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Brazil’s Development Bank – The Elephant in the Stadium

Guest - June 13, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

This is a guest blog post by Andrew Simms analyst and campaigner at our StopSecretContracts.org coalition partner Global Witness. If you believe public contracts should be open contracts, sign our petition and let world leaders know. This article first appeared on Global Witness’s website.


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Symbolism doesn’t get much better than this – thousands of homeless Brazilians set up camp outside São Paolo’s stadium as it prepares for the opening game of the most expensive World Cup ever.

Brazil’s World Cup stadiums have become monuments to broken promises – largely publicly-funded (contrary to government assurances), colossally expensive (around four times over-budget on average, with allegations of overpricing abounding), and some fated to become post-Cup white elephants because their host cities can’t sustain them.

A who’s who of World Cup infrastructure sheds light on a paradox in Brazil’s development model. A major investor in its stadiums was the biggest bank most people haven’t heard of – the country’s national development bank (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES)), a majority public-funded bank whose mandate involves ‘promoting socio-environmental sustainability and reducing inequalities.’

These goals sit uncomfortably alongside the World Cup’s potential legacy.

Take the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre, for example, built by Brazil’s second largest construction company, Andrade Gutierrez (which Associated Press says increased its political donations 500-fold in Brazil’s most recent elections). The cost of building Beira Rio went more than 150% over budget, and 80% of total costs were carried by the BNDES.

Andrade Gutierrez also built Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadium, along with engineering firm Via Engenharia. A seat in that stadium cost three times what an average stadium seat cost in South Africa and Germany for the last two World Cups.

The BNDES is a major player in Brazil and parts of Latin America and Africa, with a bigger investment portfolio even than the World Bank’s. In 2012 around a quarter of the bank’s funds came from Brazil’s Worker’s Assistance Fund and just over half from the National Treasury. As much as 70 percent of the bank’s expenditure meanwhile goes to ‘big companies’ whose gross annual revenue exceeds US$ 135 million.

Global Witness has three major concerns about the BNDES:

  1. Choice of investment partners

Senior officials from six World Cup contractors – Construcap, Galvão, Mendes Júnior, OAS, Odebrecht and Via Engenharia – are currently on trial for alleged illicit enrichment through the construction of key infrastructure at ten Brazilian airports between 2003 and 2006 – infrastructure that will bring millions of visitors to World Cup venues. Dozens of representatives stand accused of being part of a criminal association with officials at Infraero, a government-owned company that operates Brazil’s key airports.

Together they are charged with illicit enrichment that Brazil’s Public Attorney claims resulted in over US$ 440 million in public money being diverted. Investigators say that price inflation occurred on such a scale that at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas Airport alone the footbridges used by passengers to board planes were overpriced by 190%, amounting to US$ 2.6 million lost to Brazilian taxpayers.

This case first came to court in 2011. Three years later there have been no convictions. The accused deny the charges.

  1. Lack of transparency

While some ad hoc data is available on the volumes of money that BNDES invests in certain companies, the bank’s transparency tends to end there.

BNDES does not publish details of its loans to private entities inside or outside Brazil, claiming exemption to freedom of information requests on the basis of banking secrecy.

In the absence of publicly available information on BNDES’ rationale for financing certain companies over others, or the objectives or results of the projects it is funding, citizens are unable to scrutinise what their taxes are spent on.

BNDES investments in public institutions continue to be audited by public officials, but those in companies are not. This seems inconsistent considering that the BNDES is a federal public company under the supervision of the Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade.

  1. Social and environmental footprint

The BNDES lacks effective environmental and social safeguards to guide its investment choices or monitor their impact. This is evidenced by the fact that the bank is the majority funder of an infrastructure boom in the Amazon basin region, home to the world’s largest rainforest. Globally we are losing forests at a rate of fifty football pitches a minute.

One particularly controversial BNDES-backed project is the Belo Monte Dam, being built on one of the Amazon’s major tributaries. It is anticipated that the dam will result in the destruction of an area of over 1,500 square kilometres of rainforest, the forced displacement of between 20,000 and 40,000 people, and untold impacts on local livelihoods and eco-systems.

