Update > Element of Democracy - Transparency

Element of Democracy - Transparency


Transparency means that the government has a responsibility to share information with the people. Citizens can access information about what decisions are being made, by whom, how and why. It includes information about how the government spends money.

This means that the information is freely available to people affected by these decisions. It is important that the information provided is easy to access and easy to understand. The responsibility to provide this information (and the laws related to it) is often called “freedom of information”.

This has several advantages:

It makes sure the government cannot secretly abuse some citizens’ rights without the people knowing

It makes sure that the government follows its own rules and regulations.

It makes sure that the government needs to work hard, because information about the quality of their work is freely available.

It is harder for officials to lie to the people, because it limits their ability to hide information.

There are some situations where the government does need to limit transparency.

For example, in the interests of national security, or if peoples’ lives or human rights are at risk. These state secrets can include weapon designs, military plans, diplomatic negotiation tactics, and secrets obtained illicitly from others (“intelligence”). Sometimes this information is secret for a certain period of time (e.g. 60 years) and is then released to the public. However, it is very important that the government does not abuse this. Citizens are responsible for making sure that the government is open about its decisions and put pressure on the government if it does not.

Case Studies: Finland and Hong Kong


In Finland, the Laki yleisten asiakirjain julkisuudesta 9.2.1951/83 (Act on the Openness of Public Documents of 1951) established the openness of all records and documents in the possession of officials of the state, municipalities, and registered religious communities. Exceptions to the basic principle could only be made by law, or by an executive order for specific enumerated reasons such as national security.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong there are no laws specifically enacted to guarantee the freedom of information. Since March 1995, the Government of Hong Kong has promulgated a “Code on Access to Information” to serve a similar purpose. This code, like other internal regulations of the Government, was not legislated by the Legislative Council and has a minimal legal status. It requires government agencies listed in its appendix to appoint Access to Information Officers to answer citizens’ requests for governmental records.