This post is also available in: Czech
15 September was UN International Day of Democracy. I intended to write then about the Secretary General’s theme of ‘democracy education’, but a week dominated here by controversial parliamentary debate of deficit reducing tax changes did not seem the best time.
Although the UN particularly had in mind countries in transition, education is a life long process even for established democracies. As the world changes, immutable principles are preserved, but democracy modernises and adapts for example by extending voting rights, diversifying representation, broadcasting proceedings.
One significant change in the UK has been increased transparency. We now have one of the more open systems of government – a far cry from the days caricatured in ‘Yes, Minister’ when a fictional civil servant said “You can have open – or you can have government”. We are founder members of the Open Government Partnership, a group of nearly sixty countries, including the Czech Republic, committed to increasing transparency.
Transparency throws up challenges. There are matters such as international negotiating positions that it may not be in the national interest to disclose. There are other areas where openness is in the public interest but less welcome, say, to a political party unable to accept a generous donation from a publicity shy donor.
The arguments are irrefutable. Transparency gives greater confidence in governments and parliaments. It reduces the risk of corruption. It provides reassurance that elected representatives pursue local, national or genuine political interests, not personal ones. Crucially, it increases accountability for public money.
The Czech Government’s anti-corruption strategy includes important steps to improve transparency and governance in eg procurement, political party funding, public service – all essential for public and investor confidence.
British democratic institutions and processes are far older, but changes have improved visibility of government and democratic safeguards, with publication of eg whom the Prime Minister meets, MPs’ expenses, senior civil service salaries and corporate political donations.
The election posters may carry the implicit message “Please, Love Me Do”, but before planting a kiss (‘x’) against a name, the twenty first century voter increasingly also expects candidates for office to be transparent about themselves, their intentions and their backers. Transparency can only be good for democracy.