Faces of Open Government – Manish Bapna
In this section of the OGP newsletter, we feature open government champions both from government and civil society, and ask them about their OGP experiences. Here is what they have to say:
Give one example or anecdote of why open government matters to you personally? How is it making a difference in people’s lives?
Governments are powerful and in the absence of transparency, can make decisions that affect people negatively. I have seen this firsthand in a wide range of countries – whether it is on how forest rights are assigned, how water is allocated or how people are able to access essential public services. When I was working as a team leader at the World Bank on rural development projects, I tried to advance open government by making investment decisions readily available in public places. Shining a light on such decisions made by government often led to more just, sustainable and acceptable outcomes.
Why does the issue you are working on matter within the OGP context?
Open Government and Sustainability: Transparency, citizen engagement and accountability in government are essential to advancing sustainability. Since the Stockholm Conference on the Environment in 1972, governments, the private sector and civil society have gained extensive experience in providing environmental information to the public, engaging citizens in decision-making and creating and implementing accountability mechanisms. I hope to facilitate learning within the OGP community on tools and lessons-learned from the sustainability arena. At the same time, OGP can aid in advancing sustainability as the world grapples with climate change, urban sustainability and resource scarcity. My experience in both sustainable development and open government could assist in bringing these two worlds closer together.
Open Government and the 2015 process: A new global development agenda is being designed for the post-2015 period, with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to succeed the Millennium Development Goals. The current draft of SDGs proposes several goals and targets on issues of particular relevance to OGP. The targets urgently need to be improved. Moreover, an effective global development agenda requires a strong foundation of monitoring and accountability. Open government is the vehicle to ensure that the sustainable development goals are not only well-designed but actually put into action. I lead a team working with UN member states and other key stakeholders to help integrate sustainability and openness into the next generation of goals. I hope to leverage deep engagement in the post-2015process to help strengthen open government in the new development agenda.
Describe one OGP commitment from your country/region that you are proud of? How could/should civil society add value and make this one happen?
I appreciate the US’s commitment to join EITI. US civil society groups should actively engage with the US government to shape its EITI program and ensure, through regular monitoring and research that the government is keeping its promises.
How is your organization/civil society in your country engaging with government on OGP?
The World Resources Institute has launched multiple online global platforms, including Aqueduct, the world’s first global water risk mapping platform to visualize water risks, and Global Forest Watch, the world’s first platform that visualizes forest loss and gain, enabling citizen engagement and government accountability. This year, WRI and The Access Initiative will launch the Environmental Democracy Index, the first comprehensive index designed to measure and map the laws and practices of 70 countries on environmental transparency, citizen engagement and accountability. The Access Initiative is a civil society network promoting transparency, citizen engagement and accountability in environmental matters in 54 countries with over 200 member organizations around the world. The Core Team consists of elected regional representatives from Cameroon, Ecuador, Mexico, India, Kenya, Ireland and the USA. WRI, as the global secretariat is organizing the network to interact with OGP in numerous ways. OGP must facilitate civic engagement using technology and support knowledge sharing around new platforms.
What are you worried or excited about if you think about OGP going forward?
Voice and Space for Civil Society: Civil society voice and space must be protected and expanded. Even in some OGP member countries, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association have come under attack through restrictive legislation, outdated institutional practices and secretive bureaucratic culture. I feel strongly the need to defend and expand civil society voice, an issue I have championed for the past 18 years. I will help OGP to push governments to make specific commitments to protect participatory spaces enjoyed by civil society and to increase such spaces in all spheres of decision-making.
Institution Building: Arguably, the most important role of the Steering Committee in the coming years is to ensure a solid institutional and financial foundation for OGP. OGP’s new four-year strategy prioritizes the need to broaden and deepen OGP’s network of reformers; increase OGP’s visibility as a platform; and increase support for on-the-ground implementation in OGP countries. To achieve these goals OGP will have to strengthen support programs to developing countries, maintain high-level political support from donors and developing countries and create incentives for and empower domestic government and civil society reformers in OGP.
Any message to the broader civil society community going forward?
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was built on a clear recognition that people around the world are demanding more openness in government, greater civic participation in public affairs and more responsive and effective governance. The success of OGP as a forum for innovative change at the national level is now recognized by the international community. But this will not happen unless civil society actively engages on all fronts – from recruitment of new countries, to commitment formation and commitment monitoring.
Manish Bapna joined the World Resources Institute as its executive vice president and managing director in 2007. His interests and expertise are in international development with a particular focus on rural poverty and natural resources. Previously, he was the executive director of the nonprofit Bank Information Center (BIC), whose mission is to protect rights and promote sustainability in the projects and policies of international financial institutions. Bapna presided over considerable growth at BIC,including sizable increases in staff, funding and influence, especially in developing countries.