IACC Series, Transparency International: Trinidadian Transparency on Demand

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedintumblrmail

 

This article is the latest in our ongoing series covering the projects of of the IACC Series at Transparency International. Click here to see the full series.

 

disclosure_todayBribes and backroom deals destroy public trust, undermine justice and economic development, and steal resources from the most vulnerable. Corruption is highly recognizable and visible, and on average, five public sector professionals must turn a blind eye for a decision-maker to improperly allocate public resources. [1] Margaret Rose, with the support of a seed grant from the 16th International Anti-Corruption Conference’s (IACC) Social Entrepreneurs Initiative, is seeking to counter corruption in Trinidad and Tobago. She is developing an online platform – Disclosure Today! – to promote, facilitate and empower collaborative and responsible citizen engagement in public-sector decision-making.

The goal of Disclosure Today! is to create a public interest marketplace that connects citizen activists with each other, and with lawyers and public authorities. By providing the necessary infrastructure, the hope is that it will be seen as an opportunity to increase transparency, accountability, openness and citizen participation in Trinidad and Tobago. [2]

Corruption is an ongoing concern within this country, particularly in the area of the granting of government contracts and licenses. Vast petroleum and natural gas resources have made Trinidad and Tobago one of the most prosperous nations in the Caribbean, but corruption has left the population frustrated and disillusioned with public governance. [3]

According to Transparency International, which monitors and publicizes political and corporate corruption, budget openness in Trinidad and Tobago is minimal, scoring only 33/100. The country ranks in the 46th percentile for control of corruption, reflecting poor perceptions of the extent to which public power is used for private gain.[4]

 

Citizen Engagement

 

MargaretRose_300x300The local chapter of Transparency International has lobbied the government for over 12 years to adopt proper procurement legislation, but to no avail.[5] Focusing on legislative reform has proven futile without a political will for change, so Rose is taking a bottom-up approach and aiming to transform how the people think and engage on public governance issues.[6]

The first step is to encourage whistle blowers to emerge without fear of recrimination or reprisal. Rose explains that “50% of the corruption cases which have resulted in charges and convictions are as a result of a whistle-blower coming forward.” [7] Disclosure Today! provides a platform for citizens to request, propose and disclose information in a confidential manner.

By connecting citizens with lawyers, who will provide pro-bono legal advice and litigation support, citizens can make a Request for Information (RFI) or a Public Interest Disclosure (PID), anonymously or confidentially. RFIs and responses are published in a public, searchable database. If the RFI is refused, Disclosure Today! will take the organization to court under the Freedom of Information Act, at no cost to the individual who made the request. PIDs automatically go to the relevant complaint or investigative agencies. [8]

Supporting the platform is a strong legal team. Disclosure Today! was founded by Margaret Rose, attorney at law and co-founder of the Caribbean Procurement Institute. She is joined by Justin Phelps, Barrister and Attorney at Law, Yelena Hewitt, LLB (Hons) and LLM, and Tanya Alexis, LLB (Hons).

For Yelena Hewitt, “in order to make informed decisions about our lives and the society we live in, we need information.” [9] Open access to information on public sector spending decisions and a platform through which to propose and debate solutions are vital elements of an engaged, democratic society.

If Disclosure Today! is well received by the population, the intent is to scale it globally. Rose is optimistic that public bodies will see the platform as a positive opportunity to engage with citizens and increase public trust and confidence.[10] In a survey of construction industry practitioners, 97% of 359 respondents believed the government wasn’t doing enough to combat corruption, and 90% thought the same of the construction industry. The overall data suggests an openness to the idea of concerted action to increase the industry’s integrity.[11]

However, “what it means to the country will depend on how [people] in Trinidad and Tobago respond to and engage with it” and whether citizens “stop looking to our ‘leaders’ to save us.” [12]

For more information, visit the Disclosure Today! website, or follow them on Twitter or Facebook.

 

Notes

[1] http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2014-11-23/empower-citizens-watchdogs

[2] http://16iacc.org/game-changers/social-entrepreneurs/social-entrepreneurs-initiative-global-2014/disclosure-today-transparency-on-demand/

[3] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/td.html

[4] http://www.transparency.org/country#TTO

[5] http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/TT-still-ranking-high-on-corruption-index-234331461.html

[6] http://16iacc.org/game-changers/social-entrepreneurs/social-entrepreneurs-initiative-global-2014/disclosure-today-transparency-on-demand/

[7] https://guardian.co.tt/news/2015-02-15/tt-whistleblowers-enter-digital-age-launch-disclosure-today

[8] http://www.newsday.co.tt/businessday/0,204721.html

[9] https://www.facebook.com/DisclosureToday/posts/396579610516481

[10] http://www.newsday.co.tt/businessday/0,204721.html

[11] http://www.transparency.org.tt/uploads/Archives%202008-2009/TTTI%20Construction%20Industry%20Corruption%20Survey%202009.pdf

[12] https://guardian.co.tt/news/2015-02-15/tt-whistleblowers-enter-digital-age-launch-disclosure-today

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditlinkedintumblrmail
Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott

Rachel Pott is a writer, teacher and human rights advocate from Peterborough, Canada.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

nineteen − sixteen =