Transparency and openness vs. culture of secrecy

"FOI demonstrates the government's commitment to transparency and openness. I believe it will enhance the democratic credentials of public institutions by giving people the right to know what is being done in their name."

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, Charles Falconer, hails the advent of freedom of information in the UK this coming Saturday:

Farewell to the blight of secrecy (Guardian, 29 December 2004)

This should be music to the ears of George Monbiot who argues that, under the freedom of information laws, information such as PFI contracts will still be withheld from the public on the grounds that disclosure would "prejudice the commercial interests of any person".

Discussing the rising costs of the Skye bridge project (from £25 million to £93 million), Monbiot argues that the details of the contract may never be known unless there is a public enquiry:

"So what was in the contract? I have no idea, and nor does anyone who was not involved in negotiating it. Though it was giving away our money, though there was no possible security argument for keeping it secret, both the Tory and Labour governments have hidden the contract behind the excuse of “commercial confidentiality”. Unless an inventive challenge can be launched, governments will continue to do so, using the loophole in the act. The lesson of the Skye bridge fiasco is obvious. If we are not allowed to see what’s being done in our name, there’s a pretty good chance we are being ripped off."

A scandal of secrecy and profligacy: the Skye bridge contract allowed private firms to fleece the taxpayer (Guardian, 28 December 2004) Also available on George Monbiot's website: