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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Fiscal stimulus AND transparency both needed.

There are a whole raft of transparency and accountability issues that need to be examined as soon as anyone can catch their breath in trying to respond to the economic and financial markets crises. One element of all this is who gets what from the government, for what purpose and what they do with the taxpayers money. Michael West in today's Sydney Morning Herald comments on the debate in the US on the " bad bank" bailout and a corresponding issue here about the "Rudd bank" to support the banks in funding commercial property projects:
"Combining the TARP handouts with other Federal lending programs such as the New York Fed's swapping US treasury bonds for toxic assets from the banks, the total taxpayer bail-out figures are in the trillions of dollars. Yet the Government has so far rebuffed Freedom of Information requests from the likes of Bloomberg to reveal who got the money, for what assets and at what price. This sort of secrecy doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the system. And confidence and trust, above all, are what are needed to reboot the system. Should the Australian Government similarly obfuscate with its Rudd Bank - and it will surely be under pressure from the banks and corporate borrowers to hide the substantial details - it could not expect to enjoy the confidence of its taxpayers either."

Well the US has the benefit of many reasonably resourced groups who are highly skilled at keeping a close eye on what goes in Washington. And despite West's comment, a government that appears to at least recognise that these issues can't be left till you have time to think about them.

The Colombia Journalism Review has helpfully put together a list of organisations with the curiosity and resources to help figure out where the money is going. So Subsidyscope and Bailoutsleuth are essential reading for those keen to follow the money trail.Then there's the Congressional Oversight Panel established to “review the current state of financial markets and the regulatory system, ” with two published reports highlighting what the public knows and needs to know. The Treasury itself is publishing reports on the use of some of the money. And the Government's website is in place and apparently getting ready to tell the public "how and where your tax dollars are spent."

On the other hand here, I can't find anything much along these lines to keep the public informed about the detail of grants, guarantees, loans and other forms of assistance. In December Minister of Finance Lindsay Tanner announced "from 1 January 2009, agencies will be required to publish the details of individual grants on their website." As mentioned at the time we need a whole of government picture as well, and not just for grants but in the light of what is happening, any form of government assistance to industry, business, local government and the states. There is already the wonderfully titled Grantslink website which seems brimming with information about how to get one but tells us nothing about who has received them.

How about a website with details about "how and where your tax dollars are spent" for starters?

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