G8 Summit 2013: The G8 Talks About Transparency, But Do They Really Want It?


Time and time again, the G8 summit has set an agenda for global issues. On Monday June 17, eight of the most powerful countries pledged to find ways to better the world. First, allow me to take note of the fact that China, the second largest and perhaps the most influential economy in the world, did not take part in the discussion. I find it ironic, but I will leave it up to you to decide whether or not Italy, for example, should have more weight than China in such a meeting. Then let me ask: What should have topped the agenda of the summit? The themes that echoed in all the talks were the three Ts: trade, taxes, and transparency.

In terms of the first two themes, the resolutions were pretty standard: reducing trade barriers, encouraging cooperation, and creating a stringent framework for tackling tax evasion. The third theme, on the other hand, was a bit more ambiguous. What does it mean for politics to be transparent or for a government to be accountable to its people?

The highlights of the discussions were mainly concerned with the "transformative Open Data Charter" that provided more comprehensive disclosure of government budgets and other data. To me it seemed as if the summit's efforts were centered about making information public. However, most of us can agree that it's not just about flooding information to people, but rather making this information accessible and subject to feedback.

So far, the only way more transparency has been achieved is through the culture of scandals (a whistleblower and mass media being the key ingredients). The recent NSA "spying" scandal is a perfect example of the fuzzy lines that come with transparency (in this case security vs. privacy). Essentially, the problem comes back to the idea of interests. When a government accesses private information on the grounds that it does so for national security, we need to reassess the motives behind its actions and make sure they don't clash with citizens rights. 

Obviously, corruption in itself is tied to a conflict between private and public interest. Some say what is needed is a way to prevent policymakers from pursuing their own agendas, but I say what is needed is a way to align citizens’ goals with those of their country's leadership, and the conflict of interest won’t be there in the first place. It's not enough for people to vote once and cross their fingers hoping for the best. The political process extends far beyond that, and almost by definition, a democracy requires that its people be involved in decisions that concern the public sphere.

But as always, it is easy to identify what should be done, and more difficult to figure out how to go about doing it. What we can be sure of is that once citizens participate in governance (and not just observe), it will undoubtedly create systemic change.