How about some real freedom of information?
A terrific piece today by Noel Whelan about how we need a revolution in the way in which information is made available to us, the public. If the whole John O’Donoghue affair is to amount to anything more than a minor footnote in the political nerds’ almanac, then it should spur a proper debate about accountability and openness in this state. The mainstream media (that’s us, folks) has not been particularly interested in acknowledging the first steps taken by the likes of kildarestreet.com and thestory.ie in building online open-to-all sources of information for the public. With little or no resources, these sites are inventing the future of civic society in Ireland. They are showing the way, but they’re hampered and frustrated by a system designed for concealment.
The Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation as it currently stands is a bad joke played on the taxpayer. The Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO), which monitors adherence to ethics legislation, is not much better. Both are products of deliberately inadequate legislation. It’s refreshing to see a political insider like Whelan lay out in simple, clear terms what is required:
“Instead of a reform of FOI, what is now needed is a complete cultural shift. Freedom of information is an analogue device for a digital age. A system where journalists or other interested parties retrospectively submit requests for documents previously generated is no longer appropriate or sufficient. What we now need in this country, right across the public sector, is to make a massive leap forward to eTransparency.
“There is no reason why the bulk of documentation and information generated in the public sector cannot be uploaded weekly or monthly on to the internet. There have been exponential advances in the technology enabling this to be done in recent years, and even more awesome development will come. From now on there should be a presumption in favour of online publication of all public documentation and of the details of all public expenditure.
“The finance officers or chief executives of State agencies or hospitals, principals of schools and heads of department sections all have to prepare monthly accounts for their board meetings or supervisors. These accounts should simultaneously be published on the web. A similar approach could be taken to minutes of board meetings and any reports to board meetings about the activities of a given organisation over the previous month.
Would love to hear a convincing argument against any of this. And at the next election, why would anyone vote for a political party that doesn’t have it in its manifesto?