Could Blagojevich Take A Hint From India?
For decades, the average Indian citizen could vote for the governmental representatives of his choosing and then follow their foibles in the news—and that's where his access to government ended.
That changed three years ago this month, when National Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi maneuvered a freedom of information act through Parliament. Called the Right to Information (RTI) Act, it began as a provincial crusade in 1990, when disgruntled villagers in Rajasthan were underpaid for municipal construction work they had done (on a project that had been started in the first place in order to give poor workers a source of income against starvation!) and demanded to see town records of the working hours they had put on the clock.
Eventually, the town gave in, and fifteen years later, advocates had brought similar transparency initiatives to the national government. The three years since then have put the RTI through trial by fire. Officials who drag their feet on releasing requested information are fined for their obstructions, but as little as a third of this money has been paid. The English-language press has been slow to embrace the RTI as an investigative tool. Most petitions for documents are for small-time, small-town personal grievances rather than challenges of large-scale corruption. And then there's the matter of only a tenth of Indians even knowing the RTI exists. Nonetheless, the RTI has helped curb a culture of crookedness "straight of out Chicago ward politics." Meanwhile, in Chicago: graft superman Rod Blagojevich has done his best to keep the comparison apt by himself regularly ignoring his own state's FOI act.
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