Sunday, April 05, 2009

Why Transparency Matters

When I was on my honeymoon with my wife, riding our motorcycles around the world, I had a lot of time to think about how to make government better for the common citizens of the world. The answer I came up with is what I call the Total Transparency Project.

In many parts of the world the corruption is blatant and rampant. On our trip it ranged from cops seeking handouts from Panama to Peru to Romania to Laos, to collusion between government agents and shipping handlers in Ecuador and Mumbai, to the outright bribery required on the Indian side of the Pakistani border crossing. Thankfully here in America we have one of the least corrupt governments, which isn't to say however that we don't have corruption. As many who have had to try and do a major business deal in Boston would tell you, it is a place where paying to play will get you a long way. Michael Flaherty flatly says that we have back room deals in Boston.

How do we keep that from occurring, especially in an era of floundering news resources? We need the fourth estate, or some new estate, to keep an eye on our elected officials to hold them accountable.

It seems to me that a combination of the old and the new maybe a path to such a vision. Modern democracy got its roots in our hemisphere with the New England Town Hall meeting where all the citizens would come together and make communal decisions based upon collective information and decision making. This eventually led to the American Revolution and US and Massachusetts constitutions written in no small part by our local genius John Adams.

With the age of the computer and the internet upon us, we once again have the opportunity to return to our roots, where all citizens would be able to share the information that affects us. We can now use our collective millions of eyes to keep an eye on our elected officials. How? By simply insisting that all governmental business be transacted in the open, online, for everyone to see.

All income derived, all expenses paid, all salaries, all contracts entered into, all proposed legislative and executive agendas should be posted online for people to peruse, ponder and postulate about. Our elected leaders would be responsible for sorting and sifting and adding their own thoughts to come up with a more collective plan of action, that the constituents could more easily judge.

As we traveled the world, it was with a sense of pride that we found out how famous Boston was as a birthplace of democracy, rights and freedom and a home of institutional greatness. Why not lead the world again, as we did 200 years ago, into a new era of rights for the people. Let us create a government that is a beacon of light to all of those who now suffer from terrible corruption and cronyism that deprives people of the means to make their families lives better.

If we create a government where all things are accessible, with major penalties (such as removal) for anyone who denies that access, if we create a Total Transparency Project we can give the world a wonderful gift: a blueprint for more equality and accountability for all citizens. Once we create such a successful program, citizens in other jurisdictions will say "why can't we have that?" There will be no reasonable answer, as the power to govern justly derives from the people, and hence the people's business should be accessible to the people.

I believe that a government based upon this principle has the ability to harness the power of its citizens to the maximum. Let's be the the leader again. Let us be the beacon, let's set a positive example.

We have the best hospitals, the best universities, the best sports teams, why shouldn't we have the best government that we can all be proud of?

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