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Faces of Open Government: María Baron

Rostros de Gobierno Abierto: María Baron

María Baron|

On October 1, 2020, María Baron and the Government of the Republic of Korea started their year as Co-Chairs of the OGP Steering Committee, providing guidance and support to the Partnership as it tackles the challenges ahead in these uncertain times. In this interview, María Baron tells us what the priorities for the new Co-Chairs are, her vision for OGP in the next 10 years, and her proudest moment as a member of the Steering Committee.

First of all, congratulations on becoming the new Co-Chair of the OGP Steering Committee alongside the Government of the Republic of Korea. You take helm of the Partnership at an interesting and challenging time. What are some open government issues you and the Government of Korea want to address, tackle or strengthen as the new co-chairs of the OGP Steering Committee? And what is one area you personally want to deliver on?

Thank you! I’m very happy to take on this challenge in such a peculiar year. The Partnership’s tenth anniversary finds us in a changing world, triggered by the COVID-19 crisis. In a world where many decisions are made unilaterally, where resources are held by a few, and where corruption is costing the global economy 3.6 trillion dollars every year, our priorities, co-created with the Government of South Korea well before the onset of the pandemic, are increasingly relevant. Strengthening civic space and public participation, fighting corruption and fostering inclusive, digital governance will be the main pillars of our work.

Globally, civic space has been compromised like never before. So far, this year, our Civic Space Guardian has identified over 40 regulations that challenge civic space in Latin America: restrictions to freedom of expression, association, access to public information, and privacy. As OGP Co-Chair, I am committed to working hard on this: conquered rights cannot be lost, COVID cannot be used as an excuse to delegitimize the demands we have achieved after years of fighting. 

The restrictions to access to information and the lack of transparency shown during the pandemic have also affected the accountability of governments’ use and distribution of resources, which are key to fight corruption and where OGP must take on an increasingly important role, given the transformative potential of open government. At a global level, at least $100 billion dollars in public contracting are related to COVID-19, representing between 3 and 14% of GDP, depending on the region. Legislatures play a key role in terms of control. For example, Brazil and Paraguay created effective special commissions to monitor public expenses for COVID and work with public officials and activists to monitor the executive branch. Paraguay got as far as presenting a criminal charge to prosecution authorities as a result of an investigation carried out by the commission.

OGP Steering Committee Co-Chairs Maria Baron and the Government of the Republic of Korea, represented by Minister of Interior and Safety, Young Chin.PHOTO: Ministry of Interior and Safety, Government of South Korea

I think the use of data is key to fighting corruption. As part of my priorities as co-chair, together with the Government of Korea, and in line with the work I’ve been advancing for years to fight corruption in Latin America, we will promote the use of databases to analyze and identify potential irregularities, including registries of beneficial owners, public contracting and acquisitions, asset and conflict declaration, and data on money and politics, among others.

Another challenge the pandemic shed a light on was the importance of a responsible and inclusive debate on digital governance. The pandemic compelled us to live in a virtual world, but not everyone has access to it. The internet has been the main tool used to respond to many of the challenges associated with the pandemic, but remote medical assistance, education and work are not accessible to all. Globally, 3,700 million people (45% of the world’s households) lack access to internet. The OGP agenda can and should play a key role, committing to engaging in a debate that includes and provides opportunities to the most vulnerable groups, making it a cross-cutting tool to help transform the reality. 

I personally think it is paramount to broaden the open government approach into an open state one. Among the parliamentary community, what a year ago was unthinkable, today, it is a reality: over 100 parliaments adapted their legislature work in record time, upgrading regulations and incorporating technologies to keep their work going. Legislatures are increasingly relevant to the open government agenda. 

I am very pleased to have fostered actions for many parliaments across the world to create open parliament plans. However, we need to work toward an open state approach and this means not just creating open parliament plans, but also strengthening OGP to work across all branches of government.

In this regard, I will work hard this year to highlight the need to engage legislatures in an open government dialogue and deepen the understanding that open parliaments are not just a stand-alone policy, but rather a cross-cutting approach. Legislatures should be engaged in multi-stakeholder processes, as well as thematic reforms and commitments. I believe their participation is fundamental in terms of representation, legislation, and control.

I also think Latin America has a wealth of experience among civil society organizations, creating a true network of advocacy for legislative transparency. The Latin American Legislature Transparency Index, created in 2010 and applied in 15 countries, has increased the effectiveness of legislatures. The Index was a cutting-edge tool that measured the openness of Latin American legislatures. It was validated by all stakeholders and has great potential for advocacy. In 2020, this Index is being applied for the fifth time, and I am very proud to see it expand to other regions, such as Africa and – why not- the rest of the world.

In 2021, OGP will mark its 10 year anniversary, growing from eight countries to 78, an increasing number of local members, and working with thousands of civil society organizations in more than 4,000 OGP commitments. What are some of the most important lessons learned from the last 10 years?

We must be open and flexible to learn, to strategize and re-strategize in a context of instability (political transitions, electoral calendars, COVID-19, etc.). OGP needs to be able to push the open government agenda, even during challenging times. Working in politics means instability and changes, hence the need to set clear goals to follow-up on despite all difficulties. In this sense, I think OGP’s results-oriented commitments and action plans have been key.

It is essential to preserve the social capital that civil society contributes to local, national, regional and global OGP processes. Active participation in co-creation, implementation and monitoring processes must be accompanied by our activist nature. Our call is to transform.

We have great reformers at the local, national, regional and global levels. We must keep on building more and better bridges among the different levels. Coordination and communication are essential in that regard.

One of OGP’s main challenges has been to show impact, not just on transparency and accountability overall, but also in terms of responding to the needs of citizens, providing public services or on the water agenda. I think there are issues where we still can make a difference, such as socio-economic justice, equal access to health and education, closing the gender gap, ending human trafficking, among others.

The power is in cohesion. Our thematic communities are small but, together, they can be powerful.

Civil society organizations have been an integral part of open government throughout the years. What should civil society groups do in the next decade to make this an even more relevant platform locally, nationally and globally? 

We need to think beyond the next 10 years, into the next 20 and 30. How can we foster an enabling environment that allows for new leaders to shine? This is one of the questions that civil society poses every day.

My hope is that the pandemic has taught us something: that the solutions to crises are collective. Today, we are facing the COVID-19 crisis, but we must leverage these lessons to prepare for the coming 30 years, which will not be without challenges.

I hope we have learned that recovery must be based on transparency standards and that it needs every stakeholder to be sitting at the table and to collaborate, each one from their own trench. I think OGP can be a key platform, since creating true partnerships to improve public policy is at the heart of our work. In a changing world, listening to and learning from each other can be key to come out stronger from these unprecedented times, to be a part of the process to build back better and more just democracies for all.

Comments (1)

Dora Moneta Reply

Thank you María. You talk about the challenges we face but you have set the path to the empowerment of Civil Society, we all need to listen and learn…and I quote “to be a part of the process to build back better and more just democracies for all”..

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