Public meetings most welcome

The “On the Road” meeting series is a positive step for a government whose record on transparency has been mixed since it took office in November 2011.

Government ministers have promised to meet with the public in a different community each month in order to give updates, answer questions and listen to input. At the first session in Carrot Bay on Monday, residents seemed pleased with the opportunity: Some 50 people attended, and many asked good questions and aired pertinent concerns.

So far, ministers have scheduled meetings only in the four districts represented by opposition members, but we trust that the series will continue throughout the territory as promised. We would add that in opposition districts, the district representative should be invited, and should participate. And for their part, residents should continue to contribute actively, as they did in Carrot Bay.

The meetings represent another step toward the transparency promised by the ruling National Democratic Party during the 2011 election campaigns. Other recent steps in that direction include extensive efforts to reform public finances, and the distribution of more reports and other documents in the House of Assembly.

However, in other respects, this government has fallen short of true transparency.

Perhaps the most egregious example relates to the planned airport expansion: In spite of promises made at two public meetings, government has withheld important documents, and elected leaders have shied away from answering the media’s questions about the project. As a result, the government has created the appearance that it is taking a unilateral approach to what quite likely will be the largest capital project in the territory’s history.

Moving forward, then, more effort will be needed. For all major projects, relevant documents should be disseminated to the public well before work gets under way. Then community members should get a chance to weigh in after reviewing such information.

Government ministers should also make themselves more accessible to the media. In recent months, most of them have met with the press fairly frequently about certain initiatives that they are anxious to publicise. But when it comes to answering difficult questions on other topics, they are far less accessible. In the future, we suggest, a different minister should hold a general press conference once or twice a month, giving members of the media a chance to ask questions on any topic they choose.

Finally, in keeping with other recent promises, the government should pass freedom of information legislation and open the register of interests to the public as soon as possible.

All of these steps would lead to better governance, and until they are accomplished the public should demand greater transparency. The “On the Road” meetings are a good place to start.