Global Transparency Roundup

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As the most corrupt country in the world (for business), you might not trust the new Freedom of Information law (passed yesterday) from Nigeria, but the spirit, at least, demonstrates that the thunderstorm of citizen demand for governmental transparency is cross-continental.

Among other things, it provides a three year jail sentence for Governmental Officials who destroy documents requested by citizens.

In other news, three major organizations (the Justice Initiative, ARTICLE 19, and Access Info Europe) are pushing for the Council of Europe to adopt a strong Freedom of Information Stance, demanding that a proposed information treaty:

* Guarantee of a right of “access to information” held by public authorities rather than the narrower right of access to “official documents” currently envisaged by the treaty. In 22 of the 26 countries surveyed, individuals enjoy the broader right of access to information. * Extend the scope of the treaty beyond the executive branch of government to legislative bodies and judicial authorities. Currently, these bodies are covered only insofar as they perform administrative functions. The study found that in all 26 countries legislative information is already to some degree publicly available, either under the access law or other legislation. Judicial information is available upon request in at least 18 of these countries. * Extend the scope of the treaty to cover private bodies which are substantially financed by public funds, in line with the laws of at least 13 of the countries surveyed.

Yesterday, at a meeting in San Francisco, I was asked whether it was possible that transparency would become a platform, a stance that voters took seriously, a position that could mobilize or repulse meaningful parts of the American population. Could it, I was asked, actually be a voting issue, or is this just an arcane issue that interests the academic activists on left and right? Could it be important in party politics in the next few years?

Of course it will. Information is not an abstract good, its the key to power, and you can see that in the global push for citizen access. People are not fools, even if sometimes we are a little behind the times. When information is the most valuable part of the new economy, voters, en masse (and around the world) are recognizing that access to information is at the very center of their ability to check corruption, to build egalitarian political institutions, and to retain their power in a democracy.

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