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Remarks by Mukelani Dimba at OGP’s UNGA72 High Level Event

Placing the daily needs and concerns of your people at the forefront of your OGP innovations

Good afternoon honoured guests, colleagues, and friends of OGP.

We meet here today under the theme: “How open government can help renew democracy and rebuild citizens’ trust?, while the theme of this year’s UN General Assembly is: “Focusing on People: Striving for Peace and a Decent Life for all on a Sustainable Planet”.

Both these themes speak directly to my own motivation for being part of the OGP community. I was born in Apartheid South Africa, at the time when the Apartheid regime was at its most brutal. The Apartheid system is a key reference point for me in thinking through what governance is, what it should be and what it should not be.

Apartheid government could never be further removed from open government. It was a system of government that operated in total secrecy. It was mysterious, controlling, feared and savage. It was omnipotent, all-seeing but unseen and not to be spoken of.

When the liberation movement defeated Apartheid the vision was for a government that would be chosen by the people and its sole role was would be to cater for the needs of the people and it would be accountable for its actions.

While Apartheid governments were loathed and feared, the new government was going to enjoy the trust of the people.

At the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, I was only 17 and did not qualify to vote. I tried my luck, alas, I was caught out by electoral officials.

However that vision of what a government should be, remained with me for the rest of my life and influenced my career choices.

Open governance is not only good in and of itself, but it finds real meaning in how it fundamentally changes the nature and process of service delivery to those most in need of government support for their survival and dignity.

As co-chairs, the government of Georgia and I, intend to “encourage OGP member countries to link the OGP to the Sustainable Development agenda by encouraging the development of national action plan commitments that relate to realisation of better outcomes in governance, access to justice & socio-economic rights.”

I appeal to OGP countries to: “place the daily needs and concerns of your people at the forefront of your OGP innovations”.  

The Strategic Refresh identified public services as a promising area in which OGP can help deliver reforms that make a direct difference in people’s lives and offer direct opportunities to participate in government.

Citizens can bring an unprecedented scale of eyes, ears and voices that can facilitate honest delivery of public services and help monitor the allocation of public resources. Governments can invite and enable a sharpened focus on real issues with real and concrete outcomes for people. This creates more appetite for participation by citizens and builds more trust in government.

We see this, for example, in some OGP commitments such as the one in the Seoul (Subnational OGP project): In Seoul citizen trust in public water supply and quality increased – and tap water consumption went up with 20% – after the government began publishing accurate up-to-date information about the quality of the water being delivered to homes.

There are a number of these good examples, but they are few and far in between. It is clear that we have a huge task ahead of us to make OGP the great enabler of efforts aimed at meeting ordinary people’s needs.

When Nelson Mandela addressed the UN General Assembly for the first time as the first democratically-elected president of South Africa, he said:

“…the society we seek to create must be a people-centred society. All its institutions and its resources must be dedicated to the pursuit of a better life for all our citizens. That better life must mean an end to poverty, to joblessness, homelessness and the despair that comes of deprivation. This is an end in itself because the happiness of the human being must, in any society, be an end in itself.”

What Mandela said at the UN twenty-three years ago, still holds today and can be said to the OGP.

I thank you.

Mukelani Dimba
19 September 2017