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.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2012 @ 12:00am

    It's a wonderful document, but a touch on the unrealistic side.

    While transparency might be your personal battle cry, most people are more concerned with the lack of progress in government, in how it can take years for legislation to be drafted and passed to resolve issues of the day. The government moves at the pace of a sedated snail caught in January molasses as it is.

    So when you put forward things like "more consultation" and "more involvement" and "more interaction with the public" when you end up with is even more roadblocks towards progress. Instead of speeding government up, transparency slows it down by getting more and more people involved. Too many people involved tends to slow progress dramatically.

    Further, there is almost always some group that will object to a new law. Try to shut down strip clubs, and the strippers protest. Try to allow more strip clubs, and the Vicar's protest. If you can imagine the process with both of them at the table, going back and forth in a manner that satisfies nobody but takes an extra year to get there... that's the result.

    Transparency is nice. Working to make government more responsive by streamlining the processes would be a much bigger advancement for most people.

     

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  2.  
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    The eejit (profile), Oct 9th, 2012 @ 12:22am

    Re:

    ...Are you saying that it's impossible to have both? Because, frankly, I find that hard to believe. Even moderate transparency would help.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2012 @ 12:40am

    Re: Re:

    Of course transparency helps. However, if it's transparency that grinds the system to a complete halt, then we aren't further ahead. Most public consultation regimes that exist require all sorts public notification, pre-planning, expensive public meetings, and so on.

    It's one of the real problems. In the US, any public consultation has rules for announcing the consultation, calling for presentations, submissions, attendees, and so on. There are rules regarding the amount of public notification required, lead time, and so on.

    Further, each step you add also adds the unhappy specter of legal action from any group or individual who feels they were left out, which allows them to hijack the process and stop everything cold.

    Things are bad now, getting more people invovled will only slow things down worse.

     

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  4.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 9th, 2012 @ 1:56am

    Re:

    So we should just allow government to go ahead and make laws and sign treaties without scrutiny from the public? That's what leads to an out of touch, elitist government who govern for the 1% at the expense of the other 99%. It also leads to human and civil rights being trampled.

    Face it, transparency in policy making is CRUCIAL if the public are ever to trust a government again.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2012 @ 2:58am

    'One day, governments might even listen.'

    dont be so bloody ridiculous!!! you have forgotten already that the people are there to serve governments, not the other way round.

     

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  6.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Oct 9th, 2012 @ 3:26am

    Re:

    What is a government's wet dream?

    A country with no people.

     

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  7.  
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    ECA (profile), Oct 9th, 2012 @ 3:52am

    REPUBLICAN DEMOCRATIC

    Its interesting over the past that we have given more people the vote in this nation..
    But MORE has been taken away to VOTE FOR..

    We elect those we hope will take OUR responsibility and do the RIGHT thing. And fewer and fewer DO. Most dont even LOOK into their own families and KNOW what is currently happening, let alone their constituents.. How many of them have families that (under the RIAA definition) PIRATE goods.

    Also, WHY are we trying to FORCE laws into other nations.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2012 @ 4:10am

    Re:

    From a programming perspective, this is completely irrational.

    If I have a broken piece of code that is outputting corrupt data, upgrading my CPU and memory won't fix the output. All it will do is increase the speed at which it outputs corrupt data. It still makes mistakes, but a hell lot faster.

    That is terrible.

    The only solution is to analyse the code and fix the mistake. It will take time to do so, but it will save a lot of headaches in the long run.

    Time for a real world example:

    Compare open-source code with proprietary code: in open-source code, bugs are detected and fixed much faster than in proprietary code. Transparency is always better in the long run.

     

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  9.  
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    The eejit (profile), Oct 9th, 2012 @ 4:36am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Perheps if full disclosure was mandatory in the run-up to an elections, then a) trhings would be more interesting; and b) it would make it easier to see what candidates are about. For example, having a requirement to disclose incoming funds from any non-individual entity and all donations over, say, $1500 would go some way to assisting that.

    In addition, require that all publisly-funded items have full budget disclosures in term sof expenditures. If there's a surplus, then store it openly in a combined public fund (essentially, saving for a rainy day).

    For those already in office, require a full disclosure of meetings, regardless of whether they're relevant to your constitutents.

    Each of these could be implemented at reasonably little cost to the public taxpayer. You could probably employ around 25 people whose sole job is to ensure that these all add up and that there is no shenanigans going on.

    Hell, even include judges on this - show who came into the office and where they came from. That way, you can recuse all people with a direct comnflict of interest (for example, all judges who are also members of "One Million Moms" or on the board of "Planned Parenthood" should be recused from cases directly involving those organisations.

    Some of this is not hard to implement. The simple fact is the more thingsa change, the more they stay the same. And that is not healthy for any country.