The economic viability of the dam has also been called into question, with industry analysts claiming that due to the challenges of building a project of this size in the Amazon total costs could easily exceed government predictions by US$ 5 billion.

The camp for homeless families outside São Paolo’s stadium has been nicknamed ‘The People’s Cup’ and is a stark reminder to World Cup visitors that Brazil’s booming economy remains elusive in much of the country.

Brazil’s month-long football revelries will likely distract from the real winners and losers of the 2014 World Cup, but the tournament offers critical insights into Brazil’s development trajectory – embodied in a bank that facilitates the cosy relationship between business and politics, lacks accountability back to its tax-payer donors, and finances projects that may undermine rather than further sustainable development.

 

Stop the harassment of Hungarian NGOs by the government

Open Knowledge - June 11, 2014 in Open Government Data, Stop Secret Contracts

kmonitorlogoThe Hungarian government has started to target transparency and humanitarian NGOs.

The political climate in Hungary has been deteriorating sharply since the re-election of the government led by Viktor Orban. The latest indication of a harsher political environment is the harassment of humanitarian and transparency NGOs. The Hungarian government accuses the targeted NGOs to be connection to the opposition and to be under foreign influence on the basis that the NGOs in question received funds from the Norwegian civil society fund. Among the organisations are transparency NGOs, such as K-Monitor and Atlatszo – documenting and investigating corruption cases in Hungary. Open Knowledge maintains close contact and collaborations with K-Monitor including but not limited to the Stop Secret Contracts campaign and the School of Data.

Open Knowledge stands in solidarity with Hungarian civil society and NGOs. The selection and intimidation towards NGOs that act to increase transparency of the government is damaging to civil society and a healthy democracy. Independent civil society organisations are a key to hold up the checks and balances necessary in a democratic state. We urge the Hungarian government to stop the targeted harassment of NGOs immediately.

K-Monitor’s work on investigating corruption is important and aligned with many Open Knowledge activities around transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption. Open government information combined with an enabling environment for civil society is vital for accountability. Open information about public finances, budgets, spending and contracts is important and helps citizens understand what their government does. Among others K-Monitor collects public procurement data to help citizens understand what their government spends their money on.

If you are interested in this topic, join our global campaign to stop secret government contracting and secure critical open information to support NGOs like K-monitor in their work. (K-Monitor is a member of the StopSecretContracts.org coalition.)

Secret oil contract loses Nigerian people $1.1 billion

Sam Leon - May 20, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

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Royal Dutch Shell and the Italian oil company, Eni, have been implicated in a secret oil deal that enriched the former Nigerian oil minister to a staggering degree, and lost the Nigerian state $1.1 billion that could have been spent on vital and much needed services. As shareholders and investors gather today at Shell’s Annual General Meeting, they would be wise to consider whether Shell’s choices are those of a responsible company and whether such activity is good for business.

Global Witness, an anti-corruption NGO, first uncovered the story in 2012. It involves the sale of one of West Africa’s biggest oil blocks, OPL 245, to Shell and Eni via an anonymous shell company that is now known to have been controlled by the former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete. Etete had awarded himself the lucrative block while oil minister.

Authorities in the UK, Italy and Nigeria are now investigating the deal and the the Nigerian House of Representatives is threatening cancellation of the contract for the block, potentially costing Shell 447m barrels of oil. However, the original secrecy around the deal has severely limited the ability of law enforcement and civil society to hold those at fault to account.

In collaboration with Global Witness, we produced an infographic that tries to capture the vast sums involved by illustrating what the money *could * have been spent on. Nigeria has one of the worst records on maternal mortality in the world and their are over 5.5 million girls currently out of school. The money from the oil deal could have been used to train many thousands more midwives and help give 1.7 million out-of-school girls a primary education.

