This is one of the emptiest of empty statements. I ask: why even bother?
This is what I call “democracy bumpf” — meaning, saying something without really saying anything at all, with some false pretense that you actually mean what you say.
I hear this phrase and groan every time, comfortable in my coming cynicism.
It’s right there with folks who half way through a conversation say: “I have to be honest with you…”
Oh great, what the hell have you been for the first half of this conversation… half honest, untruthful?
Here’s a fine example from the world superpower:
Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies
SUBJECT: Transparency and Open Government
My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset…
Bla, Bla, Bla
Signed by, yup you guessed it…
This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.
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I was as excited as the next person about the hope and change that Obama represented… but come on… if things were so damn “open and transparent” then why are some American politicians calling for the ‘assassination’ of Julian Assange the founder of Wikileaks.
If things are so damn “open and transparent” then why even the need for Wikileaks?
And what the hell is a “system of transparency”?
(oh right… it’s called Saran Wrap… or a window…)
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Or, there’s this fine piece of Canadian democracy-bumpf from April, 2006:
Through the Federal Accountability Act and Action Plan, the Government of Canada is bringing forward specific measures to help strengthen accountability and increase transparency and oversight in government operations.
This was introduced by Chuck Strahl, Conservative MP in Parliament in early April, 2006:
Canadians expect a government that will spend their money wisely and properly, Strahl said. They also expect a clear set of rules that is fair, open and transparent. The FAA [Federal Accountability Act] will deliver on all of these objectives to once again restore trust in government.
Uh, huh… how’s your trust in government these days? And fair to whom?
I tell ya… things sure feel more “open and transparent” since April 2006…
And how does one “increase transparency”? Open the window, I suppose, or take that frosting off the bathroom window…or take off the layers of saran wrap (but then we’d smell the truth of what lies underneath… moldy, smelly leftovers from a bygone era rotting at the back of the fridge…)
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And, the democracy-bumpf blather continues:
In December — a few weeks ago — the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans announced its new Aquaculture regulations. (After, of course, their decision to hand over aquaculture regulation to the Province of BC a decade or so ago — had to be overturned in a legal court case):
As of December 18, 2010, the management and regulation of aquaculture in B.C. has transferred from provincial to federal jurisdiction.
DFO is committed to being open and transparent in its regulation and management of aquaculture in B.C. In the coming months, information and data on sea lice levels, fish health and disease, production levels, antibiotic use, and other aspects of aquaculture production will be available on this website.
This must be some sort of mantra for senior government officials, as this was repeated in a press release captured in the Province newspaper in July:
Trevor Swerdfager, DFO’s director general of fisheries and aquaculture management, said the department will create a new section with about 50 new staff — including 10 to 15 new fisheries officers whose sole job will be aquaculture enforcement.
He said the new regulations will “substantially enhance the transparency of the industry” and that Ottawa estimates the cost of the proposed regulatory regime to between $8-million and $8.5-million a year, part of which will be recouped through “expected” licensing fees.
The new Pacific aquaculture regulations, which will be implemented on Dec. 18 when DFO takes official control, are to “ensure the proper management of aquaculture, particularly with respect to protection and conservation of fish and fish habitat, in an open and transparent manner.”
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Sadly, I say horseshit… (a substance certainly not open and transparent)
Of course, language can be a curious thing. Read the wording again carefully: “committed to being open and transparent.”
Yeah… and you know those over 50% of marriages that end these days… those folks also “committed” to not ending their marriages and being “open and transparent” with each other. (you know… the old “in good and bad, sickness and in health, etc. etc…”).
There’s a pretty big difference between committing to be open and transparent and actually being open and transparent.
Just like the next sentence says “information and data…” — it certainly does not say “all information”…
But then someone might rightfully argue that maybe I’m a bit too cynical… maybe change will actually occur.
I just can’t help myself. With folks from all sorts of organizations running around touting “open and transparent” this; “open and transparent” that — I just keep asking: “well what were you before then?… closed and opaque? slightly ajar and foggy? open a smidgen, hazy and blurry?”
If you’ve got to spell it out like that, it simply begs questions of your past practices.
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Next time you find yourself plopping “open and transparent” in any document, email, policy, best practice, benchmarking conversation, etc.: STOP!
Instead: say what you mean and mean what you say.
This bumpfy, empty, fluffy phrase has entered so many documents, so many organizations, so many folks day-to-day conversation — including the salmon world of enviros, small regional fisheries organizations, and so on.
If you find yourself saying it, or putting it in your latest PPoint slide, stop… then ask yourself: “as opposed to what?” and “if I’m saying this now, what does this say about how I/we used to do things?”
It’s no different than someone telling you near the end of your conversation that they now will be honest with you…