IF proof were needed of the Government's lack of commitment to openness and accountability, then Secretary for Financial Services Michael Cartland's luncheon speech to a closed meeting of Dutch businessmen on a subject of such public importance as thebanks' interest rate agreement is evidence aplenty.
Mr Cartland was not speaking to any high-powered committee planning market-moving actions. He was speaking to some businessmen and giving his, presumably also the Government's, response to a publicly available report by the Consumer Council. The InterestRate Agreement has been the subject of serious and at times hard-hitting debate between the Consumer Council and the banks. But the Government has played its cards close to its chest. Now it is at last ready to respond, it owes it to the Consumer Council and the public to make Mr Cartland's comments public. Mr Cartland chose instead to reveal his thoughts on the subject to a small sector of the community. Keeping the information secret is a mistake. Mr Cartland said it was a private function and he did not want to discuss it. The function might be private but his comments should not be. Being a senior civil servant, he has an obligation to inform the public. Why only a small sector of the community is privileged to his views? That such habits persist even under Chris Patten's supposedly open and accountable administration shows how deeply ingrained some government officials' habits of dictating what the public should know. Such secrecy only serves to reinforce the public's impression that Government is only paying lip service in introducing more democracy to the territory. Only a more media conscious, openly consumer-friendly and less arrogant attitude will alter that.