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A Call to Action in a Time of Threat

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OGP Buenos Aires Americas Meeting
Sanjay Pradhan, CEO, OGP

First our tremendous gratitude to the Government and civil society of Argentina for hosting this important event, and our tremendous appreciation for your leadership on open government which is inspiring other countries in the region and around the globe.

It is a great pleasure and source of hope to be here.  

Great pleasure because the Americas region has been the vibrant heart of OGP. And we see this vibrancy in this extraordinary gathering of courageous civil society leaders, journalists, human rights activists and government reformers from across the continent – all working together to open government to citizens.

We need this collective strength because we meet at a time when the open government movement faces extraordinary challenges.  Civic space is under attack in over 100 countries, including some in this region. Democracy is under threat in several parts of the world, fueled by the manipulation of fake news and social media to cause social discord.  The traditional champions of open government have transitioned.  And globally, trust in government is at all-time low. Citizens perceive government to be captured by privileged elites enriching themselves through major corruption scandals like Odebrecht in the Americas, in the face of long-standing challenges of extreme inequality, crime and violence.     

Why then do I say I have hope?

Because we have seen in OGP the glimmers of an alternative – a more hopeful path – for the region and the world.  A path that puts citizens first.  In this room, there are reformers working to ensure citizens in Paraguay can oversee government contracting which can be the hotbed of corruption, so citizens in Honduras can oversee the delivery of life-saving medicines, so citizens in Chile can curb influence peddling by monitoring meetings and gifts between public officials and lobbyists, so young women right here in Buenos Aires can access reproductive health services.

These reforms are inspirational in putting citizens first.  But they are too few and far between.  We need to join forces to scale these up.  

And there are unprecedented opportunities for doing so. Next year, 14 countries and six sub-national pioneers, or 83% of our Americas community, will develop new Action Plans. This represents a huge opportunity to scale up these ambitious reforms across countries using these action plans: let us commit to double the percent of Americas commitments that are assessed to be transformative for society from just 12 percent at present to at least 25%. Also in 2018, seven countries in Latin America will hold Presidential elections, which also presents a major opportunity to get candidates to publicly commit themselves to advancing open government.

For all this, let me suggest three priorities for our collective action.

First priority, we must protect and enhance civic space, which has been under attack, including in OGP countries.   In some cases, civil society has been very critical of government and has withdrawn from national dialogue all together.   Yet, we know there remains a commitment to use the OGP platform to speak truth to power, to work towards real partnership between government and civil society.  

During this election season in the Americas, we call on you to demand that candidates at all levels – and from all political parties – commit to protect civic space and forge real partnership between government and civil society.

Latin America has been the home to these real partnerships through multi-stakeholder forums which have now spread to 45 countries globally.  We need to sustain this but also institutionalize these, especially in 30 OGP countries globally, including some in region, where it remains an exercise in checking the box.  And given impending elections, let us emulate the inspiring examples of Uruguay’s Multi-Stakeholder decree or Chile’s Open Government table which have institutionalized civic space and government-civil society dialogue so they sustain through political transitions.

Second Priority: We call on all stakeholders to advance the empowerment of women through open government approaches, as Colombia, Costa Rica and Argentina are doing.  Women represent half of our population and their empowerment can improve educational, health and nutritional outcomes for all of society.  And we need to leverage OGP to include marginalized groups and LGBTQ, as Costa Rica and Canada are doing for indigenous peoples.

Third, we must combat grand corruption which corrodes citizen trust – for instance through open contracting which makes all contracts open and searchable by citizens, which has saved Ukraine $1 billion in two years, and which 27 OGP governments, including Paraguay, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico have embraced. And we need to end anonymous companies where, as the Panama and Paradise papers have shown, corrupt leaders stash stolen wealth. So, it is encouraging that 15 OGP countries have committed to beneficial ownership transparency.    

But the real test will be credible implementation of these commitments which will encounter tremendous political obstacles and vested interests.  For this, reformers from civil society, government and private sector need to leverage the OGP platform to forge coalitions to overcome the formidable odds.

At the global level, as OGP’s founders have transitioned, we are seeing a new coalition of global leaders stand up for openness and democracy, with OGP co-chairs of France, Georgia and Canada, now being joined by leaders from Argentina and others, and new civil society leadership.  We need these coalitions at all levels if OGP is to become a powerful movement for openness and a countervailing force against the rise of closed governments in parts of the region and the world.  

Ultimately all this will take courage.  The Latin root of the word courage is COR.  It literally means heart.  So, let me end where I started by saying Latin America is the vibrant heart of OGP.  If there is one region that can stand up to corruption and fight vested powers for ordinary citizens, it is you – the champions of open government.

Thank you for your heart, your courage and conviction – this is what we will propel us to deliver on that precious OGP vision of putting citizens first – ensuring that governments truly empower and serve their citizens, rather than serving themselves.  Thank you.

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