The New York Times highlights a changing decades-old tradition in China for the government not to disclose information on its spending habits. The original story on Asia Times Online talks about a small town in the Sichuan province, where public officials decided to disclose its budget. The findings are quite interesting – 65% of government funds were spent on entertainment and accommodations…of local public officials. But, as the story notes, the public is not outraged about the spending – most of the people seem to be happy with the fact that the government is actually releasing the numbers.
(Part of Publicized Baimiao Village Government Spending in January. Source: http://www.chinahush.com)
This translation of a Chinese commentary notes that in just 3 days the story got the attention of more than 300,000 people on the web. It has some interesting opinions on what it all means and ends with a rather provocative question: whether this move by a village government is a call to other governments throughout the country to do the same? Will others step up to the plate?
Later this week, together with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA-Ghana) we are holding a West Africa regional forum on the impact of the financial crisis on countries in the region and policy responses. In anticipation of the main conference, which will bring together as many as 100 public and private participants from Ghana, Togo, Mali, Senegal, and Nigeria we are holding a small public-private advocacy session to establish a common understanding of advocacy and discuss concrete reform priorities.
Freedom of the press is an essential component of a genuine democracy. That is why Thomas Jefferson expressed that, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Indeed, one of the most powerful development messages is written in the U.S. constitution: “Congress shall make no law (…) prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”
Freedom of the press’ key contribution to democracy is its unique ability to restrain government power by increasing transparency, advancing accountability, and circulating diverse opinions. Autocratic governments understand this very well and try to constantly control the press. Where there are no unambiguous laws protecting freedom of the press, politicians of all stripes utilize ingenious schemes to control the media.
Argentina is a case in point, where freedom of the press is under constant threat by the state as a result of flimsy legal protections. In fact, the current government recently passed a new law that gives government the power to decide when a media company is too big and makes newspapers more dependent on government advertising.
Who do you think is better equipped to handle your retirement needs? Governments? The private sector? Your own self?
According to HSBC’s global survey of more than 20,000 people on aging, pensions, and citizens’ confidence in governments providing comfortable retirement
three quarters of all those questioned said they did not trust their government to look after them in old age and expected to have to look elsewhere to fund their retirement.
Some interesting stats and facts in the full report, including a statement that
A larger proportion [of the global population] will be totally unprotected in retirement and these live mainly in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. They are likely to be both men and women, in poor health, with a poor source of working life income and more reliant on families and communities for support.
It seems like citizens don’t expect governments to meet their expectations of comfortable retirement:
…across the majority of economies, the proportion who think that their government will bear most of the financial cost of supporting them in retirement is far smaller than those who believe that they should.
When the Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga reached a power-sharing agreement after dramatic weeks of violence, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. A coalition government was finally formed following protracted horse-trading to divvy up the key ministerial portfolios.
The outcome is indeed a Grand Coalition, but not necessarily in the best sense of a national unity government. While certainly this peace-securing agreement was an important step in Kenya’s recovery from the post-election turmoil, the grandest feature of the newly formed government is its very size. Kenya’s old cabinet had 17 members. The new one has… 40 – plus 50 assistant ministers. The new ministries were established or carved out of the existing ones in order to secure the balance of power between Kibaki and Odinga loyalists. But regardless of the rationale, these numbers are simply staggering!
First, how can this bloated government hope to get things done? The logistics of coordinating between so many ministers seem nearly unworkable. Second, the cost of supporting this behemoth bureaucracy is crushing. As the Economist notes, nearly half of Parliament’s members now have some ministerial position, which comes with extra salary, security expenses, cars, etc. What’s the total tab? An estimated $1 billion a year, or about one-eight of the expected government revenue!
And finally, this anything-but-lean government is likely to exacerbate Kenya’s corruption problems. If nothing else, mismanagement and resource misallocation seem unavoidable given the overlapping competencies of so many ministers and little in a way of checks and balances.
Mr. Odinga defended his new government saying, “Don’t look at the size of this cabinet, look at its products.” Now his great challenge is to prove to the Kenyan people, 60 percent of whom live on less than a dollar a day, that the Grand Coalition is capable of delivering equally sizable reforms.