Eight More Countries Join OGP; Aguino Plan Criticized

14 September 2011

Eight more countries have indicated their intention to join the Open Government Partnership – Azerbaijan, Chile, Colombia, Ghana, Jordan, Montenegro, Tanzania and Turkey.

OGP membership now stands at 36. The OGP website lists 28 countries that have agreed to participate in addition to the eight founding members.

The list is: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Slovak Republic, Spain, Tanzania and Turkey.

The original eight country members are: the United States and Brazil (co-chairs), South Africa, the United Kingdom, Norway, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines. Seventy-nine countries were eligible under OGP criteria.

The information is posted on the OGP website.

(See previous FreedomInfo.org reports on the OGP by clicking on “open government partnership” under “latest tags.”)

Further additions to the membership list are expected in the run-up to the Sept. 20 meeting in New York City at which heads of state will formalize their commitments.

Action Plans Due out Sept. 20

FreedomInfo.org has learned that the action plans being prepared by the eight countries on the steering committee will be unveiled at the event.

A few of the steering committee countries have revealed draft action plans, already prompting calls for stronger commitments.

In most of the steering committee countries, some level of consultation with civil society has occurred. However, the degree of consultations has been a source of consternation.

In a letter this week, the pro-openness coalition in the Philippines called for President Benigno Aguino to make a firmer commitment to passing a freedom of information law. A draft Brazilian plan has been termed too weak.

U.S groups have asked for the creation of a permanent consultative body. The U.S. government has held a series of meetings and invited public comment on a number of topics, but has not floated a draft plan.

Aguino Asked for More

Philippines pro-transparency groups that form the Right to Know, Right Now Coalition on Sept. 13 sent a letter to President Aquino commenting on draft action plan they were shown.

The main concern expressed is “the draft action plan’s lack of firm, credible commitment for the prompt passage of the long-overdue Freedom of Information Act.”

The letter praised Philippine participation in the OGP. “To us, it reflects your desire to assume an honored place in the international stage as one of the leading lights of transparency and accountability in the world.” Aguino is scheduled to give the keynote speech at an all-day conference in New York that will be held in conjunction with the official event.

The groups supported the draft plan’s focus on four main areas for the scaling up of open government commitments. These concern: the national budget, local governance, procurement and poverty reduction programs.

The Coalition also conveyed “our hope that future consultations on the OGP will be substantially widened to surface areas where acute problems of transparency and accountability need scaled-up response.”

The draft action plan commits the following:

Pushing for Freedom of Information. The government will strive for the passage of a Freedom of Information Act within the current presidency, in consultation with CSOs. Pending this, it will develop and issue an executive-wide policy to improve access to information – including requirements for accurate, timely and understandable summary disclosures by government departments through their websites – within 360 days.”

The coalition commented:

We do not find comfort in the draft plan’s statement that your government will “strive for the passage of a Freedom of Information Act within the current presidency”. With all due respect, in our view it has been the ambiguous and vague statements coming from your office regarding the passage of the Freedom of Information bill that has been the main reason why it is now languishing in the House of Representatives, and moving at a snail’s pace in the Senate. Despite repeated appeals for your endorsement, and months of work by a Malacañang study group on the FOI bill, we have not seen any appreciable advance in your position.

Neither do we find comfort in the draft’s promise of an executive-wide policy to improve access to information. For one, an executive order will not be able to settle the gaps in the limits of access coverage and exceptions, as this is a legislative matter. For another, its application will be limited to the executive, even as access issues are present as well in the other branches of government and in independent constitutional bodies. It also cannot prescribe sanctions that are penal in nature.

We did consider such executive order to be a good interim measure at the start of your term, under the premise that you would categorically and unambiguously support the immediate passage of the FOI law. But at this point where we seem to be endlessly running after your elusive concerns, we see the said executive-wide policy as only justifying the further delay in the passage of the FOI law.

We humbly submit that it is within your power, in fact, we believe it is your constitutional duty, to provide a true scale-up of open government commitment on access to information. A crucial starting point is for the Action Plan to express full, firm, and explicit commitment to the immediate passage of the FOI law in the present Congress, and within the remaining months of 2011, to present to Congress your proposed amendments that address your concerns on the FOI bill.

It is the presence or absence of such commitment that will determine for us whether we will view the action plan and your OGP activities in New York as facilitating a significant scaling up of transparency mechanisms and practices, or sadly, only legitimizing your transparency comfort zone and your ignoring of the long standing people’s clamor for an FOI law.

Brazilian Plan Emerges

A draft action plan circulated in Brazil to civil society groups has also come under criticism.

Greg Michener, a FOI activist and blogger with close ties to the pro-transparency coalition, wrote:

Brazil’s proposed initiatives are somewhat promising, and appear to be in line with the general spirit of the Open Government Partnership. But the proposals overlook basic transparency and accountability deficits that Brazil’s maturing democracy still needs to address. Brazil’s approach suggests a potential danger posed by the OGP: the ‘gov 2.0’ focus may be distracting emerging democracies from negotiating more systemic accountability and transparency lacunae.

Michener summarized the Brazil action plan:

The documents outline Brazil’s tentative plans for the Open Government Partnership. These focus on improvements or new initiatives centering on:

a) A yet-to-be-enacted freedom of information law (read on).

b) Upgrades to the federal government’s Transparency Portal.

c) Events and interactions with the NGO and private sectors.

d) The integration of ombudsmen and participatory mechanisms into federal institutions and training programs.

e) A plan to be unveiled in March, 2012, for a “National Infrastructure on Open Data”[1] including a data.gov.br portal and accompanying IT contracting regulation.

f) A better integration and upgrade of current IT platforms to increase civic participation.

g) Providing data on government contractors and suppliers.

This list appears to be promising. But the federal government may consider a few other initiatives that are less ‘boutique 2.0’ and more focused on addressing fundamental lacunae that affect the quality of Brazil’s transparency and democracy.

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