civil society seems to have awakened from its slumber hence the many voices being heard today in protest over the UDeCOTT matter, escalating crime, high food prices, failures in the education and health systems, infrastructure inadequacies etc
This awakening is good for our democracy but civil society must go further and insist on its right to information and it’s acceptance by Government as a partner in the governance of the country. Civil society must also insist on its voice being heard and listened to and its suggestions acted upon by government. Civil society must demand a culture of consultation and a truly participatory democracy for our country and accept nothing less.
Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute