Brazil Agrees to Co-Chair International FOI Effort

22 April 2011

Brazil has agreed to be the co-chair with the United States of an international effort to encourage freedom of information, a plan that has been in the making since it was broached last fall by President Obama.

No official announcement has been made of the co-chairmanship of what is being called the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

A planning meeting scheduled for May 6-7 in Washington has been delayed, in part to get good participation from representatives from North Africa and the Middle East, where FOI laws are a rarity.

Brazil’s willingness to help lead the effort was finalized when Obama traveled to Brazil March and was reported in the Brazilian media. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff recently stated her support for a FOI bill, and work on the stalled bill in the legislature was resumed to meet a May 3 deadline she set. (See previous posts of April 20 and April 18

In the meantime, planning is proceeding to develop a work program for the OGP, with a steering committee that includes representatives from nine governments and various  international  nongovernmental organizations.

Obama introduced the idea for the initiative in a speech to the United National last September. (See previous report) Also, during a trip to India in November, he announced plans for a U.S.-India joint effort to export lessons from the Indian Right to Information experience. (See previous report.) Since then the White House has said nothing publically about either initiative.

Discussions are under way about how to operate the initiative. Having a multi-stakeholder steering committee based on the governance model of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative is one possibility. Other governments currently involved are India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom. 

Subcommittees were put in charge of developing the terms of reference and rules of procedure for the steering committee, a draft declaration of principles for members, and a list of potential concrete commitments for members to make.

At a planned July meeting, the current members are expected to share their action plans and shape an Open Government Declaration – conceived of as a voluntary and non-binding document enumerates a set of high-level principles on transparency and containing common commitments to changing the way that government does business.

A kick-off event is anticipated in September, when heads of state gather for the United Nations General Assembly meeting.   

The goals of the effort include increasing the responsiveness of government to citizens, countering corruption, promoting economic efficiencies, harnessing innovation, and improving the delivery of services.

The declaration will be coupled with concrete action plans from signatories that will be publicly released and deposited on an Open Government Portal.

After the September launch, Brazil will assume the leadership of OGP, with a new co-chair. Brazil will host the next high-level meeting of OGI in 2012, at which new signatories will pledge their action plans and where civil society will evaluate and report on progress against past commitments.

In order to participate in the initiative, governments will be asked to demonstrate commitment to open government by meeting four performance standards: timely publication of essential budget documents, an access to information law, rules that require public disclosure of all income and assets for elected and senior public officials, openness to citizen participation and engagement in policymaking and governance.   

The standards will be rated on a numerical scale of 12 or 16 points (not all countries are rated by the Open Budget Index and will not be rated on that point), an must have a score of 9 out of 12 or 12 out of 16 to participate. Future plans call for the development of improved metrics.

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