While it is OK and is part of the democratic process for people to organize themselves to promote a common cause, it is NOT OK for special interest group to try to influence government through behind closed door actions. It is especially unacceptable if a specific group uses their financial resources to entice politicians whether directly or indirectly. Such an attempt to gain unfair advantage or to undermine other groups or the average citizen’s interest should be prohibited. Special interest group could include lobbyist or foreign government. This blog look at how those actions could be prevented by providing specifics measures for ensuring an open and transparent government to prevent external interference in the management of government affairs. This would also preserve the citizen’s right to be informed on all matters pertaining to the running of government’s businesses.
Records of All Dealings
All meetings between government officials (elected or non-elected) and people or groups outside of the government that discusses matters pertaining to government businesses, or could affect government businesses, should have presence of a record clerk – recording details of the meeting. This include out of office hours meetings or dinners. So officials are prohibited from discussing government business if there are no record clerk present. The details or minutes are then posted and made available online in an easily accessible, searchable and readable format. All meetings with private groups, businesses, or individuals are recorded and are a matter of public records.
Use of Confidentiality Label
If the business is confidential in nature – e.g. national security, or ongoing contract negotiation, then a temporary assignment of confidentiality will be given. It should be set to expire and should not be withheld from public for longer than necessary.
These are not to be used loosely. E,g, Politician can not arbitrarily use the label of national security to withhold information and avoid public scrutiny.
Where the confidentiality of a matter is disputed, an independent arbitrator – e.g. court of justice, shall evaluate and decide on the legitimacy of the official’s claim of confidentiality.
Any meeting where government business were discussed with private group or individual without a record clerk presence would result in penalty, suspension or dismissal (whether officials are elected or not). Strict adherence is a must. A record clerk who knowingly omit details of a meeting shall face hefty penalty also.
These measures are meant to remove the gray area and the “technically it is not illegal” excuse. This would keep a tight lid on Government officials being courted by special interest group and getting lavish treatment.
Government officials activities, parties with corporations or groups will be a matter of public records to clearly shows any possible conflict of interest. This would include any trip or activities paid for by individual, groups or private businesses. (Need more discussion and spelling out details of what should fall under here versus giving officials some privacy on personal business like family parties).
Government income and gains in cash or in kind shall also be documented and made available soon after such windfall occurred. Failure for timely disclosure will result in substantial penalty.
Ignorance to these restrictions is no excuse. This should be an ingrained code of conduct for all government officials. While it won’t stop corrupt officials from doing under the table deal, it will result in serious consequences once they are caught. A minimum punishment of fines commensurate with lost to the taxpayers / government funds or missed savings opportunities, as a result of their actions. The guilty party will not get off with just a slap on the wrist. Institutions, groups or individuals engaged in such activities will also face equal fines. Penalty for officials could include permanent or long term ban from holding public trust positions (e.g. public service job, publicly listed corporation jobs).
Government Heads and Officials Culpability
Government officials or heads of department or Prime Minister Office who are aware of such activity going on or a failure to report and did nothing will also be culpable of “Concealing Public’s Government Business” offense.
Government officials work for the people. It is the public money that they are spending. It is the public assets that they are disbursing. It is the public interest that they should be looking after. Therefore, government officials accepting their position accept the heightened sense of responsibility where transparency and keeping the public well informed are part of their natural duties. Public should not have to go through the hassle of requesting information. Information are naturally made available and text are not unnecessary and liberally blocked out without being strictly qualified as confidential.
Government are not the boss. The people are the boss and have the right to supervise their employees.
Government transparency should not be confused with violating privacy. Private citizens privacy need to be protected. But government’s conduct of business for the people should be open and transparent.
Study of An Actual Case
Wikileaks Spanish cable leak revealed U.S. Industry lobbyist having a direct hand on crafting the Spanish copyright law with the U.S. Trade representative. Not only that, they also advised the U.S. government to threaten Spain with sanctions. Which the U.S. government did. Following that, Spain gave in from their initial resistance and adopted the law and introduced the bill in their Congress. Thanks to Wikileaks, the behind the scene pressure and interference from a foreign government and industry lobbyist was revealed leading to public outrage. This has forced Spain’s Lawmakers to defeat the bill. But if some sort of the concealment prohibition law that I have mentioned earlier is in place in Spain, the U.S. government, Industry Lobbyist and Spanish Lawmakers will all be liable. It will be a clear violation of the law denying the Spanish electorate their right to be properly informed and to have the tools necessary to properly scrutinize their government’s actions.
Feel free to discuss any problem or issues you foresee from implementing such kind of law.