An interesting take on transparency in China…

Media reports of the worst air pollution ever recorded in China’s capital Beijing, over the weekend of January 12-13 2013, have added urgency to a question that shadows China’s economic rise: how will the evolving Chinese state balance economic growth with increasing social pressure for better environmental management?

Yeling Tan offers clues to possible answers in her article  “Transparency without Democracy: The Unexpected Effects of China’s Environmental Disclosure Policy,” recently published by Governance. Conventional wisdom, said Tan in an interview, “is that transparency, accountability and democracy all move in the same direction.”

Her article re-examines the relationship among these concepts in the non-democratic context of contemporary China, and highlights some unexpected routes to improved outcomes, like pressure from multinational corporations (MNCs) that now use pollution data to monitor their Chinese suppliers.

“Information disclosure by itself won’t automatically lead to change,” said Tan, a doctoral candidate in the public policy program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. In the article she analyzes the complex pathways through which the Chinese government’s 2008 Open Environmental Information (OEI) measures have impacted stakeholders such as citizens, businesses, and non-government organizations (NGOs) and MNCs.

Tan’s research for the article included three trips to China from 2009-2011, during which she interviewed academics, government officials, representatives of environmental NGOs and journalists to build a detailed picture of how the OEI regulations are being implemented in various cities and townships.

AP: We Sent FOI Requests to 100 Countries, and All We Got Were These Lousy Denials….

The Mother of All FOI Audits is in, and the results are predictably grim. Seems wherever FOI laws are passed, age-old stonewalling tactics quickly set in and mire the process.

A couple of nice nuggets from the complete story:

The promise is magnificent: More than 5.3 billion people in more than 100 countries now have the right – on paper – to know the truth about what their government is doing behind closed doors. Such laws have spread rapidly over the past decade, and when they work, they present a powerful way to engage citizens and expose corruption.

However, more than half the countries with such laws do not follow them, The Associated Press found in the first worldwide test of this promised freedom of information. And even when some countries do follow the law, the information unearthed can be at best useless and at worst deadly.

Right-to-know laws reflect a basic belief that information is power and belongs to the public. In a single week in January, AP reporters tested this premise by submitting questions about terrorism arrests and convictions, vetted by experts, to the European Union and the 105 countries with right-to-know laws or constitutional provisions.

AP also interviewed more than 100 experts worldwide and reviewed hundreds of studies.

Among its findings:

– Only 14 countries answered in full within their legal deadline. Another 38 countries eventually answered most questions, at least providing data.

– Newer democracies were in general more responsive than some developed ones. Guatemala confirmed the AP request in 72 hours, and sent all documents in 10 days. Turkey sent spreadsheets and data within seven days. Mexico posted responses on the Web. By comparison, Canada asked for a 200-day extension. The FBI in the United States responded six months late with a single sheet with four dates, two words and a large section blanked. Austria never responded at all.

– More than half the countries did not release anything, and three out of 10 did not even acknowledge the request. African governments led the world for ignoring requests, with no response whatsoever from 11 out of 15 countries.

– Dozens of countries adopted their laws at least in part because of financial incentives, and so are more likely to ignore them or limit their impact. China changed its access-to-information rules as a condition to joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, to boost the economy by as much as 10 percent. Beijing has since expanded the rules beyond trade matters. Pakistan adopted its 2002 ordinance in return for $1.4 billion in aid from the International Monetary Fund. Neither country responded to the AP’s test.

“Having a law that’s not being obeyed is almost worse than not having a law at all,” says Daniel Metcalf, the leading U.S. Freedom of Information authority at the Justice Department for the past 25 years, now a law professor at American University. “The entire credibility of a government is at stake.”

And this one:

Image representing Associated Press as depicte...

Image via CrunchBase

 

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Fabulous piece on global transparency, and US laggards…

Susan Crawford is a Bloomberg View columnist and a professor of law at Cardozo School of Law. She’s provided a nice look at global transparency movements here, as well as the lack of momentum in the United States:

When Brazil’s government buys anything from fighter jets to a fancy villa, details are available online within 24 hours. Such disclosures are a powerful way to combat corruption, and are a model for official openness that could inspire other nations.

Brazil’s online portal started in 2004. Among its contents: information about Brazilian outlays in advance of hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. The site includes an online channel for whistleblower complaints.

Because corruption is a major problem in Brazil, timely release of spending data, including daily information about the use of government credit cards, is designed to help the media and opposition politicians in Brazil reveal crooked behavior. If a minister buys a truckload of wine with her government card, or pays off a cousin, someone will notice.

Enthusiasm for open government is taking hold not just in Brazil, but in countries such asKenyaIndia and the U.K. Kenya last month became the first sub-Saharan African country to launch a government-data portal. India is a beehive of activity; it has initiated ambitious plans for providing public services with the help of mobile phones in rural areas and for electronic citizen engagement in government generally.

Nigeria Passes Second Attempt at FOI Legislation

The House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Nigeria approved the Freedom of Information Bill on February 25, 2011.
This is the second time that Nigeria has come close to passing the law, after over a decade of advocacy by Civil Society. The Bill was first unanimously approved by both houses of the National Assembly in 2004. However, former President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to sign it before he left office, and hence the re-initiation of it.

It is now up to the Nigerian Senate to endorse the Bill for President Goodluck Jonathan to sign into law before his term of office comes to an end.
Liberia is the first West African country to enact a Freedom of Information law. Ghana and Sierra Leone are in the process of doing so.