18 March 2011

“Trust will not be built except through transparency.”

“Corruption is a threat to morality and to the country’s potential for development.”

“It is important to eliminate this gap and fill it with the trust of the citizens in their state.”

These observations, standard fare in places like the OECD Governance committee and numerous transnational NGOs, are astounding when coming from Syria’s president. His is the single party state that Global Integrity had awarded “the dubious distinction of being the worst performing country vis-à-vis anti-corruption and accountability mechanisms since Global Integrity conducted its first national assessments nearly a decade ago”.  It is rated 127th on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, and, on the Worldwide Governance Indicators is placed in the bottom quartile of countries in the Middle East / North Africa region, having declining scores over the last ten years on five of the six elements measured.

Assad is being compelled through civil unrest, to recognise the consequences of fifty years of ruling through emergency regulations to preserve his family’s interests. He has not been noted for a concern about good government until this weekend. Is it possible that a speech revolving around trust, transparency, morality and anti corruption has a basis other than in a rear guard action to preserve power?

Ironically, as Syria contemplates transparency, budget constraints in the United States will reduce by 75% (approximately US$24 million) the funding for Federal government transparency websites. Of course an ability to scrutinise the specifics of government action doesn’t necessarily follow from a process for making information accessible. South Africa, New Zealand and the United Kingdom are rated in the 2010 Budget Openness survey as the countries with processes allowing for the best scrutiny of government spending, but even in these top rated administrations, much can be opaque.