In 2009, I had the pleasure of recording an audio interview with a man Forbes magazine referred to as “The Indiana Jones of International Finance”. We didn’t call them “podcast interviews” back then. I simply recorded the interview and made it accessible to a small group membership site I ran.
That man, Robert P. Smith, made many millions in some of the most adventurous ways a finance guy can, pioneering what would become the “emerging market sovereign debt” category of investments, flipping distressed securities from places like post-Soviet Russia, Turkey, El Salvador, and … my native Nigeria.
That’s what piqued my interest.
I had somehow come across his book, “Riches Among The Ruins”, and decided to buy it. I did not know when I bought it that it would partly feature the story of how Nigeria’s government – from about the time I was a young boy in Nigeria – maneuvered to secretly buy back its own defaulted securities.
It was information few Nigerians like me would have known about or had access to, as Nigerian government – and society – struggled with transparency. And still does.
TRANSPARENCY AS A LEVER OF PROSPERITY AND PEACE (STABILITY)
Nigeria isn’t the only society whose government struggles with transparency. Although to a much different degree, my other home, the United States – and its government – also has had many periods in its history when transparency has been difficult to deliver.
In the United States, a continuing bulwark against the potential ravages from a governance culture of secrecy and opacity is The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) of 1967. The Freedom of Information Act gave members of the U.S. public the right to request records from any federal agency, supporting openness, transparency, and hopefully contributing to providing greater accountability and better governance by limiting corruption and abuses.
And it is of deep importance.
Just last year, a lot of disinformation, denial, or silence, accompanied the arrival and spread of COVID-19 epidemic, and eventual pandemic. And it’s not a new phenomenon, or exclusive to the Trump administration. The Obama administration was notorious for a record backlog of unanswered FOIA requests, and George W. Bush was accused of neutralizing FOIA access to his gubernatorial records even before his Presidency and the hyper-secretive posture of his post-911 administration.
In light of those realities, we should all make sure that “freedom of information” continues to be celebrated. And protected.
TODAY IS “FREEDOM OF INFORMATION” DAY
March 16th is apparently “Freedom of Information” Day. I just discovered this yesterday.
Freedom of Information Day is set for March 16th to honor the birthday of President James Madison, who drafted the constitution, including the Bill of Rights, and who was an advocate of transparency in government.
SO WHAT NOW?
Digest some of the “Freedom of Information” resources below, spread the word about the importance of these themes in your social circles, and … keep paying attention to protecting this access.
- FOIA.gov – FOIA Act Information Website – The U.S. Government’s main FOIA information portal; How to make a FOIA request and more.
- Bellevue University FOIA Information Summary Page – Excellent Summary of FOIA & Breakdown of “Freedom of Information Day”
- More on Freedom of Information DAY – Summary, Exemptions, Related Quotes, and More.
- U.S. State Dept – FOIA Exemptions and Exclusions List (& Other Related Government Links)
- NFOIC.org – NATIONAL FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COALITION (NFOIC) Website – Learn more, Consider Joining This Group.