New study finds HRM still lagging behind in public transparency

Tendering process criticized by Right to Know Coalition.

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A report released today from the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia finds there’s a lot of ground HRM has left to cover in terms of public transparency.

“Without robust transparency, it is impossible for the public to monitor how their tax dollars are being spent,” said the Coalition in a statement. “Our research demonstrates that Halifax has a long way to go to fully guarantee a right to information for its citizens.”

A large concern remains the municipal tendering process. Currently, HRM only publishes limited data about the winning bid. The coalition draws a comparison to other jurisdiction like Richmond, Virginia, where it’s standard practice to publish details of every bid received—including a bidder-submitted breakdowns of costs. That has the dual-benefit of giving the public a clearer picture of where its money is being spent, and improves competition by allowing other companies to refine their application process.

Open data has been something of a watchword for HRM over the last few years, particularly after the secrecy that defined many of the scandals under previous mayor Peter Kelly. Regional council has taken steps towards increasing transparency and release government data, including creating the city’s “Open Data” program that’s so-far released scores of city datasets into the hands of journalists, app developers and curious members of the public. Today’s report acknowledges those leaps forward, but claims HRM still has room for improvement.

The Right to Know Coalition also says HRM can improve its procurement and tendering database (currently housed inconsistently online by the province), publish online the annual reports on HRM’s procurement budget that the city already prepares and record all in-camera meetings to be released later if the subject matter is no longer sensitive.

You can read the full report from the Coalition here.

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