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Stories like this one are all too common. Individuals and corporations using a veil of secrecy to enrich themselves at the expense of the many. This must stop. If you too believe this is wrong, sign up to our #StopSecretContracts campaign and send a message to governments and corporations worldwide that contracts must be made in the open. For more information on the full story of oil block OPL 245 and to see the full infographic on where the money could have gone, go to http://www.globalwitness.org/shellagm/.

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Opening Up EU Procurement Data

Guest - May 16, 2014 in Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

The following post is by Friedrich Lindenberg (and on Twitter), originally posted here.

What is the next European dataset that investigative journalists should look at? Back in 2012 at the DataHarvest conference, Brigitte, investigative superstar from FarmSubsidy and co-host of the conference, had a clear answer: let’s open up TED (Tenders Electronic Daily). TED is the EU’s shared procurement mechanism, and is at the heart of the EU contracting process. Opening it up would shine a light on the key questions of who receives public money, and what they receive it for.

Her suggestion triggered a two-year project, OpenTED, which, as of last week, has finally matured into a useful resource for journalists and researchers. While gaps remain, we hope it will now start to be used by journalists, NGOs, analysts and citizens to get information on everything from large scale trends to local municipal developments.

The current OpenTED web site, providing easy access to European tenders and contract awards data.

OpenTED

TED collects tender notices for large public projects so that companies from all EU countries can bid on those contracts. For journalists, there are many exciting questions such a database would be able to answer: What major projects are being announced? Who is winning the contracts for these projects, and is that decision made prudently and impartially? Who are the biggest suppliers in a particular country or industry?

The OpenTED project, started by Anders Pedersen and Joost Cassee, was initially born as an attempt to scrape the official TED web site. Soon, however, this first version of OpenTED was faced with a number of practical problems: the data was impossible for journalists to use without an interface, and the stuff was so messy that even Sunlight Foundation’s finance data genius Kaitlin Devine couldn’t help us pull apart the errors. To make things worse, in June 2013 the EU Publications Office updated the TED web site to make bulk scraping impossible – leaving us without a way to update the data.

We were out of options. To answer our questions, we were going to need to look at the database directly – not just at the website provided by the EU Publications Office.

Scraping with words

We decided to take a radical step for a bunch of nerds: talk to the EU. Speaking to the Publication Office’s unit lead, we were surprised to learn that they were already in the process of changing their licensing regime: while access to machine-readable data had been sold to re-users in the past, the plan was to make the data freely available in January 2014. Thanks, Neelie!

So, in early January, I pinged @EUTenders on Twitter, asking what happened to the publication plan. Expecting some sort of rejection, I was surprised to promptly receive a direct message with credentials for their raw data file server. The site offered DVD images for download, with XML dumps of TED’s data since 2011 – this was exactly what we were looking for.

Building a community

As DataHarvest 2014 approached, we decided to make an updated version of OpenTED, offering slices of the newly opened data in an accessible format (CSV) and in small portions, divided by country and year, so that journalists without database skills would be able to grab the data and explore it in a spreadsheet application.

Hack day at DataHarvest 2014, coders and journalists from across Europe explore EU procurement data.

The resulting discussion focussed on the quality and completeness of the data. Many pieces of essential information are missing – including many contract values and supplier names. Additionally, the existing data is very messy, particularly when it comes to clearly identifying the public body and economic operator involved in a contract.

What now?

In many ways, the next step is up to the journalists who attended DataHarvest. We have, I think, created a rich resource for them to use in investigations and have set up a network of technologists that are ready to support analysis of the data. However, while we now have access to contract metadata – the recipient, amount and topic of EU contracts, it became clear during the workshop that in order to answer the in-depth questions journalists want to ask, access to the actual contract documents, detailing the terms and precise scope of the agreements our governments make on our behalf, is required. For this, we need to insist in greater contracting transparency and tell our governments to Stop Secret Contracts.

