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17 Feb 2009

Recovery dot com

George Onisiforou

The recent global economic developments have given governments a new air of authority over other institutions, including businesses. The possibility of increasing public scrutiny in private businesses would have seemed unthinkable ten years ago. Now, it is not only a possibility, it is an expectation.

Governments now have the ultimate ‘license to operate’ and can demand that others follow their behaviour.

US president Barack Obama recently announced that once his economic recovery plan is put into action, his administration will set up a website (recovery dot GOV) that will allow citizens to track how and where tax dollars are spent. As the current home page of that site notes, this is part of an ‘unprecedented effort to root out waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending in our government.’

By following a more transparent and accountable path, Obama’s administration is not only trying to gain the trust of its citizens but is also saying that all other institutions, including businesses, should take note and act in a similar way.

This is also the message that Bradley Googins, Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, advocates in his own blog. He notes that taxpayers expect companies receiving a bailout to behave as active and responsible citizens, and advises that they ‘show a little humility’, and ‘get to work rebuilding the trust of the public and the economy of the country.’ He concludes that ‘how well the banks perform regarding responsiveness, accountability and transparency in the short term will likely determine how much more government oversight and control will follow.’

Given the Australian Prime Minister’s philosophical exploration of the government’s new role after the global financial crisis (February issue of The Monthly), increased governmental control should also be expected in Australia too. Prime Minister Rudd advocates for ‘stronger global disclosure standards’ and ‘stronger supervisory frameworks to provide more responsible corporate conduct’.

It makes sense then that companies should follow suit with efforts to increase their own accountability and transparency. Figuratively speaking, if business wants to take back its leading role then it should set up its own website, recovery dot COM.

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