They Talk the Talk – But Do They Walk the Walk?

Gissur Ó Erlingsson, Emanuel Wittberg


Transparency is recognized as a crucial condition for accountability, good governance and democracy. As right to information (RTI) laws have spread, it is crucial to ask whether ambitious legislative frameworks translate to de facto transparency. In this article, we test how well local governments in Sweden – a ‘most-likely country’ for implementing RTI-laws – comply with its comparatively ambitious Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act. As a side-effect, we also gauge if New Public Management-reforms, here illustrated by increased public ownership of enterprises in local government, implies lessened compliance with RTI-legislation. Requesting information from 462 randomly selected public administrations and municipally owned enterprises, counter-intuitive findings are observed. Less than half of the organizations respected the RTI-legislation, and no significant differences were found between the public administrations and publicly owned enterprises. The findings have methodological as well as empirical implications. They highlight the importance of not only studying legislative frameworks, but also analyzing actual implementation of RTI-frameworks in everyday situations. Also, they demonstrate that problems relating to openness can be observed in low-corrupt, mature democracies with strong bureaucratic capacity that traditionally are hailed for their long history of ambitious RTI-laws. Lastly, and contrary to much popular belief, the findings indicate that publicly owned corporations not necessarily do imply a ‘accountability deficit’.

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Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration

School of Public Administration, Box 712 - SE-405 30 Göteborg

ISSN: 2001-7405, E-ISSN: 2001-7413