Oh, and I’d love to know more about that 700 trillion Euro building they’re constructing in Galway…

RESOURCES

The data & tools:

Some code:

The Tragic Consequences of Secret Contracts

Theodora Middleton - April 14, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

The following post is by Seember Nyager, CEO of the Public and Private Development Centre in Nigeria, one of our campaign partners in the Stop Secret Contracts campaign

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Every day, through secret contracts being carried out within public institutions, there is confirmation that the interest of the public is not served. A few days ago, young Nigerians in Abuja were arrested for protesting against the reckless conduct of the recruitment exercise at the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) that led to the death of 19 applicants.

Although the protesters were later released, the irony still stings that whilst no one has been held for the resulting deaths from the reckless recruitment conduct, the young voices protesting against this grave misconduct are being silenced by security forces. Most heart-breaking is the reality that the deadly outcomes of the recruitment exercise could have been avoided with more conscientious planning, through an adherence to due process and diligence in the selection of consultants to carry out the exercise.

A report released by Premium times indicates that the recruitment exercise was conducted exclusively by the Minister of Interior who hand-picked the consultant that carried out the recruitment exercise at the NIS. The non-responsiveness of the Ministry in providing civic organizations including BudgIT and PPDC with requested details of the process through which the consultant was selected gives credence to the reports of due process being flouted.

The non-competitive process through which the consultant was selected is in sharp breach of the Public procurement law and its results have undermined the concept of value for money in the award of contracts for public services. Although a recruitment website was built and deployed by the hired consultant, the information gathered by the website does not seem to have informed the plan for the conduct of the recruitment exercise across the country which left Nigerians dead in its wake. Whilst the legality of the revenue generated from over 710,000 applicants is questioned, it is appalling that these resources were not used to ensure a better organized recruitment exercise.

This is not the first time that public institutions in Nigeria have displayed reckless conduct in the supposed administration of public services to the detriment of Nigerians. The recklessness with which the Ministry of Aviation took a loan to buy highly inflated vehicles, the difficulty faced by BudgIT and PPDC in tracking the exact amount of SURE-P funds spent, the 20 billion Dollars unaccounted for by the NNPC are a few of the cases where Nation building and development is undermined by public institutions.

In the instance of the NIS recruitment conducted three weeks ago, some of the consequences have been immediate and fatal, yet there is foot dragging in apportioning liability and correcting the injustice that has been dealt to Nigerians. On the same issue, public resources have been speedily deployed to silence protesters.

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It is time that our laws which require due process and diligence are fully enforced. Peaceful protests should no longer be clamped down because Nigerians are justified for being outraged by any form of institutional recklessness. The Nigerian Immigration Service recruitment exercise painfully illustrates that the outcomes of secret contracts could be deadly and such behaviour cannot be allowed to continue. We must stop institutional recklessness, we must stop secret contracts.

Ms. Seember Nyager coordinates procurement monitoring in Nigeria. Follow Nigerian Procurement Monitors at @Nig_procmonitor.

Why secret contracts matter in aid transparency

Nicole Valentinuzzi - April 11, 2014 in Campaigning, Stop Secret Contracts

The following guest post is by Nicole Valentinuzzi, from our Stop Secret Contracts campaign partner Publish What You Fund.

A new campaign to Stop Secret Contracts, supported by the Open Knowledge Foundation, Sunlight Foundation and many other international NGOs, aims to make sure that all public contracts are made available in order to stop corruption before it starts.

As transparency campaigners ourselves, Publish What You Fund is pleased to be a supporter of this new campaign. We felt it was important to lend our voice to the call for transparency as an approach that underpins all government activity.

We campaign for more and better information about aid, because we believe that by opening development flows, we can increase the effectiveness and accountability of aid. We also believe that governments have a duty to act transparently, as they are ultimately responsible to their citizens.

This includes publishing all public contracts that governments put out for tender, from school books to sanitation systems. These publicly tendered contracts are estimated to top nearly US$ 9.5 trillion each year globally, yet many are agreed behind closed doors.

These secret contracts often lead to corruption, fraud and unaccountable outsourcing. If the basic facts about a contract aren’t made publicly available – for how much and to whom to deliver what – then it is not possible to make sure that corruption and abuses don’t happen.

