OGP Country Action Plans Spark Debate in Brazil

18 April 2012

Forty-seven national “action plans” were discussed at the Open Government Partnership meeting in Brazil April 17, some earning praise from civil society organizations and others getting critical reviews.

But the controversies were not unexpected, or entirely unwelcome, to OGP organizers.  The creation of so many multi-faceted action plans to promote government transparency, effectiveness and accountability demonstrates the success of the OGP effort so far, they said. The continuing debate over the plans and their implementation is part of the process as the OPG experiment moves into another phase, according to speeches and conversations during the opening day of the OGP first annual conference.

Many of the actions plans were only unveiled in recent days, and are now posted on the OGP website.  Several countries — Ghana, Liberia, Macedonia, and Paraguay — have not submitted action plans. Jordan had a draft plan, but no final plan is posted. OGP officials said new deadlines will be established.

Instant generalities about their sometimes lengthy content overall were hard to come by, but individual plans were explained and dissected.  After a round of opening speeches there were sessions, divided by region, at which governments summarized their plans and civil society groups offered their views. The meeting was opened with speeches by Brazilian President  Dilma Rousseff, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Georgian Prime Minister Nika Gilauri and Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete.

Sampling the sessions on Asia and Africa found largely respectful  but sometimes crisply frank exchanges. Many of the action plans were considered too weak by CSO speakers and the processes of consultation used to draft the plans, or the lack of consulatation, were frequently criticized.  

At a press conference, U.S. and Brazilian officials were upbeat, stressing that the system is new and the timelines for developing the plans were short. The next phase will be implementation and review, they noted.

The national action plans exist at the core of the OGP strategy. The eight founding members submitted their plans last September in New York at the meeting when the OGP was officially created, and most of the other members (now 55 in all) who joined in New York, then began prepared their plans for presentation at the two-day plenary meeting being hosted by Brazil, an OGP co-chair.

For April 18, the conference will turn to thematic breakout sessions, supplemented by various side meetings and culminating in a meeting of CSOs.

(View additional FreedomInfo.org articles on the OGP meeting.)

Power Summary

At the end of the day, Samantha Power, a White House official involved in the founding and creation of the OGP, began by pointing out her pleasure in seeing those attending posing by large posters in the hallways summarizing national action plans.

She noted the diversity of the plans and some common themes. She cited the prevalence in the plans of open data portals, an observation made by others during the meeting, sometimes favorably, sometimes not. She commented that there is “a pull toward technology,” but that it is “just a gateway to the accountability that we are talking about.”

Addressing “what is the refresh on the plans,” she reflected on hearing concerns about incomplete plans and commented that in a lot of countries the mechanisms for civil society development are “yet to be defined.” And in some places the plans may be too ambitious, she said, so prioritization will be necessary. (video)

Other speakers during the day also viewed the OGP effort as pregnant with possibility.

Work in Progress

Brazilian Minister Jorge Hage described the meeting as an “historic benchmark,” and told reporters it was “a demonstration of the global appetite for transparency.” At the same time, some officials involved in developing the effort said they were “surprised” by its popularity.

Commenting on civil society concerns about the consultations, U.S. Under Secretary of State Maria Otero said at the press conference that consultation process  “is something we’ll increase and improve and arrive at a point where civil society sees this as a truly unique partnership.” She also recommended that civil society “exercise some patience as we move forward.”

Looking ahead, United Kingdom minister Frances Maude, said at the press conference,  “This is a process. The action plans are all dynamic documents and they will develop.” He said the OGP should try not to become “bureaucratic or bland.” The UK will be the host for the next OGP conference as it assumes a co-chairmanship with Brazil. In a brief interview with FreedomInfo.org, Maude dismissed criticisms from groups in the UK that the country’s action plan overstressed open data, calling that “the crunchy stuff.”

The incoming civil society chair, Warren Krafchik, of the International Budget Partnership, stressed that “at the core of the OGP is partnership.” He said public information must be timely and useful with an end goal of accountability. Making the OGP work, he said, will depend on public information and public participation. “we need to integrate participation into the plans themselves.” He observed that some governments lack experience with participation and that they “will not get the action plans right the first time.”

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