We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Saturday, October 11, 2008

BERMUDA: Access to information benefits democracy

The following recent article from Bermuda coinciding with International Right to Know Day supports the passing of PATI legislation in Bermuda and highlights the need for free public access to information in order to ensure transparency and accountability in representative government and as a prerequisite for citizen participation in governance. - Editor

How Freedom of Information benefits democracy

Published: September 27. 2008 09:16AM

With PATI legislation Bermuda would be seen internationally as a safer place to work, live and trade

Tomorrow is International Right to Know Day, established in 2002 to mark the founding on September 28 of the global Freedom of Information Advocates Network.

It aims to raise awareness of every individual's right of access to government-held information, the right to know how elected officials are exercising power and how taxpayers' money is being spent.

Through its A Right to Know – Giving People Power campaign,The Royal Gazette is calling on the Government to speedily introduce its Public Access to Information (PATI) law.

This article was written for this newspaper by James M. Ferguson, of the Access to Information Programme Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.

The right to information, a human right first recognised by the United Nations in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is a right that plays a crucial role in ensuring that citizens are better informed about both the people they are electing and the activities undertaken by them while in government.

The underlying foundation of the democratic tradition rests on the premise of an informed electorate that is able to hold its government accountable for the policies and decisions it makes. To retain legitimacy and respect, elected representatives must be accountable to the public by openly disclosing information about the activities they undertake with public funds.

Since the UDHR was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, human rights have been further developed and codified in international law by individual UN treaties. One of the core human rights treaties is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), under which Article 19 concerns the right to access information: a right which gives practical meaning to the principles of participatory democracy. Adherence to the standards rooted in these core international human rights treaties is the benchmark by which the international community may judge the legitimacy of a government.

Bermuda accordingly has an opportunity to increase its legitimacy in the international community through the introduction of a functioning Public Access to Information (PATI) regime. In addition to informing the electorate generally, a functioning PATI regime will also be a means the following specific ends:

• First, it will operate as an effective anti-corruption tool, increasing transparency by opening up government decision-making processes to public scrutiny. In 2004, of the ten countries scoring worst in Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index, only one had a functioning access to information regime. In contrast, of the ten countries perceived to be the best in terms of corruption, no fewer than eight had effective legislation enabling the public to see government files.

• Second, it will support participatory development. Much of the failure of development strategies is attributable to their being designed and implemented in a closed environment: one that is absent of participation by the governed.

If governments are obligated to provide information, the governed can be empowered to more holistically determine their own development by assessing for themselves the merits of competing development strategies.

•Third, it will provide support to economic development and the market-friendly, good governance principles of transparency and accountability. Markets, like governments, do not function well in secrecy, and openness encourages a political and economic environment more conducive to the free market tenets of 'perfect information' and 'perfect competition'. A right to information ensures that information does not become commodified solely for the benefit of, in political terms, the bureaucracy; in economic terms, the increased flow of information empowers consumers to choose better products, and the market rewards those making the best products with higher sales. Increased information flow thus encourages greater investor confidence, resulting in stronger growth.

A functioning PATI regime will empower Bermudians to observe the standards rooted in the core human rights treaties. As an example, Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) creates a right to public education, the provision of which is binding upon signatories to the Convention. PATI legislation, by requiring government-run education institutions to provide parents and citizens access to information about schools, will effectively promote increased transparency and accountability in the education system and help satisfy international obligations under the ICESCR.

As another example, Article 13(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states, "the child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice." There exists an international consensus recognising the crucial significance of the right of access to information for children for realising their rights.

A well-drafted PATI law will also protect officials who wrongfully, but in good faith, disclose information under the Act. Officials responsible may legitimately be concerned that wrong decisions on their parts could result in action being taken against them. International experience demonstrates that a provision protecting government officials and employees is essential in order to foster a culture of openness and guard against this possibility.

The introduction of PATI legislation may cause temporary tension within branches of the government concerned with issues such as national security and energy; however, in almost all cases, it is easier to achieve sustainability on such issues in countries that are democratic and respect the rule of law. While there may be short-term challenges to reconcile, the long-term benefits in promoting human rights, democracy and good governance are clear.

The promotion of human rights, democracy, and good governance, is tangibly in the best interests of Bermuda. By adopting PATI legislation, Bermuda will be seen in the international community as a safer place in which to work, live, trade with or visit. Bermuda will also be seen as a country more likely to settle disputes peacefully and as one respecting international legal commitments: whether on human rights, security matters, economic issues, or the environment.

PATI legislation will harmonise the conflicting interests of a functioning democracy with interests of the efficient operations of government, the optimum use of limited resources, and the preservation of confidentiality of sensitive information. Countries which are truly democratic respect the rights of citizens and observe the rule of law both at home and abroad. This involves a process of decision making that respects a plurality of opinion, provides a framework for non-violent change, and manages conflict peacefully, based on equal opportunity to participate in the political process. A true democracy is a system of government in which individuals have the opportunity to fully realise their human rights.

James M. Ferguson is part of the Access to Information Programme of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), an international, independent, non-governmental organisation founded in 1987, with offices in India, Ghana and the United Kingdom, whose objectives are to promote awareness of and adherence to international human rights obligations for the practical realisation of human rights in Commonwealth countries.

1 comment:

Sal said...

a Culture of Corruption & elitism!

The Bermuda Progressive Labour Party’s policies and programmes,under Brown, are meant to shut down opposition blogs and media ,to create a Facist Dictatorship.They have only given lip service to PATI legislation