But what do secret contracts have to do with aid transparency, which is what we campaign for at Publish What You Fund? Well, consider the recent finding by the campaign that each year Africa loses nearly a quarter of its GDP to corruption…then consider what that money could have been spent on instead – things like schools, hospitals and roads.

This is money that in many cases is intended to be spent on development. It should be published – through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), for example – so that citizens can follow the money and hold governments accountable for how it is spent.

But corruption isn’t just a problem in Africa – the Stop Secret Contracts campaign estimates Europe loses an estimated €120 billion to corruption every year.

At Publish What You Fund, we tell the world’s biggest providers of development cooperation that they must publish their aid information to IATI because it is the only internationally-agreed, open data standard. Information published to IATI is available to a wide range of stakeholders for their own needs – whether people want to know about procurement, contracts, tenders or budgets. More than that, this is information that partner countries have asked for.

Governments use tax-payer money to award contracts to private companies in every sector, including development. We believe that any companies that receive public money must be subject to the same transparency requirements as governments when it comes to the goods and services they deliver.

Greater transparency and clearer understanding of the funds that are being disbursed by governments or corporates to deliver public services can only be helpful in building trust and supporting accountability to citizens. Whether it is open aid or open contracts, we need to get the information out of the hands of governments and into the hands of citizens.

Ultimately for us, the question remains how transparency will improve aid – and open contracts are another piece of the aid effectiveness puzzle. Giving citizens full and open access to public contracts is a crucial first step in increasing global transparency. Sign the petition now to call on world leaders to make this happen.

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Tackling the Resource Curse: Civil Society’s Fight for Better Access to Information and Open Contracting in Côte d’Ivoire

Katelyn Rogers - March 31, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

This is a guest blog from our campaign partner Integrity Action, adapted from its original posted on their website here. This is the first in a series of blog posts from partner organisations of our #SecretContracts campaign. If you have stories to share about the problems of secrecy in contracting, get in touch with contact@stopsecretcontracts.org

Tackling the Resource Curse: Civil Society’s Fight for Better Access to Information and Open Contracting in Côte d’Ivoire

To date, many natural resource rich countries are plagued by rampant corruption, repression and poverty. We seem to have become accustomed to reading about tiny oil-rich countries such Equatorial Guinea – surely one of the world’s best examples of the resource curse. A country where large oil reserves fund the lavish lifestyles of the elite while the majority of the population finds itself in the undesirable position of having their basic human and economic rights not met.

Yet the picture is not all ‘doom and gloom’. Shifting the focus to countries such as Côte d’Ivoire allows for a different picture to emerge. Here, civil society organisations (CSOs) such as Social Justice have been working hard to ensure that extractive sector revenues benefit all members of society.

So how did local CSOs in Côte d’Ivoire bring about this incremental step change? In Jacqueville and d’Angovia, they began by working with people of influence to lobby local government and corporates to ensure improved access to contracts. Upon receipt of the contractual information, they organised information meetings with the communities and helped citizens develop strategies to better negotiate their entitlements, thereby ensuring that health care centres, maternity hospitals, schools and water towers were built.

Ensuring that communities have access to contractual information has been far from easy to achieve. Social Justice and other CSOs in Cote D’Ivoire have encountered frequent resistance from corporates as well as government officials, citing a lack of laws and regulations as reasons why open contracting has not become mainstream practice within the sector. Social Justice and other CSOs have tirelessly communicated the tangible benefits for local communities if open contracting was to be institutionalised and properly regulated. Moreover, they encouraged the formation of a resource centre tasked with working on access to information and freedom of information issues.

A significant step toward open contracting in Cote D’Ivoire is the recent adoption of an access to information law. Social Justice and other CSOs now rely heavily on the new law as well as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Standard adopted in May 2013 in their continuous demand for open contracting.

There is no doubt that it would be all to easy to remain skeptical, yet Social Justice’s work in Cote d’Ivoire shows that access to contractual information enables communities, impacted by extractive sector activities, to ensure that key stakeholders within the sector live up to their social and economic responsibilities.

