07/11/2013 05:34 EDT | Updated 09/10/2013 05:12 EDT

The Senate: Where Transparency Goes to Be Mocked


The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and Transparency International define transparency as the "characteristic of governments, companies, organizations and individuals of being open in the clear disclosure of information, rules, plans, processes and actions.

As a principle, public officials, civil servants, the managers and directors of companies and organizations and board trustees have a duty to act "visibly, predictably and understandably to promote participation and accountability."

On June 17, all Senators were sent a letter asking 20 very simple questions about Senate rules and processes. Perhaps the Senators have been too busy to answer. Perhaps they are still reflecting on the questions. But it seems they are in no great hurry to disclose the rules or explain their standard operating procedures. It matters not how gently, politely and humbly one asks. They will not answer.

Canadians are waiting while Deloitte wraps up its investigation of Senator Wallin's claims. And then, we are led to understand that the Board of Internal Economy will develop its own report. With a breathtaking tone-deafness that makes a mockery of the principle of transparency, this closed -door group will meet again to make -- but not deign to explain -- their decisions. Will they disregard what Deloitte says again? If so, will they explain their refusal to accept Deloitte's findings? Will they explain why they bother paying for audits that they plan to ignore?

If Deloitte finds that there are problems with Senate policy, will they again ignore this important insight? Will this be the time when they take their own policy development seriously and make the necessary improvements? If the Board makes up some new rules again, will they share what these are? Or will these new rules, again, remain secret? We won't tell you precisely what rule you broke, just that you broke it!

If you will forgive me, the bi-partisan Board of Internal Economy is in over its head. It appears incapable of adhering to the principle of transparency described by the OECD. One hears from both parties with members in the Senate that the process is just fine. It is, like Mary Poppins herself, practically perfect in every way.

Honourable Senators, if the process is so splendidly perfect, then you should be able to answer the simplest questions submitted to you about it. Canadians are losing patience. And abolishing the place looks more and more like a credible option. If the institution is to survive it must become radical and fearless in its transparency. Tinkering, political posturing and casting blame elsewhere for institutional shortcomings are no longer enough.

What is needed is what MP Peter Julian has proposed for the House of Commons -- credible independent oversight of expenses rather than secretive boards who claim they would like to but are, you know, just unable to provide any more openness.

The World Bank and Transparency International have an uncomplicated and helpful definition of oversight: The process of independently monitoring and investigating the operations and activities of a government agency, company or civil society organization to ensure accountability and efficient use of resources. Transparency -- get yours today!