Nineteen of the nation’s local councils restrict public access to their meetings or do not provide video records of their meetings, Citizen’s Congress Watch (CCW) said yesterday as it released its latest report on councils’ transparency
The non-governmental organization uses 12 indicators to grade the transparency level of each city or county council, including whether independent journalists and members of the public are allowed access to council meetings, whether meetings are live-streamed online and available for replay later and how soon minutes are published following meetings.
The councils are then ranked according to three grades: “satisfactory,” “poor” or “very poor.”
Only three of the 22 cities and counties nationwide earned a “satisfactory” grade in the latest report, while 14 were rated “poor” and five “very poor.”
The three rated “satisfactory” were the city councils of Keelung, Chiayi and Taipei, as they allow freer access for the public, offer live-streaming and video replays of meetings and are more likely to publish minutes within three months following a meeting, the report said.
Yunlin, Hsinchu, Kinmen, Pingtung and Miaoli counties were the worst performers as most of their meetings cannot be watched online live or afterwards and meeting minutes are usually not published until three months later, the report said.
“We found that the worse the city’s or county’s financial situation is, the less transparent its council tends to be,” CCW chief executive officer Chang Hung-lin (張宏林) said.
The councern is that the five councils with “very poor” ratings might be encouraging backroom politicking as they are nearly impossible to supervise, he said.
Voters should not support politicians in the Nov. 24 elections who are opposed to council transparency, Chang said.
“The job of the councilors is to supervise the local government, yet some of them are not even willing to do so in a transparent manner that allows themselves to be supervised,” he said.
City or county governments have a combined annual budget of about NT$1 trillion (NT$32.51 billion) and transparency is necessary for the public to ensure the money is well spent, he said.
“While poorer cities and counties might not provide live-streaming because of lack of funding, the local government is still responsible for acquiring the budget to ensure such supervision is possible,” said Lin Li-fen (林莉棻), a CCW member from Kaohsiung.
“Even when they fail to secure funding for that, they should at the very least publish the meeting minutes,” she said.
Council transparency is essential to maintaining democracy, said Pan Chong-cheng (潘忠政), a CCW member in Taoyuan.
If important council meetings are conducted away from the public’s view, councilors might end up colluding with the government they are supposed to supervise, he said.
Hopefully, more civic organizations will join the CCW in its efforts to promot transparency by local councils, Pan said.
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