Transparency in government and finance is an easy concept, but so hard to achieve around the world. I recall 30 years ago in the United States when someone suggested that all real estate sales transactions should be transparent. There was a great protest by those who controlled the “peoples” information. Every county government office resisted with the argument “This information is the people’s property, and we must protect it!” Of course, all they were protecting was their right to withhold the information from the people, and their right to sometimes charge the public, to release information. It was an invitation to bribery and abuse. Then there were the businesses that had some information, that they would withhold it from the general public in hopes that they could profit by it.
But, after a few years, everyone finally recognized the simple edict: “INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE”. We in the United States realized that if information was made available to everyone…then it actually benefited everyone…and lubricated the wheels of economic growth.
TRANSPARENCY IS A FOUNDATION THAT ECONOMIC GROWTH AND FREEDOM IS BASED ON
A good example of resistance to transparency recently occurred in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Our firm, BBA Mongolia announced the creation of a national data base of real estate transactions. This data base is being organized into an internet site and will be available to everyone. It is desperately needed and bankers and investors have told us they are eager to utilize this database when it is completed. The advantages are obvious. Bankers and lenders will be able to find out what their collateral is actually worth. Investors will be able to see what the true real estate market economy is in Mongolia. Foreign companies will be able to budget how much they will have to invest to build new businesses in Mongolia. And the general public will be able to get data on property values at the touch of their computer, without standing in long lines at government offices, or bribing officials. Farmers and herdsmen will be able to see what the land in their area is worth. Even government officials will benefit, for they will be able to see what market trends are.
The most important thing to consider about transparency is this. If a nation, a company or an individual wants foreign investment or partners, the global economy and international standards require transparency and freedom of information. It is a big issue. It is a basic issue for economic development throughout the world.
But we learned that in Mongolia, in 2004, that just like in the USA 30 years ago, government beurocrats, who are in charge of the information, (that by Mongolian Institutional law article 16.14 is the "property of the people") have sometimes determined to withhold this information. We actually obtained photographs of one notice in the department of real estate records forbidding the release of information for such an open data base. Who suffers? The people! Now only people willing to bribe, or who have some kind of internal power or influence can freely gain access to real estate transaction data. This is nothing new and only reflects on the ill informed simplicity of a few misguided people.
Slowly, nations such as Mongolia, especially the young new generation, that is eager for progress and open government, will see the power of free information and how it stimulates growth and economic opportunity for all. And slowly, financial institutions are realizing that services such as independent appraisals of assets and accurate assessment of the value of loan collateral are critical to attracting foreign investment. That is one reason companies such as BBA Mongolia exist, to help nations experience economic progress, through higher standards of transparent reporting. In some cases, transparency is the element critical to the survival of some institutions. Transparency is only dangerous and threatening, to those afraid of the light of truth. We see that light beginning to shine in nations such as Mongolia, and trust that the whims of a few who prefer darkness will not block that light.