The Stop Secret Contracts campaign is designed to push the issue of open contracting up the international policy agenda. Join the campaign by signing the petition and spreading the word at StopSecretContracts.org

Find out more about Social Justice here: https://www.facebook.com/socialjusticecotedivoire2

Photo: Monitors from Social Justice at the Logement de Maitre in Adjue, Jaqueville, funded by gas company Foxtrot

From Health in the UK to Education in Nigeria – Stop Secret Contracts

Theodora Middleton - March 24, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Government Data, Public Money, Stop Secret Contracts

Today it was announced that fraud and error in the UK National Health Service are leading to the loss of around £7 billion each year. This could pay for about 250,000 new nurses, and comes at a time when the service is struggling more than ever under the pressures of austerity.

One of the main ways that money is lost is overcharging and underdelivery by contractors. Outsourcing of health provision to unaccountable contractors is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, and it provides fertile ground for fraud and corruption. And the public has no effective means of redress when things go wrong.

In Nigeria, civil society groups are being denied access to crucial contracts being drawn up to bring about educational reforms. Nigeria has been found to be the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, and educational reform is undoubtedly needed.

But information about the contracts involved is being masked by “commercial sensitivity.” The lack of transparency stifles participation, reducing the likelihood of genuine innovation. An inclusive education system which meets the needs of all Nigerians will not be achieved when the process is shrouded in secrecy.

Across the world, contracting is the aspect of government which is most open to abuse. Governments hide behind claims of commercial sensitivity or national security to avoid exposing their contracts to public scrutiny.

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This month we launched our Stop Secret Contracts campaign, calling on world leaders to open up the procurements process. At the most basic level, the contracting data must be made available to the public. This includes:

  1. The full text of contracts;
  2. Key documents such as pre-studies, bid documents, performance evaluations, guarantees, and auditing reports;
  3. Information about contract formation, such as planning process, procurement method, and evaluation criteria;
  4. Information about performance and completion, such as delivery schedules, status of implementation, payments and risk assessments.

But we also want to see stronger commitments towards participation and accountability, as laid out in the Open Government Guide. As contractors play a growing role in the delivery of public services everywhere, we must ensure that we do not lose democratic control over vital aspects of our societies.

We need YOU to help us spread the word. We need you to sign the petition so that this issue is taken seriously by the G20 and OGP. Organisations who are working on this crucial problem need to be able to show that many voices are united behind them.

Once you’ve signed, there’s more you can do to help. You could write a blog post – like our Bangladesh and Sweden Local Groups have done. You could follow @StopSecretContracts, and retweet interesting and relevant things using #SecretContracts. You could join the Open Contracting Partnership’s community of practice to get more involved with policy conversations. You could start contributing to the C20 Conversations, the civil society engagement process around this year’s G20 in Australia – especially in the governance group. You could check out the list of supporting organisations: if any of them are local to you, why not get in touch and see if you can help them push forward?

There’s a whole load of resources available if you’d like to learn more about open contracting and why it matters. The Open Contracting Partnership have produced these Global Principles for Open Contracting, and the Sunlight Foundation has these complementary guidelines for open data in procurements. This report, Publish What You Buy makes the case for openness, and this entry in the Open Government Guide is a great starting point for understanding the issues and the kinds of political commitments we need to see.

From next Monday we will be publishing a series of blog posts from different organisations who are supporting the Stop Secret Contracts campaign. If you have stories to share about the problems of secrecy in contracting, get in touch with contact@stopsecretcontracts.org

Britain ‘shines light of transparency’ on secret lobbying. Just kidding.

Jonathan Gray - January 28, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Government Data, Policy, Transparency

The following article is cross-posted from OpenDemocracy.

David Cameron’s lobbying bill exposes the hollowness of his muscular claims about cracking down on crony capitalism. Britain’s democracy remains under corporate capture.

influenceindustry Image: Government wants to register Lobbying Agencies alone (Alliance for Lobbying Transparency)

Today the government’s proposed Lobbying Bill will go into parliamentary ping-pong between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. If this Bill passes without significant amendments it will do nothing to stop secret corporate lobbying, making a mockery of the coalition’s open government aspirations.

