Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Subverting transparency

The government's plans to shelve the Members of Parliament (Pecuniary Interests) Bill and replace it with a system under the Standing Orders smacks of "mates justice" and an effort to evade public scrutiny. Rather than being overseen publicly by the courts, the disclosure regime will be dealt with by Parliament's privileges committee - politicians sitting in judgement on themselves, in secret, and with transparency and justice subverted by shoddy back-room dealing. We are rightly suspicious of such processes when applied to the police, or by professional bodies such as the Law Society or Medical Council; why then should we allow politicians to scratch each other's backs to the public detriment in this way?

The potential for MPs to have conflicts of interest raises significant questions of public trust. The solution to such problems is transparency, allowing the public both to judge whether a conflict is significant, and to hold politicians accountable for dubious behaviour. But that is not enough. Investigations into the truthfulness or otherwise of those disclosures must be open, public, and immune to political pressure. This suggests that the courts, rather than Parliament, are the best venue for such matters. While MPs will cry "Parliamentary Sovereignty", this is not a matter of Parliament's internal procedures. It is not about whether MPs trust one another, but whether we trust them. Put this way, it should be clear why having more MPs in the process is no solution.


Could you please make a disclosure of all your financial holdings, directorships and trustee holdings?

Posted by Michael : 4/27/2005 08:26:00 PM

The key thing about MP's is that they're in a position of public trust, and expected to represent the interests of other people, not just their own. This is why transparency is required - to "keep them honest".

I am not in such a position.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/27/2005 11:27:00 PM

Keeping MPs 'private lives private' is fair and appropriate. My guess it this move is because some MPs are embarrassingly wealthy for someone claiming to represent "the little guy", because MPs holding shares in a company that ends up in a labour dispute don't want to be dragged in, because MPs whose business ventures go sour don't want to get hassled about their abilities to "manage the public purse when he can't manage his own finances", etc, etc.

But the appearance of being non-corrupt is vital to a healthy democracy, just as vital as actually being non-corrupt. It increases public trust in parliament, and in the democratic process. I think that's more important than the MPs privacy concerns in this matter.

So I must agree that this bill which would have held MPs to higher standards of financial transparency than the rest of us is appropriate. Doing it behind closed doors loses half the point of it.

Posted by Icehawk : 4/28/2005 10:41:00 AM