Open Government Effort Officially Begun at NYC Event

20 September 2011

World leaders inaugurated the 46-nation Open Government Partnership Sept. 20 in New York City with speeches about the value of open government.

Endorsing a declaration on open government, the partner countries agreed to issue national action plans in which they make commitments to advance open government on many fronts.

The eight founding members issued their “action plans” Sept. 20, all available on the OGP website. The 38 other countries that have agreed to join will prepare their action plans for presentation at a March meeting in Brazil.

The official kick-off event came one year after President Obama, during a speech at the United Nations last September, challenged countries to make open government commitments and to be held accountable for progress in meeting them.

The initiative was then developed by a steering committee of eight core countries — United States and Brazil (co-chairs), South Africa, the United Kingdom, Norway, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines – and nine representatives from civil society guided the process. Thirty-eight countries agreed to join, for a total of 46.

At the one-hour ceremony Sept. 20, Obama and others spoke about the value of open government, the OGP and their national action plans. “The more open we are, the more willing we are to head constructive criticism, the more effective we will be,” Obama stated. (See their talks here.)

The multilateral effort was praised as “a source of collective strength” by Philippines President Benigno Aguino.

The participation level is “beyond what we had expected,” said Under Secretary of State Maria Otero at the outset of an OGP “Power of Open” conference also being in New York Sept. 19. The conference featured speeches about open government successes and discussions about future directions.

The Declaration was summarized by Obama:

Today, the eight founding nations of our partnership are going even further — agreeing to an Open Government Declaration rooted in several core principles. We pledge to be more transparent at every level — because more information on government activity should be open, timely, and freely available to the people. We pledge to engage more of our citizens in decision-making — because it makes government more effective and responsive. We pledge to implement the highest standards of integrity — because those in power must serve the people, not themselves. And we pledge to increase access to technology — because in this digital century, access to information is a right that is universal.

Rakesh Rajani of the East African group Twaweza was the civil society representative who spoke at the session, beginning, “Openness can bring governments and citizens together, cultivate shared understandings, and help solve our practical problems.”

Action Plans Released

The action plans contain detailed commitments, some for improving existing initiatives and for some new ones. The subjects addressed are broad, including: open data, gender equity, service delivery, citizen participation, aid transparency, and many more.

The U.S. plan details 26 action points. Among the newer items, noted by Obama, is that the United States will join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and seek to strengthen whistleblower protections. (See related report.)

Brazil pledged, among many other things, to increase transparency in open data by restructuring its Transparency Portal and launching an Open Data Portal. (See related report.)

The Philippines promised to extend citizen involvement in the budgeting process, and only generally addressed one of the most contentious ongoing issues – the pending freedom of information bill. (See related report.)

See related articles on the plans from Norway, South Africa, Mexico, the United Kingdom and Indonesia.

46 Members

The list of the 38 countries that sent in letters of their intent to join is: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Peru, Romania, Slovak Republic, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine and Uruguay.

There are 79 “eligible” countries that met minimum conditions set by the OGP steering committee, composed of government and nongovernmental organization members.

The list of 33 countries not joining so far is:

Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Costa Rica, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Jamaica, Japan, Luxembourg, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago and Uganda.

Process Ahead

The 38 countries that agreed to join the multinational effort now will develop their own action plans through consultations with civil society, another element in OGP compact.

The OGP has scheduled a Dec. 7-8 ministerial meeting in Brazil at which the countries developing their action plans can share their progress before submitting completed plans in March in Brazil.

Disclosure, Governance

The OGP organizational structure is somewhat unusual in its composition, with eight government representatives (India was originally involved, but dropped out) and nine civil society members (see names here). Obama commented on this in his talk (transcript) as emblematic of the OGP effort, saying, “So I welcome our civil society representatives, not as spectators, but as equal partners in this initiative.”

The expanded and revised website indicates that the steering committee, which has come under some criticism for not issuing minutes, intends to be more open about its activities, stating:

The OGP Steering Committee is currently developing a proactive information disclosure policy for all OGP activities and policies.  This draft policy will be posted here for a 30-day public comment period shortly. Please check back regularly for updates.

In addition, the OGP said the steering committee “is currently developing a document that describes the formal governance structure of OGP in greater detail. It will be made available when it has been finalized.”

Regarding future OGP leadership, the website recounts that the U.S. has served as lead chair from January 2011-September 2011.  In September 2011, the Brazilian Government becomes the lead chair through August 2012.  The United States will continue as supporting co-chair through the March 2012 meeting to ensure a smooth transition, according to the website. The United Kingdom will become the supporting chair in March 2012, and assume the lead chair in September 2012.  Indonesia will assume co chairmanship with the UK in September 2012, and become lead chair in September 2013.  Mexico will assume co-chairmanship in September 2013, and becomes lead chair in September 2014.

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