Every year an estimated £2 billion is spent attempting to influence decisions in Westminster, an amount that is topped only by spending in Washington and Brussels. Even more than its counterparts across the channel and across the pond, London’s lobbying industry has been able to operate in the dark, free from scrutiny and interference: unregulated, unrecorded and unimpeded.

Four years ago next month, just before the 2010 general election, David Cameron announced his intention, if elected, to tackle the “unhealthy influence” of “secret corporate lobbying”. He pledged to “sort out” what he called “crony capitalism”, to shine the “light of transparency” on lobbying, and to force our political system to “come clean about who is buying power and influence”.

The theme of his speech was “rebuilding trust in politics”. He attacked then Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s “secretive, power-hoarding, controlling” government, and its handling of the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal.

Transparency has since become a major theme of the coalition government under Cameron, who has claimed repeatedly that he wants to “fix our broken politics” and make the UK “the most open and transparent government in the world”.

Fast forward to the government’s proposed lobbying bill, tabled for discussion in parliament today. The second part of the bill has been widely criticised for gagging charities during election periods. The first part, which outlines plans for the lobbying registry, has received less public attention.

Far from shining a light on the activities of the influence industry, the proposed registry would exclude the vast majority of commercial lobbyists, covering as little as 5 per cent of all lobbying activity. Among the excluded, all ‘in-house’ lobbyists — those based at major corporations, banks, consultancies, law firms, accountancy firms. Even the registered lobbyists would not be required to give the public information about what they are asking for, who they are meeting with, or how much they are spending.

How do the government’s proposals compare with a real statutory register of lobbyists? Here’s an illustration from The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency:

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Unless it is scrapped and rewritten or major amendments are made – both exceedingly unlikely – the lobbying bill will make a mockery of the UK’s open government purported aspirations. It will leave the British public none the wiser as to how big money and big business are distorting the fabric of public political discourse and decision-making, and to what end. It will do nothing to shed light on how powerful corporate interests are exerting their influence to shape what is politically possible and politically likely – from inaction on climate change and corporate tax avoidance, to fracking, energy prices and the privatisation of public services.

Even a decent registry of lobbyists would give us just a faint sketch of the impact of corporate lobbying on our democracy. The fight for transparency is just a first step that must not distract us from the bigger and more important fight to push back against the malign, distorting, anti-democratic influence of big money and big business on politics.

The passage of the proposed lobbying bill into law would represent a manifest failure of the current government to take even the most elementary of steps to live up to its pre-election promises to tackle secret corporate influence. It will no doubt be remembered as an historic missed opportunity and an astonishing defeat at the first hurdle – making the UK’s claims to global leadership in government openness and accountability look like a joke.

The Open Knowledge Foundation and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency have launched a petition asking the UK government to scrap and rewrite the lobbying bill. You can sign here. It is endorsed by Access Info, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Watch, Greenpeace, Integrity Action, Involve, the Open Rights Group, Spinwatch, the Sunlight Foundation, Unlock Democracy, War on Want and the World Development Movement.

The Open Knowledge Foundation urges the UK Government to stop secret corporate lobbying

Jonathan Gray - December 13, 2013 in Business, Campaigning, Featured, Legal, Open Government Data, Policy

The Open Knowledge Foundation has joined the members of the UK OGP civil society network in signing an open letter which calls on the Government to put an end to secret corporate lobbying.

In its current form the government’s proposed lobbying bill (which is currently going through parliament) will let the vast majority of corporate lobbyists off the hook from being obliged to say who they’re meeting, what decisions they are seeking to influence and how much they are spending. Here are our five reasons why we think this needs to change. If you agree with us, then please sign and share the petition!.

The letter urges Ministers to redraft the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill in order to enable proper public scrutiny of lobbying activity in the UK. Please share this letter (copied below) widely and sign the petition to call on the Government to put a stop to secret lobbying.

