Fighting Lack of Transparency And Engagement With Parliamentary Openness
from the not-much,-but-all-we've-got dept
A recurrent theme here on Techdirt is the persistent lack of transparency during the drafting of new laws or the negotiation of new treaties. Most governments, it seems, retain the view that they know best, that the electorate shouldn’t worry about all those tiresome details being discussed in secret backroom negotiations, and that since the public will be able to see the result once it’s all finished, what’s the problem?
However, the world of government is beginning to change, largely under the impact of movements promoting openness of various kinds. In particular, efforts to promote open data and open government have major implications for transparency. The latest manifestation of that push for openness is OpeningParliament.org, “a forum intended to help connect the world’s civic organizations engaged in monitoring, supporting and opening up their countries’ parliaments and legislative institutions.”
Here’s more about its aims:
Parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) are working to create strong, open and accountable parliaments, through enhancing citizen participation in the legislative process and bringing parliaments closer to the people they represent. OpeningParliament.org provides a forum for international collaboration on efforts to improve access to parliamentary information and share experiences and good practices among PMOs. It also serves as the home of the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, a set of shared principles on the openness, transparency and accessibility of parliaments being developed by the international PMO community.
The Declaration is quite long and wide ranging. Here’s its stated purpose:
The Declaration on Parliamentary Openness is a call to national parliaments, and sub-national and transnational legislative bodies, by civil society parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) for an increased commitment to openness and to citizen engagement in parliamentary work.
The Declaration includes a number of sections dealing explicitly with transparency and engagement:
2. Advancing a Culture of Openness through Legislation
Parliament has a duty to enact legislation, as well as internal rules of procedure and codes of conduct, that foster an enabling environment guaranteeing the public’s right to government and parliamentary information, promoting a culture of open government, providing for transparency of political finance, safeguards freedoms of expression and assembly, and ensuring engagement by civil society and citizens in the legislative process.
5. Engaging Citizens and Civil Society
Parliament has a duty to actively engage citizens and civil society, without discrimination, in parliamentary processes and decision-making in order to effectively represent citizen interests and to give effect to the right of citizens to petition their government.
18. Engaging Citizens on Draft Legislation
Draft legislation shall be made public and published upon its introduction. Recognizing the need for citizens to be fully informed about and provide input into items under consideration, parliament shall seek to provide public access to preparatory analysis and background information to encourage broad understanding of policy discussions about the proposed legislation.
44. Facilitating Two-Way Communication
Parliament shall endeavor to use interactive technology tools to foster the ability of citizens to provide meaningful input on legislation and parliamentary activity and to facilitate communication with members or parliamentary staff.
These are obviously great aspirations that would go some way to addressing the problems around transparency and engagement that are only too common today, but a legitimate question must be: so what? It’s not as if governments are lining up to endorse these principles of parliamentary openness.
That may be true, but openness in the form of open source, open data, open standards and open government are certainly making themselves felt to varying degrees in countries around the world. What the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness makes explicit is how these are part of a larger move towards transparency and citizen engagement. At the very least, it’s yet another set of voices calling for much more of both. One day, governments might even listen.