Obama Transparency Effort Seeks National Commitments

6 July 2011

By Toby McIntosh

The United States will host a multinational meeting July 12 at which representatives from more than 50 countries will discuss ways to bring more openness to their nations.

Sixteen categories of transparency will be put on the table, according to pre-meeting materials obtained by FreedomInfo.org. The eventual goal is for individual countries to pledge to take pro-transparency steps.

Such promises, the materials suggest, could include  not only the adoption of more and better freedom of information laws, but also transparency reforms in areas such as procurement, budgets, the environmental, the financial sector, fisheries and electricity.

The day-long meeting — beginning with a welcome from Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and ending with an evening reception at the State Department — will mark a key step for an initiative announced last September by President Obama. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Obama, in his Sept. 23, 2010, speech to the United Nations General Assembly, called for governments to make “specific commitments to promote transparency.” Since then, a steering committee of officials from nine countries and representatives from civil society groups have worked to better define the “Open Government Partnership.”

The July 12 session will re-introduce Obama’s initiative in more detail and is intended to prime more governments to participate in a major pro-transparency kick-off event in September, when heads of state gather for the next United Nations General Assembly meeting.

In September, “we will invite over 80 nations to stand with President Obama and heads of states as they pledge their commitment to the principles of open government and actions to achieve them,” in the recent words of Maria Otero, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, the primary U.S. representative for the OGP, which is now co-chaired by Brazil. (See previous FreeedomInfo.org report.)

Brazil took on the leadership role this Spring at a time when the new president, Dilma Rousseff, expected to soon sign a freedom of information bill, a goal now being thwarted by opposition in the Senate. Rouseff has indicated a willingness to compromise. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.) Brazil will be represented at the meeting by Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota.

Multifaceted Pledges Foreseen

Potential OGP participants will have a large menu from which to select their transparency commitments.

Taking an expansive reading of government transparency, a 96-page pre-meeting “guide” outlines 16 “illustrative commitments and best practices.”

The guide is identified as “the first document of its kind to compile the state of the art in transparency, accountability and citizen participation across 16 areas of governance, ranging from broad categories such as access to information, service delivery and budgeting to more specific sectors such as forestry, procurement and climate finance.”

The various sections were authored by groups active in the various areas.

“Each expert’s contribution is organized according to three tiers of potential commitments around open government for any given sector—minimal steps for countries starting from a relatively low baseline, more substantial steps for countries that have already made moderate progress, and most ambitious steps for countries that are advanced performers on open government.”

16 Transparency Topics

The list of 16 topics and their authors is:

1. Aid  (Publish What You Fund)

2. Asset Disclosure  (Global Integrity)

3. Budgets (The International Budget Project)

4. Campaign Finance (Transparency International-USA)

5. Climate Finance (World Resources Institute)

6. Fisheries (TransparentSea)

7. Financial Sector Reform (Global Financial Integrity)

8. Forestry (Global Witness)

9. Electricity  (World Resources Institute)

10. Environment (The Access Initiative)

11. Extractive Industries (Revenue Watch Institute)

12. Open Government Data (The Center for Internet and Society-India)

13. Procurement (Transparency International-USA)

14. Right to Information (Access Info and the Center for Law and Democracy)

15. Security Sector (Open Society Foundations)

16. Service Delivery (Twaweza)

Wide-Ranging Agenda; Open and Closed

The July 12 agenda will begin with a plenary panel on “innovations in open government.” The panel includes government officials and CSO representatives from the United Kingdom, Mexico, the United States and India.

This will be followed by “issue framing sessions” on four topics: “Promoting Transparency,” “Fighting Corruption,” “Civic Participation,” and “Service Citizens.” Again the participants will be from many countries and organizations.

Besides the United States and Brazil, other governments involved early were India, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom. The July 12 meeting, however, is expected to attract representatives from dozens of other countries.

Events closed to the press will begin following a working lunch at which steering committee members will seek to explain the OGP concept informally in preparation for a series of afternoon meetings. These will begin with a “Guided Walkthrough of Innovation Alley” and proceed on to “Idea Sprints.”

The Walkthrough will be “an interactive display demonstrating technology and other tools and methodologies available from private and non-profit companies and organizations that enhance open government.”  Participants “will break into two groups and walk together through sequenced presentations on key innovations in open government.”

Idea sprints will be “small, simultaneous sessions in which smaller groups of participants will engage on specific issues they are tackling or wish to address in their own countries. Groups will rapidly develop a set of possible solutions and approaches in this space as well as identifying potential landmines.” A list of potential topics is suggested.

After a coffee break, country delegations will meet in small groups to discuss “practical implementation of OGP concepts in their specific countries.” The agenda says further: They will identify concrete steps toward developing and implementing an Action Plan and will brainstorm approaches, obstacles, and best practices for broad participation in OGP practices. “

Samantha Power, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, will moderate a closing panel showcasing the efforts of four countries on issues of transparency and accountability in governance.

Finally, Secretary of State Clinton will host a reception, “review the accomplishments of the day, and present a vision for the future of the Open Government Partnership.”

Online Preview Planned

On Thursday,  July 7, Otero, the U.S. Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, will hold a conversation with Warren Krafchik, Director of the International Budget Partnership, on the Open Government Partnership.

The discussion will be moderated by Cheryl Benton, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. The discussion will begin at 10:30 a.m. EST and will be streamed live on DipNote.

The public is  invited to participate by submitting questions, some of which will be selected for response during the live broadcast. Submit  questions  on DipNote (http://www.blogs.state.gov).


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