When governments are transparent, civil society can help ensure leaders are serving their people and not themselves. That’s among the key ideas behind the 70-country Open Government Partnership, CEO Sanjay Pradhan told Devex.
Nearly 5 years old, the OGP provides a toolkit to help governments improve their transparency, accountability and inclusiveness. Members share their own experiences and learn from those of their peers. Put into practice, OGP hopes that its open governance initiatives can help countries reach the sustainable development goals, Pradhan told Devex on the sidelines of OGP's Asia-Pacific Regional Dialogue in Manila last week.
“Open government is a way to ensure that the money allocated for the other goals” such as health, education, poverty, and hunger reaches citizens, he said. “Open government is also a tool to achieve these goals.”
Read the excerpt of our conversation with Pradhan for insights on how the partnership works, civil society collaboration, and the future of OGP.
The Open Government Partnership has seen tremendous growth in its membership — from eight founding members to 70 — over the last five years. How has the partnership grown relative to its goals? Where do you see the group in five years?
OGP is a multicountry initiative … to make governments more open, and ultimately for governments to serve the people rather than serving themselves. It was launched with a very high political commitment, [with] government and civil society co-creating solutions. In five years, there have been a lot of accomplishments, with 70 countries joining and 2,250 openness and accountability commitments being made. In the next five years, we want to see real impact on the lives of citizens. We want to see transformation.
The objective of the regional meeting [here in Manila] was to share experiences and to raise the ambition of the commitments in national action plans. What does that mean? We want to share interesting innovations within the region. For example, Mongolia has a “glass account” law which mandates publication of all the budget information of all the agencies, [and the] disclosure of all kinds of environmental information. That makes a huge difference for society and stakeholders’ [ability] ... to monitor whether those funds are being received.
Sometimes concepts such as open governance and sustainability are interpreted or applied only loosely. How do you make sure that stakeholders understand what's at stake with open governance?
In order to help countries develop, governments have a very important role to play and so does the private sector. For governments to play that role, they have to provide a [favorable] investment climate. For private sector, they have to deliver services like healthcare and education. Open governance helps to ensure that governments are able to do that in a transparent way and in a way that delivers the services to private sector and citizens, rather than being shrouded in corruption and secrecy.
For example, in the Philippines’ national action plan for OGP, there's a commitment to reducing the cost of doing business [or] reducing the days it take to set up a business. This is a way in which they're improving governance so that the private sector can do things better.
What can governments do to effectively adopt open government initiatives, especially countries in the Asia-Pacific, where political and economic institutions are still developing?
The 70 countries that have joined are in very different degrees of democratic transitions. So let's say it's a government that has just started — there is a basic [step] of publishing the budget. Our guide for open government lists what are the initial steps you can take, what are some intermediate steps you can take, what are some advanced steps you can take. If a new government has joined and it starts by publishing its budget, later it can publish audit reports, and so on.
The fundamental point about OGP is that it's a co-creation between government and civil society. The initiatives are not coming from the governments themselves; they’re coming from the voice of the citizens. That is unique to OGP. Otherwise, governments will do whatever they want to do.
Speaking of civil society, how important are these groups in pursuing and making sure open government initiatives work?
One of OGP's eligibility criteria has to do with civil liberties; if a country does not meet the basic civil liberty indicator, it cannot join. Once countries join, if they then start curtailing the space for civil society, then we have a response policy. That is why Azerbaijan has been declared inactive, because there was a shrinking of civil space.
Civil society is the voice of the citizens: It's amplifying the voice of those who do not have a voice. Government needs to respond to that voice. Fundamentally, [open government] is bringing governments closer to the citizens. It's the government serving the people rather than serving themselves.
Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.
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