THE BLOG

Transparent Information: A Resource for Change

11/06/2013 18:55 BST | Updated 11/08/2013 10:12 BST

Information is power - this is well-known. The publication of government information gives us the means to hold the government to account for the way it spends tax-payers' money. Likewise, the disclosure of corporate information allows the public and investors a choice as to how they interact with companies that violate human rights or degrade the environment. This recognition of the power of information is why I support the government's efforts for transparency to be at the heart of the G8 discussions in Northern Ireland this week.

What is less well-understood about information is that it is valuable and empowers information entrepreneurs to create new apps, websites and online tools. The Prime Minister is aware of this opportunity, writing in the Daily Telegraph that "transparency can help with the other side of the economic equation too - boosting enterprise. Estimates suggest the economic value of government data could be as much as £6 billion a year".

I agree, and those arguing for greater transparency at the G8 would do well to draw on the economic rationale that bolsters their case.

Such are the benefits of the public disclosure of government and corporate information, that it would be remiss of the UK not to promote such behaviours abroad when it has the opportunity to do so. This is the sentiment of the Enough Food for Everyone IF Campaign, of which Save the Children is a leading member. The campaign argues that greater transparency of developing country governments and the large corporations that operate there will strengthen those countries' ability to tackle persistent problems like hunger and child malnutrition.

But the social benefits of opening up government data go beyond hunger. As Jay Naidoo, former minister in Nelson Mandela's government has stated, "If salaries have been set aside for 20 teachers but only 15 are actually there, then the school governing board and community would be the government's biggest allies in rooting out corruption." Ultimately, this would mean more children in school getting a better education.

Equally, developing countries are starting to recognise that greater transparency has a financial function alongside the greater levels of accountability it affords. For instance, the Kenyan Government data portal opendata.go.ke, has the explicit goal of making core government data available to both the public and ICT developers. Alongside this, the Kenyan ICT Board's project Tandaa promotes the creation and distribution of locally relevant digital content and seed money to ICT entrepreneurs.

Of course, this is still very early days for the open government movement and we cannot be sure of every consequence. Government and corporate transparency is not a silver bullet to all problems- either in the UK or in developing economies. For instance, it does not reduce the need for appropriate laws and boundaries around the practices that are exposed by data disclosure. It may, however, unlock the key to more sustainable finance in the developing world as well as in the UK.

Greater transparency around who owns and profits from companies can help to tackle tax avoidance and support the revenues of governments all around the globe. This is a critical point, with the sum total lost by developing countries to tax havens amounting to more than three times the entire global aid budget.

The Prime Minister has tried to make transparency, particularly around tax, the focus of the G8. He is right to do so. The information that transparency offers is valuable, both in terms of the accountable governance it fosters and the economic opportunities it presents.