Eight Countries to Join Open Government Partnership

15 July 2011

Eight governments have indicated their intention to join the Open Government Partnership, according to Maria Otero, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs.

Speaking at a reception following the July 12 kick-off event in Washington, Otero listed Kenya, Honduras, Mongolia, Chile, Uruguay, Thailand, Liberia and Canada.

They would join eight other countries who serve on the steering committee planning the OGP. These are: Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States. India was an original member, but recently decided not to continue. (See related report in FreedomInfo.org.)

A State Department spokesperson later elaborated, writing FreedomInfo.org:

Kenya and Honduras publicly announced their intention to join formally. Mongolia publicly said it would go home and recommend joining to its government. Those others that Otero listed must have indicated directly to her that they intended to go home and recommend to their governments that they join OGP in September. There were a good number of other countries that indicated the same. Once we get formal notice from these countries that they intend to implement, their letters will immediately go up on the OGP website, so keep your eyes peeled on the site!

Countries electing to participate must embrace an Open Government Declaration; deliver a concrete action plan, developed with public consultation and feedback; and commit to independent reporting on their progress going forward. For further information see the OGP website which includes a “roadmap” describing the OGP process. Also, the list of participants at the July 12 meeting is now posted. The State Department also has an OGP website.

The next OGP event is slated for early September on the fringes of the United Nations General Assembly, when organizers hope that heads of state will participate in announcing their action plans.

Eighty countries were invited to the OGP meeting and 60 countries came. Those sending official representatives, by FreedomInfo.org’s review, were:

Albania, Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay and Zambia.

About 60 representatives of civil society groups also attended.

Eligibility Information to Be Released

The OGP is expected to soon release the names of all 80 countries invited to the July 12 meeting and the scores that made them eligible. The absence of this information had raised some eyebrows. It probably will be put here.

These countries qualified based on a 16 scoring system, with 12 points necessary to get an invitation.

The judging was done by “an independent group of experts.” Two points each were awarded for the publication of the executive’s budget proposal and audit report, based on an index done by the International Budget Partnership (4 points). The other three criteria concerned access to information (4 points), disclosures related to public officials (4 points), and citizen engagement (4 points).

The roadmap explains it further.

  1. 1.      Fiscal Transparency

The timely publication of essential budet documents forms the basic building blocks of budget accountability and an open budget system.

Measurement: Two points awarded for publication of each of two essential documents (Executive’s Budget Proposal and Audit Report) for open budgets, using the 2010 Open Budget Index, conducted by the International Budget Partnership, which covers 94 countries.

  1. 2.      Access to Information

An access to information law that guarantees the public’s right to information and access to government data is essential to the spirit and practice of open government.

Measurement: 4 points awarded to countries with access to information laws in place, 3 points if acountry has a constitutional provision guaranteeing access to information, and 1 point if a country has a draft access to information law under consideration, taken from a 2010 survey by Right2Info.org (a collaboration of the Open Society Institute Justice Initiative and AccessInfo Europe) that covers 197 countries.

  1. 3.      Disclosures Related to Elected or Senior Public Officials

Rules that require public disclosure of income and assets for elected and senior public officials are essential to anti-corruption and open, accountable government.

Measurement: 4 points awarded to countries with a law requiring disclosures for politicians and senior public officials to the public, 3 points awarded to countries with either a law requiring disclosures for politicians OR senior public officials to the public, and 2 points awarded for a law requiring non-public disclosures for elected or senior officials, based on a 2009 World Bank-commissioned survey on disclosure by elected officials entitled “Disclosure by Politicians,” by Simeon Djankov, Rafael La Porta, Florencio Lopez-de-Silanes, and Andrei Shleifer, which covers 175 countries, a 2009 World Bank study on income and asset disclosure by senior officials entitled “Income and asset disclosure in World Bank client countries,” by Richard Messick, World Bank Senior Public Sector Specialist, which covers 149 countries and OECD Governance at a Glance 2009, covering 28 countries.

  1. 4.      Citizen Engagement

Open Government requires openness to citizen participation and engagement in policymaking and governance, including basic protections for civil liberties.

Measurement: Using the 2010 EIU Democracy Index’s Civil Liberties sub-indicator where 10 is the highest and 0 is the lowest score, 4 points for countries scoring above 7.5, 3 points for countries scoring above 5, 2 points for countries scoring above 2.5, and 0 points otherwise. The 2010 Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index covers 167 countries.

Countries can earn a total of 16 points for their performance against these minimum standards of open government.  As the Open Budget Index covers only 94 countries, some countries are only measured on three criteria (and can earn up to 12 points).  In order to participate in OGP, countries must score at least 75% of the total possible points available to them (e.g. 12 out of 16, or 9 out of 12).

An independent group of experts will oversee the minimum criteria for participation to ensure that all OGP participating countries remain in good standing and that the performance measures are up to date. This independent expert group will be charged with informing the Steering Committee if a country is suspected of falling below the minimum eligibility criteria at any point.

Blog Commentary on OGP

Greg Michener, blogging on Observing Brazil, praised the initiative, but commented on Brazil’s score on the four-part eligibility considering it lacks a freedom of information law. “Is Brazil Fit to Co-chair the OGP?” he asked.

Brazil scores 15 out of 16 points, he said.

On access to information, Brazil scores 2 points for possessing a constitutional provision for public disclosure. It scores an additional point for having a draft access to information law, which is now being considered in Congress. Thus on this criterion Brazil scores almost full points, even though its constitutional guarantee to access public information is effectively impracticable without comprehensive regulation (a freedom or access to information law) and the draft law has been stuck in Congress since 2009. A recent bill to conceal dollar numbers on procurement contracts for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics has also apparently been glossed over, as has Brazil’s somewhat dysfunctional Transparency Portal— Brazil’s earns full points on fiscal transparency.

The question that should be on everyone’s minds is whether Brazil is fit to co-chair the OGP, much less whether it should qualify for the OGP in the first place. If the OGD adopts these sorts of permissive benchmarks before its formal inauguration, much less makes a co-chair of a country not leading on transparency, can we expect the OGP to be anything more than feel-good window-dressing?

Nevertheless, Michener concluded:

Regardless of what the skeptics say, if there was ever a time in history to launch an international open government partnership, this is it. Historically, it’s a highly atypical diplomatic initiative: unideological, nonexclusive, engaged with all levels of government and society, and diffuse—it’s a heck of a promising initiative, if it turns out to be for real.

A blogger from Mexico, David Sasaki, wrote before the meeting, “The PR-talk is promising, but there are plenty of reasons to not get one’s hopes up just yet.” He complained that the OGP “has hardly been transparent in its conception.” He is an independent consultant working with the Latin America and Information Programs of Open Society Institute, which is a major supporter of the OGP, but was writing as an individual.

Yet another blog post, by Emma Smith of The Access Initiative at the World Resources Institute, suggests, “The OGP can serve as a pilot for collaborative international governance that can be scaled up at Rio+20,” referring to the 2012 meeting of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Brazil in 2012. Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration concerns transparency, citizen engagement and accountability and improving it  “looms very large” on 2012 agenda, Smith wrote.

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