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…


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Trinidad: Organizations Call for More Transparency and Participation

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


Dear Sir:

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.

Victor Hart
Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute

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