OGP Tent in Brazil to House Multi-Faceted 800 Attendees

16 April 2012

“This feels like a transparency festival,” remarked a civil society activist as she greeted colleagues from other organizations at the Brasilia, Brazil, airport.

The organizers of the Open Government Partnership conference being held April 17-18 now expect attendance of about 800.

Government delegations from the 54 OGP member nations (this just in, 55 with Russia) make up much of the roster, and a substantial number of civil society organizations are represented. Some countries sent only one official, others many. The Philippines has sent 10, with some help from the World Bank.

Could there be more? Russian officials for some weeks had hinted at their interest in joining. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.) Reports from Hungary also suggest another member could be in the offing. The OGP says 60 countries are attending. (79 countries are eligible to join.)

A rough breakdown of a non-final 568-name registration lists shows about 300 government representatives, about 150 from national CSOs, about 50 from international organizations (public and private), some 25 from the private sector and about 40 with academic affiliations.

The OGP Steering Committee meets this afternoon, April 16, with a big agenda for a five-hour closed meeting. Decisions on governance are anticipated. (See FreedomInfo.org preview.) Adding a new government member from an African country is expected, as is the selection of a third co-chair, to represent civil society.

Possible hints on who will be taking on these new positions may be contained in the agenda for the conference. Jakaya Kikwete, the president of the United Republic of Tanzania, is scheduled to speak at the opening session, and Warren Krafchik, of the International Budget Partnership and a Steering Committee member, will be the civil society speaker.

Many Causes Under the Tent

The big tent built by the OGP purposefully encompasses a wide variety of transparency causes. The design of the OGP mission envisions that countries will make voluntary commitments in many areas. The action plans embodying these commitments will be presented at this meeting by member governments, with CSO representatives on the platform to comment.

Martin Tisne, who has been intimately involved in the creation of the OGP said in an email to FreedomInfo.org that “OGP is the big opportunity to unite the T/A field, i.e.it does not compete with but galvanises other multi stakeholder transparency initiatives such as IATI and EITI and COST and META. This is a new and unique approach for international initiatives and almost an umbrella in a way for open government.” Tisne was until recently the executive director of the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, a consortium of major funders who are the OGP’s major financial backer, and have moved to the Omidyar Network, an OGP supporter.

Tisne’s acronyms refer some of the disparate international transparency groups who have flown to Brasilia. The breadth of subjects is visible on the registration list.

The causes cover topics such as transparency for national budgets, all sorts of natural resources, and development aid. There are advocates of access to information laws, along with many open data advocates.

CSOs of all stripes are recognizing that the broad scope of the OGP mission offers an opportunity not only to ratchet up pressure on governments but also as a way to work better with each other. Some regional coordinating has already taken place. Latin American groups, for example, held a meeting in Mexico City recently to coordinate regional activities.

Still, a few CSO representatives gripe that the wide menu of topics has given governments the opportunity to pick easily digestible ones. Many CSO representatives  are concerned about what they have seen as a lack of civil society involvement in the creation of the national action plans. Groups from the United Kingdom, for example, united to criticize the UK for “little engagement” with civil society in drafting the action and plan.

A planned session for CSOs on April 18 is intended to further planning and activity by this constituency.

In Brasilia, some groups have scheduled side events on their issues and are issuing press releases. For example, OpenCorporates April 16 published a report on access to company data in OGP countries saying “the picture is not good.”

Who Built the Tent?

Major financial backers in the transparency world are also linked through the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, the original and major funder of the OGP. T&AI held a board meeting in Brasilia.

The umbrella group includes:  the Center for Budget Policy Priorities (CBPP), the Ford Foundation, Department for International Development UK (DfID), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Hivos, Indigo Trust, Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundation (OSF), Revenue Watch Institute (RWI) and Zennström Philanthropies, according to the T/AI website, where growing income also is reported.

In 2010, T/AI reported donations totaling $769,292. The detail is: OSF  $ 276,824; Hewlett  $ 150,000; CBPP  $ 155,000; RWI  $ 15,000; Hivos  $ 42,242;  and Omidyar Network  $ 128,500.

For 2011 donations were $2,095,000, broken down as: Hewlett  $ 500,000; CBPP  $ 600,000; Omidyar  $ 455,000; Hivos  $ 140,000; and OSF  $ 400,000.

T/AI’s expenditures for the budget period March 2010 – August 2011 totalled USD 767,570.

The financial information on the OGP website has not been updated since first posted in mid-2012, but is indicates that T/AI provided $733,500 and that Google contributed $350,000. Other “in kind” donations are referenced, without dollar figures.

In addition, substantial, if unquantified, support has come from the member governments, particularly from the United States and Brazil, which have hosted the OGP events.

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