Democracy and Transparency
Democracy & Transparency
Democratic societies try to prevent elected officials or group of people from misusing or abusing their power. One of the most common abuses of power is corruption which occurs when government officials use public funds for their own benefit or exercise power in an illegal manner More generally, corruption weakens government institutions by disregarding official procedures, siphoning off resources needed for development, and selecting or promoting officials without regard to performance. For government to be accountable, people must be aware of what is happening in the country. They must be able to see and understand what is going on in government. This is referred to as transparency in government. A transparent government holds public meetings and allows citizens to attend. In a democracy, the press and the people are able to get information about what decisions are being made, by whom and why. Democratic institutions are generally expected to practice transparency. This includes the possibility for (groups of) citizens to see documents produced by representatives or civil servants, or the possibility of witnessing how decisions are discussed and reached, for instance in parliamentary sessions. Democracy works if you get the information that allows you to properly take part in public life. When government agencies work secretly and don’t make their activities available for people to see and understand, they deny them their right to know about public affairs. In this situation, the media can’t get the factual information and can only report rumours and speculation in an effort to tell people what is happening. Poor public access to information feeds corruption. Secrecy allows back-room deals to decide on spending taxpayers money to benefit just a few rather than for the common good. Lack of information affects citizens’ ability to find out about decisions of their leaders, and even to make informed choices about the individuals they elect to serve as their representatives. Therefore, access to information laws must allow individuals and groups to understand the policies of government on health, education, housing and other matters. When they have that information and knowledge, ordinary people can demand change and help make it happen to improve their living standards and better their lives. Increasingly, government and civil society are seeing access to information as the key to fighting corruption and improving people’s ability to insist on their rights. The right to have this information from government is usually permitted because it is a way to allow people to take part in politics. Access is necessary for people to use their basic right to take part in the governing of their country and live under a government system which must have the people’s agreement to rule.