     

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  10.  
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    gorehound (profile), Oct 9th, 2012 @ 6:36am

    Re: REPUBLICAN DEMOCRATIC

    We need to take back our Government ! The Two Parties in USA are both a bunch of sold-out A-Holes.It is time to see their Dirty Laundry exposed to the World.
    TPP & ACTA and/or Exporting Our Laws = Greater Control of the World and Greater more maximized US Corporation Profit
    Big Banks and Wall Street go ahead and do what you want because neither of our Parties will seriously stop you.
    Oil Industry will Continue to Pollute and get great Deals from the US Gov.
    US Gov will still put us into unwanted Wars.
    US will still not End Marijuana Prohibition.
    US GOP will try to force us to all Worship Jesus.We will Respond by mass civil discontent.

    On and On we are Fucked.

     

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  11.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Oct 9th, 2012 @ 7:55am

    its almost as if gummints were to *serve* the people...

    ...what a concept ! ! !
    you mean we could INVENT a system which formed a gummint to SERVE the 99% of real people, instead of slavishly following the dictates of the 1% of fictitious legal entities we call korporate persons ? ? ?

    now, *who* would want such a system ? ? ?
    (not the 'people' who actually count...)

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2012 @ 8:11am

    Re: Re:

    Politics isn't like programming.

    There is a finite amount of processing available. You cannot throw more code at the same resources and expect good results. Adding more "transparency", you add more work without producing any more results. You waste more CPU doing nothing.

    You are correct, they need to go back and fix the code. But that won't happen by using the same old code and making it do even more work to achieve the same limits results. In reality, the results will come out even slower, as the overloaded system tries to deal with even more load.

    It's not a question of either / or. It's an "in addition to" the current work being done.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2012 @ 8:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Each of these could be implemented at reasonably little cost to the public taxpayer. You could probably employ around 25 people whose sole job is to ensure that these all add up and that there is no shenanigans going on."

    Oh really? You think? How many donors do you think each candidate gets? How many candidates? Have you looked at US election sheet recently? it's goes for pages and pages and pages... everyone from the Sheriff and the dog catcher to the president of the US... all elected. Each one of those has to be checked equally for it to be a fair law.

    Now, how many people would that take to check? Remember, you can't just tick it off a list, you would actually have to go and make sure that each donor in fact made the donation, and that they didn't skirt the laws by having various employees donate their max instead, or use shell companies, or trusts, or offshore accounts or... you get the picture.

    Now, you would have to be able to do all that BEFORE voting day. But by the US constitution, you can donate at any time, so there would have to be a system to instantly process every donation in a timely manner, lest early donors are subject to more stringent laws than late donors.

    It's not as easy to implement as you think - and way harder to enforce.

     

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  14.  
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    The eejit (profile), Oct 9th, 2012 @ 8:34am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    It's not that hard. You make a donation, it gets recorded anyway. Recording all meetings and gifts won't be that difficult. The only difference would be that now, Joe Q. Public can see what's going on as a matter of public record. Make it immune to excepmtions from FOIA requests, or better yet, make it mandatory to publish them on official websites for those qho want to run in political spheres.

    Anything else is made fully illegal, with the sentence being mandatory impeachment/10-year sentence for all proven to be involved in the non-recording, false recording and non-disclosure.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2012 @ 9:03am

    Re:

    "Try to shut down strip clubs, and the strippers protest. Try to allow more strip clubs, and the Vicar's protest."

    When such arguments happen governments should do nothing. Unless governments are stopped from expanding what the regulate the evolve towrds a totalitarian system, where they dictate all aspects of citizens life.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2012 @ 9:13am

    Re: its almost as if gummints were to *serve* the people...

    99% is last year. Up your meme!

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 9th, 2012 @ 6:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Recording all meetings and gifts won't be that difficult. "

    Recording is easy - proving the data 100% accurate is not.

    Can you imagine a small typo in a name for a meeting of the "Copyright Rocks PAC" that puts your name instead of someone else's name on the list? Can you imagine the effect of transparency when this information gets out to the public?

    You cannot have disclosure without reviews for accuracy.

    So you need to have enough staff to handle all of these records in a timely manner, to process them, to track them, and the like. It's not a simple job.

    Making something illegal doesn't stop it, just ask all your pirate friends here on Techdirt.

     

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  18.  
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    Spectate Swamp (profile), Oct 17th, 2012 @ 11:05am

    Total transparency - we need it bad

    I plan on running in every election from now on. Total transparency will be my only platform. With video of every meeting being posted on the net and any emails and phone conversations will be put to DVD.

    Any exception opens the door for total corruption like we have now.

    The Citizens Coalition For Open Government Through Video will push the issue.

     

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