The B.C. government is looking for new software that will make it easier for people to submit freedom-of-information requests, looking to technology to revamp its cumbersome system of handling the storage and flow of massive amounts of information.
It shouldn’t be a problem to develop a system that will make government information more easily available. It will be a complex task, given the massive amount of data involved, but technology is up to it.
Now all we need is software that will motivate MLAs to make public the details of their expenses. That one, it seems, is a little more challenging.
So why can’t we know how our elected representatives spend our money? After auditor general John Doyle took the legislature to task for sloppy and non-existent bookkeeping concerning the legislature’s expenditures, promises were made about being more transparent. Speaker Bill Barisoff, the boss of such things in the legislature, said taxpayers would be able to see receipts for MLAs’ expenses online. That hasn’t happened yet. It should.
Travel expenses for MLAs are now available online, but only raw totals are provided, no details.
It isn’t so much about the actual amounts of money involved — MLAs’ expenses are a legitimate cost of doing government business — but how that money is handled is one measure of commitment to the public good.
The government is expecting 10,000 freedom-of-information requests this year, up 52 per cent since 2008. Someone has to look up the information, someone has to decide what can be released to the public, and someone has to make copies and send them out. There isn’t an app for that. So about $600,000 will be spent acquiring the necessary software, training people and setting up the system, not an unreasonable amount, given the scope.
But it should cost very little to include details of legislators’ expenses in the quarterly reports. It’s our money — we have the right to know how it’s spent.
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