Towards Transparency in Finance and Governance
The study of transparency is increasingly a more topical, broadly relevant, but also more under-researched enterprise. The Asian financial crisis has highlighted not only the welfare consequences of financial sector transparency, sparking a series of yet unresolved debates, but has also linked this relatively narrow problem to the broader context of transparency in governance. Its significance has broadened geographically as well as across different sectors. It has been observed that curtailment of transparency, often on scanty pretexts, is commonplace even in the highly developed countries. This suggests a broad and possibly radical reform agenda. Departing from the urgency of these observations, this paper reviews the existing literature on transparency in finance and governance, indicates remaining knowledge gaps, and offers some hypothesis on the mutual significance of the two issues. The first two sections of the paper outlines a conceptual framework for defining and measuring transparency that distinguishes among its desirable characteristics; access, timeliness, relevance, and quality. It also suggests methodologies that may produce tractable measures of transparency. Additionally, it places in context debates concerning transparency; its desirability, contingency, complexity and regulation. Reviewing critiques of objections against disclosure, the chapter advances a general preference for transparency, not only in the developing but also in the developed world. Nevertheless, it emphasizes the need to weigh the costs and benefits of more transparency in designing regulatory policy. In general, while consequences of information imperfections are well recognized, the solution is not simply a matter of more information. The third section treats the role of transparency in promoting greater financial stability, acknowledging exceptions to the general preference expressed earlier, in relation to financial stability. It treats as priority policy issues the following problems: developing institutional infrastructure, developing standards and accounting practices, improving incentives for disclosure and balancing countervailing regulations to minimize perverse incentives generated by safety net arrangements such as deposit insurance. An important suggestion is that since institutional development is gradual, relatively simple regulations such as limits on credit expansion, may be best tailored to developing countries. Implicit in this section is the notion that there are absolute limits to transparency, in particular for lack of adequate enforcement. The last section elaborates on the concomitant link between financial markets and governance, discussing select consequences of transparency for national-level and local governance, identifying some policy implications and suggesting further research issues. As illustrated by the case of Indonesia, it argues that financial reform may be predicated on broader public sector reforms. Again, because formal institutions take time to develop, it highlights three principles of reform to promote incentives for openness: harnessing private sector participation in service provision, promoting exit and contestability, and encouraging "voice" and public participation. These are now increasingly being integrated to new innovative data collection and analysis techniques, and to particular dissemination methods promoting collective action to improve governance and enhance transparency. The chapter concludes by outlining the difficulties of implementing greater participation and voice.
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