Leah Good is an Executive Coordinator to Transparency International’s Management Group
In New York City yesterday afternoon, President Barack Obama was joined by representatives of 45 nations and nine civil society organisations for the official launch of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a new initiative championed by the US and Brazil, which invites governments to join together in a common pledge; to ensure greater transparency, accountability and effectiveness in national governance.
The Open Government Declaration, thus far signed by the OGP Steering Committee of eight nations (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States) outlines four key commitments:
- Increase the availability of information on government activities
- Support increased engagement of citizens in government decision making
- Ensure professional integrity throughout government administrations
- Increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.
Each of the Steering Committee governments has also published their own Action Plan for increased openness, detailing individual country-specific commitments to transparency (a fantastic analysis of the Commitments can be found here).
What is most notable about the OGP initiative is the broad spectrum of governments, from north and south, seeking to work together with civil society and private sector actors at the national level to develop concrete plans for reform. A further 38 countries that attended the OGP launch are now due to formulate their own Action Plans. The hope is for a voluntary race to the top, as governments drive change at home with the support of civil society organisations, as well as the innovations and best practice identified through the Partnership.
“Access to information is moving to a new stage, moving beyond citizens’ access to documents and websites towards a bolder approach…Citizens will soon have the opportunity for exercising a new sense of public control. OGP creates a space for creativity and innovation that will transform our understanding of our right to know”
The OGP signifies a considerable step forward for the international anti-corruption movement. The recognition from 46 national governments of the fundamental role that openness and transparency must play in twenty-first century democracy is to be applauded. In the closing remarks of the session, the UK representative, Cabinet Minister Francis Maude, quoting Victor Hugo, recognised that “an invasion of armies can be resisted; but one cannot resist an idea whose time has come… Transparency is an idea whose time has come”.
Whilst welcoming these high level declarations supporting openness in government, we must also note however that the bulk of the work is still to be done.
President Obama highlighted the vital role that civil society organisations have had in developing and will continue to play in monitoring the implementation of these commitments. TI National Chapters in multiple countries have been involved in advocating for their governments’ participation in the OGP, and will continue to work in the coming months to ensure that the national Action Plans contain meaningful and relevant commitments that drive the real reforms which are crucial to fighting corruption, improving accountability and ultimately, to enhancing faith in democratic systems in nations across the world.
The Brazilian Government, co-chair of the OGP initiative, has been making headlines recently after the dismissal of several cabinet members on corruption related accusations in the past few months. Brazil will host the 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference in November 2012, bringing together the global anti-corruption community from around the world. Ethos, one of TI’s partners in organising the Conference, responded to the Brazil Action Plan on their website here.