17 Countries Pledge to Join Open Government Partnership

2 September 2011

Nine countries plus the initial core group of eight have pledged to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a U.S. official told FreedomInfo.org  Sept. 2, bringing total membership to 17.

The nine countries that have sent in “letters of intent” are Kenya, Guatemala, Honduras, Albania, Macedonia, Malta, Georgia, Moldova and Slovakia.

More letters are expected, the official said. The original eight country members are: the United States and Brazil (co-chairs), South Africa, the United Kingdom, Norway, Mexico, Indonesia and the Philippines. U.S. officials have also indicated that other potential members include Mongolia, Liberia, Thailand, Chile, Uruguay and Canada.

Plans are being made for the Sept. 20 official kick-off in New York City involving President Obama and other heads of state.

A parallel day-long event called “The Power of Open” will feature speeches, seminars and demonstrations. It will be held at Google’s New York headquarter and is invitation-only. The 150 seat limitation has drawn some grumbling from the uninvited and organizers have said the event will be live-streamed.  More information on the event will emerge next week on the OGP website.

The OGP initiative is a multi-stakeholder coalition of governments and civil society organizations working to advance transparency and accountability in government on numerous fronts. (See previous FreedomInfo.org reports on the OGP by clicking on “open government partnership” under “latest tags.”)

Action Plan News

OGP participants are expected to sign an open government declaration that has not yet been disclosed and to draft national action plans through a consultative process.

In a development this week, South Africa issued a call for public comments. This came after civil society raised questions about the lack of a process to develop an action plan. For most of the eight core countries, consultation on action plans is barely visible. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

In the United States, civil society representatives held another consultation with administration officials. The administration has called for comments on a variety of specific issues. Many groups have submitted wide-ranging suggestions.

The administration Sept. 2 announced another open government plan of its own – to provide answers to “petitions” from citizens. (More details below.)

The OGP steering committee met Aug. 26. The meetings are closed and the group does not issue minutes. The committee includes representatives from the eight original countries and nine civil society groups. India was an original member, but in July decided to not continue. (See more on this below.)

South Africa Seeks Comments

South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Public Service and Administration, Ayanda Dlodlo, in her capacity as the South African government representative on the OGP steering committee invited the general public, “particularly non-governmental and community-based organizations” to participate in drafting an OGP action plan for South Africa.

The announcement continues: “This six-page Action Plan should outline concrete commitments from Government to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.”

Written submissions were sought on four “key questions.” They are:

1.  What are the significant efforts made by government and civil society to advance transparency, accountability and citizen engagement?

2.  What are the grand challenges that South Africa is facing in terms of advancing transparency, accountability and citizen engagement?

3.  What activities should Government prioritise over the next year (September 2011 – September 2012) to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance?

4.  How would you propose Government use technology such as the Internet to advance transparency, accountability and citizen engagement?

Written submissions must be made on or before Sept. 6 by e-mail to ismaild@dpsa.gov.za or by fax to 0866151761.

Submissions must not exceed six (6) pages and should clearly indicate the name of the organization or individual making the submission and their contact details (telephone number, fax number and e-mail address).

U.S. Groups Provide Suggestions

A variety of  U.S. groups have submitted suggestions for the U.S. action plan. Many of these have been collected in one spot.

Officials have said they would publish the contributions, but have not done so yet.

In a recent meeting with civil society groups, administration officials stressed that the initial action plan would be Version 1.0, with more to come. The OGP process envisions continued development of the national action plans and suggests establishing a continuing forum for national consultation on the topic.  The OGP Roadmap that participants “identify a forum to enable regular multi-stakeholder consultation on OGP implementation—this can be an existing entity or a new one.”

Some U.S. civil society groups are urging creation of a federal advisory committee.

The administration has established an internal Intergovernmental Open Government Working Group to review agency recommendations on what should be in the action plan.

U.S. Petition Initiative

In a Sept. 2 preliminary announcement with more details promised later, the Obama administration signaled its plan to let citizens submit petitions that would be forwarded to appropriate administration officials for response if they are backed by 5,000 signatures.

The first step in the process, as described in the announcement:

Anyone 13 or older can create or sign a petition on WhiteHouse.gov asking the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country. To get started you’ll need to create an account and verify your email address. Start thinking about the issues that matter to you, what you would like the Obama Administration to do to address the important challenges facing our country, and who you’ll ask to join you.

The second step is:

Creating or signing a petition is just the first step. It’s up to you to build support for a petition and gather even more signatures. Use email, Facebook, Twitter and word of mouth to tell your friends, family and coworkers about the petitions you care about.

The third step is:

If a petition meets the signature threshold, it will be reviewed by the Administration and an official response will be issued. And we’ll make sure that the petition is sent to the appropriate policy makers in the Administration.

The initial threshold to get a response from the Administration is 5,000 signatures

Indian Nonparticipation Noted

India’s decision to pull out of the OGP this summer appeared to attract little media attention in India, but is the subject of an Aug. 29 article in The Deccan Herald by Anirban Bhaumik.

“Even as the Anna Hazare led campaign for a Jan Lokpal bill renewed focus on the government’s accountability to people, New Delhi has been dragging its feet on taking part in a US-backed multilateral initiative to promote transparency, citizens’ empowerment and fighting corruption,” the article begins. It continues:

The Indian establishment has cited the need to maintain the sovereign power of Parliament, which indicates that it has serious reservations about joining the US-backed international Open Government Partnership, as it would require New Delhi to commit new initiatives to make governance more transparent before an international forum, not before Parliament.

After some background about the OGP, the article states:

India is cagey about joining the OGP, primarily because its proposed framework would mandate countries to make new commitments on open government in the international forum, prescribe process for the government to formulate the commitments and require annual performance reports from the countries. The framework also envisages evaluation of a country’s performance by a panel of independent international experts and NGOs.

“The government had conveyed its concerns to the US and others that new and additional commitments on governance should be made before the national Parliament, and not in an ad hoc international forum, and that the decision making process for the government as also performance report and evaluation are also the prerogatives of national Parliament,” Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed told the Rajya Sabha in response to a question from an MP recently.

Over the past fortnight, the government had been citing the same argument of sovereign supremacy of Parliament to justify its reluctance to buckle under Hazare’s pressure to introduce Jan Lokpal Bill and withdraw its own draft. “We agree with the government that commitments should be made before national Parliament, not before any international forum. But participating in the OGP may not mean that India would have to make the first commitment before the international forum, and not before Parliament in Delhi,” Nikhil Dey of the MKSS told Deccan Herald.

Dey also said that India could lead the global campaign on open government, as it was much ahead of many other countries as far as taking initiatives for ensuring transparency in governance.

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