Transparency: Necessary But Not Sufficient

Transparency laws can greatly empower citizens to practice their right to free public information access, but transparency alone is no panacea to solving societal problems, Laura Freschi argues.

In her “Aid Watch” blog post, the aid expert cites the examples of India and Uganda to prove her point. 

Freschi shares the success of regularly publishing national government transfers to education in Uganda’s daily newspapers. The newspaper information campaign was credited for significantly decreasing the proportion of funds “leaking” out of the spending process. 

But Freschi gives a caveat by mentioning the findings of a study about information disclosure. The study shows that efforts such as the newspaper campaign are only effective in communities “that were literate and assertive enough to act when abuse was revealed.”

Through India’s Right-to-Know Law, bureaucrats who withhold information are reprimanded. A government grant applicant who had been waiting for four years to obtain funding support decided to request a list of people who had received public funding. After several days, she was given the financial assistance she sought. 

However, Freschi raises the point of critics about this policy, saying the “law has not had hoped-for system-wide effects on corruption, and that it acts as a ‘pressure valve’ without posing a serious challenge to the system.”

About the author

  • Chiden Balmes

    Chiden, a correspondent based in Seoul, focuses on computer-assisted reporting to provide international development professionals with practical business and career information. He also contributes to the Development Newswire and the Global Development Briefing, two of the world's highest-circulation development publications.