News

16 August 2017

OGP in the News - July 2017

A weekly round-up of Open Government Partnership (OGP) media coverage around the world. Want to receive OGP in the News directly in your email inbox? Subscribe here.

From South Korea to Norway, Ghana to Scotland, and New Zealand to Mexico, this month’s OGP coverage spanned the world’s continents and oceans.

"The real antidote to citizens’ feeling of disenfranchisement lies in open government,” said OGP Director of Civil Society Engagement Paul Maassen in a piece for The Guardian. To prove this point, Maassen shares a number of OGP and open government initiatives that allow ordinary citizens to shape and improve their governments well beyond elections. From citizen-centric monitoring platforms like Monithon in Italy and DoZorro in Ukraine, to easy-to-use service delivery applications like LAPOR! In Indonesia and The Traffic Agent in Norway, open government is empowering citizens in every corner of the world.

In South Korea, news portal Naver announced an upcoming OGP Forum that will take place at the end of August. Organized by the country’s Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, the forum will bring together civil society and government representatives to oversee and assess the implementation of South Korea’s 2016-2018 OGP commitments, including the creation of an information disclosure law and the OECD data open index. The government is currently inviting all interested civil society members to participate.

Elsewhere in the Pacific, questions have been raised about New Zealand’s Protected Disclosures Act, particularly in light of a recent scandal involving Joanne Harrison, a former senior manager at the Ministry of Transport who stole over $700,000 of federal funds even after several employees attempted to report Harrison’s fraudulent activities. Adding to the discussion, journalist Bryce Edwards authored a piece for the The New Zealand Herald reflecting on the Harrison case, as well as heralding the release of an “extraordinary report” that will assess New Zealand’s current corruption and whistleblowing infrastructure and policies. According to the article, amended whistleblower legislation was brought up during last year’s OGP consultation, but “was not taken up by the government.” Edwards has added his voice to many others now calling for improved whistleblower protections.  

Still in New Zealand, open government solutions are being proposed for sustainable development. Calling on New Zealand citizens to brainstorm healthy and sustainable solutions that will allow the country to better manage its water resources, Scoop co-editor Joseph Cederwall wrote a background article in which he explaines how OGP can help achieve this goal. Underscoring the importance of the open government tenet of access to information, Cederwall encouraged the government and political parties to “take seriously their Open Government Partnership commitments by undertaking to provide more accurate and detailed information to citizens on water quality policies proposals, research and plans.”

The consensus of reporters Andy Kroll and Russ Choma on the United States’ commitment to open government eight months into the Trump administration is less than glowing. In an updated version of a previous article, the Mother Jones authors allege that the Trump administration has tarnished the United States’ once “squeaky-clean image” on open government, and diminished the country’s reputation on the international stage when it comes to fighting corruption. Interviewing over a dozen experts, Kroll and Choma referenced the current administration's silence on future U.S. involvement in OGP as just one of many “red flags.”

Scotland’s government has also come under fire for lack of transparency. The Daily Record reported that members of the Open Government Network for Scotland penned a letter to the government calling for remedies to a “creeping tide of state secrecy,” particularly in regard to the country’s current Freedom of Information laws. Responding to these critiques, a government spokesperson was quoted saying, “Scotland has the most open and far-reaching freedom of information laws in the UK. We work closely with the Open Government Network as part of the Open Government Partnership.”

Farther north, Norway is working to fulfill one of its OGP commitments on preventing conflicts of interest among government employees by clarifying when state agencies have a “legal basis for requiring information or restricting the ownership and securities trading of the individual.” This is one of two changes to the ethical guidelines for government employees made in the name of “transparency and trust in the state,” announced on government portal Regjeringen.no.  

Mexico’s El Economista interviewed OGP Deputy CEO Joe Powell on the organization’s investigations into targeted spying activities by the Mexican government against local activists and journalists. Powell stated that the situation in Mexico underscores the importance of OGP “now more than ever,” saying, “we urgently need to secure reforms to make governments more open, and the civil society needs to work with governments, even when times are challenging.”

As part of an OGP delegation that travelled to Islamabad, Pakistan this month, Joe Powell spoke to representatives of the Pakistani government. Offering a friendly reminder that “joining OGP is actually the easy part,” Powell underscored the “hard work” that lies ahead as the country prepares to draft its first OGP National Action Plan (NAP). Shortly after the visit, Pakistan Observer covered a workshop launched by the British Department for International Development (DFID) to develop Pakistan’s NAP. During the workshop, Head of DFID in Pakistan Joanna Reid was quoted saying that “OGP is a mechanism for Pakistan to use to meet wider objectives, including an improved business environment, greater fiscal transparency, and enhanced citizen engagement.”  

Following the 2017 Africa Open Data Conference in Accra, Ghana, both AllAfrica.com and Citi Business News highlighted Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo’s commitment to use “open data to achieve transparent and accountable governance”—a promise bolstered by the country’s participation in OGP.

In Nigeria, meanwhile, AllAfrica.com covered two exciting open government developments.  As part of its “On Nigeria” initiative to build a “culture of investigation, advocacy, accountability, and transparency", the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is awarding $9 million in grants to Nigerian nonprofits, including those working to implement commitments in Nigeria’s OGP National Action Plan (NAP). And following a two-day seminar attended by government ministers, civil society, OGP, and United Nations representatives, AllAfrica.com reported that a proposed whistleblower bill was presented before the House of Representatives.

Last but not least, OGP is seeking researchers to join the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism in assessing the NAPs of the Dominican Republic, Finland, Ghana, Mongolia, and Norway. Apply here!   

Of course, we can’t catch everything in our news round-ups, so if you see we’ve missed something or think a particular story ought to be featured, please send it to jacqueline.mcgraw@opengovpartnership.org.