The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP The Rt Hon Andrew Lansley MP Cabinet Office 70 Whitehall London SW1A 2AS

Cc: Deputy Prime Minister 12 December 2013

Dear Mr Maude and Mr Lansley,

Response to Mr Maude’s letter of 1 November 2013 to the UK OGP civil society network re the Government’s commitment to lobbying transparency

As campaigners for greater openness in decision making, we applauded the Coalition commitment in May 2010 to ‘regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency’. However, we are extremely concerned that the current plans, in Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill, will fail to deliver the transparency promised. The proposed register is not fit-for-purpose. In the short time the Government has allowed for debate on the bill, it has been heavily criticised by the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee and Members of Parliament, as well as representatives of the consultancy industry and a wide range of civil society groups.

We urge you to redraft Part 1 of the Bill to:

  • broaden the definition of lobbyist to include all third party consultants and in-house lobbyists, whether corporate, union or charity;
  • extend the definition to include lobbying of mid-ranking civil servants and special advisors; and
  • introduce fuller disclosure requirements to include the target, topic and estimated cost of lobbying activity.

Central to our concerns is the narrow definition of lobbyist. As drafted, the Bill excludes at least eighty per cent of the industry, notably in-house lobbyists. It will also exclude most key consultant lobbyists through a significant loophole: those who in the course of their lobbying do not make contact with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries will not be required to register. This, as lobbyists and the lobbied well know, is the majority of lobbying activity. The justification for such a narrow definition does not stand up to scrutiny. The Government has defined the problem as a lack of transparency about who an agency is representing when it meets with a Minister. Official meeting lists reveal that this would apply to only a handful of meetings. As many in Parliament have pointed out, if this is a genuine problem, it would be better solved with improved disclosure from Ministers.

Of equal concern to us is the lack of any meaningful information on lobbying activity to be included in the proposed register. It would require lobbyists merely to register their clients, but reveal nothing of their interaction with government (i.e. whom they are lobbying, and what they are seeking to influence). This information is essential if the government is to realise its laudable aim through the register of ‘increasing public accountability and public trust in the UK system of government and improving the efficiency of government policy outcomes’. Fuller disclosure would also bring the UK in line with international standards.

The fundamental purpose of introducing a register of lobbyists is to allow the public to examine and understand the activities of lobbyists, to improve government accountability and ultimately to rebuild public trust. It is imperative to have in mind the widely held public perception of how decisions are taken by government, a view summed up by David Cameron as ‘a cosy club at the top making decisions in its own interest’. This lack of trust must be of serious concern to Government. Proper disclosure rules for lobbyists would go a long way to dispel this perception. The reality of lobbying in the UK, which would be revealed in a robust register of lobbyists, would be far more mundane than is popularly imagined. A refusal to introduce genuine transparency, however, would only reinforce the perception that public scrutiny is something politicians would rather avoid.

The shortcomings of the current Bill are all the more surprising considering the leadership you have shown through the Open Government Partnership and your vocal support for greater transparency. The current proposals threaten to undermine not only your ambition to be ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’, but also detract from the OGP initiative. Civil society groups long ago identified a robust register as a key priority for the Partnership, yet we encountered a surprising reluctance from some Cabinet Office officials to engage with us during the development of the proposals. The result is a register that is wholly inadequate.

The Coalition rightly identified ‘secret’ lobbying as an issue of public concern, one which ‘goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics’. ‘We can’t go on like this,’ said David Cameron. We urge you to now fulfil your commitment with a proper register which will allow public scrutiny of lobbying activity in the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Alexandra Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy
Dr Andy Williamson FRSA, Founder, FutureDigital & Chair, Ivo.org Anne Thurston, Director, International Records Management Trust Anthony Zacharzewski, democracy campaigner Gavin Hayman, Director of Campaigns, Global Witness Graham Gordon, Head of Public Policy, CAFOD Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy, The Open Knowledge Foundation Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information Miles Litvinoff, Coordinator, Publish What You Pay UK Simon Burall, Director, Involve Tamasin Cave, Director, Spinwatch Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19

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