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Civil society leaders: ‘transparency should be about benefits, not sanctions’

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This article originally appeared on the Guardian Public Leaders Network: Open Government London 2013

Speaking at the Open Government Partnership summit, delegates say more open governments should lead by example.

Heads of civil society organisations have said encouraging openness in countries with higher levels of corruption should be more about promoting benefits than imposing sanctions.

Speaking at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit 2013, delegates from Amnesty International, the Community of Democracies and the Croatian government agreed that governments with higher levels of transparency must lead by example.

Ambassador Maria Leissner, secretary general of the Community of Democracies, an intergovernmental organisation which provides support to emerging democracies, said the OGP was “groundbreaking and entirely new”.

“We are building a rich tapestry of democratic strategies,” she said. To promote transparency in fledgling democracies the method should not be “naming and shaming”, said Leissner. “We should encourage all countries to come forward with their own ideas. That way we will see the development of common ideas and common standards.”

For example, an independent election commission was only introduced in Sweden, Leissner’s home country, after it became a common norm around the world, she said. No country is perfect in terms of openness, and OGP creates dialogue between democracies, allowing governments to share ideas about transparency with one other, she said.

Leissner said there was a “bad guys club” of corrupt governments which were very good at sharing bad practice. “The good guys need to get their act together,” she said.

Introducing the summit, David Cameron announced a range of commitments to greater transparency within the UK government. This included a central registry of information about who owns and controls UK companies; something which the speakers commended.

Cameron is handing over the position of lead co-chair of OGP to the vice president of Indonesia this week.

Netsanet Belay, Africa programme director at Amnesty International, said Cameron must practice what he preaches.

Some countries, even some members of the Open Government Partnership, are regressing and closing down the civic space in one form or another, he said. “The question is how do we shine out as models?”

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