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Faces of Open Government: Suneeta Kaimal

Rostros de Gobierno Abierto: Suneeta Kaimal

Suneeta Kaimal|

You have been a member of the OGP Steering Committee for six years and have been very much involved with OGP since its very early days. How has the Partnership evolved in this time?

In the early days of OGP, a select number of government reformer and civil society leaders came together united by a common vision for a better way of governing societies and empowering citizens. While we were aware of the tremendous challenges that lie in the path of our success, the power of that vision and the sense of collective courage were infectious. They helped to sustain the community and root integral processes that we now leverage for a better and stronger OGP. We fought for the establishment of shared leadership between government and civil society and created a new Civil Society Co-Chair. We faced challenges to the fundamentals of open government and risks of open washing, and sought to reinforce the credibility of the Partnership through the creation and implementation of the Rapid Response Mechanism and a “values check” as part of the eligibility criteria. While these structures reinforced the strength of the architecture of OGP, the most significant evolutions have manifested in the innovations of the Partnership – the OGP Local program, Open Parliaments, leveraging OGP to advance the SDGs, and most recently the emphasis on gender, inclusion and civic space. 

You are an avid advocate for civic space. Why is it important to have commitments on this topic and how can open gov champions leverage OGP efforts and that of partners to protect civic space?

The Open Government Partnership is founded on a belief that effective governance requires and benefits from the engagement of the people – as contributors to policy dialogue and reform and as those who demand accountability,  amplify citizen voices and mobilize society. A society where all people have agency and a voice requires the presence of a legal and policy environment that strengthens civil society, advances the freedoms of association, expression and assembly, and enables public participation around the world. We collectively refer to these conditions as “civic space”. Without them, open government cannot succeed. Too often, within the OGP community, we become entrenched in the silos of our sectoral advocacy aims. At a time where civic space has been declining over the past six years, even within OGP countries, it is critical that we embrace a cross-sectoral approach that puts civic space at the center. This requires not only including more commitments that specifically seek to create an enabling environment for civil society but also a continued vigilance to ensure that all commitments seek to expand, defend, and promote civic space. At OGP, we are afflicted by a desire to continue to innovate and expand in scale and scope – but if we do so at the expense of the fundamentals, our efforts will not be sustainable or resilient. 

We see many OGP commitments around natural resources. What are some notable efforts that OGP and partners have helped strengthen to protect natural resources?

Since OGP’s founding, my organization the Natural Resource Governance Institute has worked in partnership with other international and national organizations (including Publish What You Pay coalitions around the world, Oxfam International, World Resources Institute, Open Oil, and EITI) successfully making natural resource commitments the most common type of commitment by sector in OGP. Nearly 300 commitments in over 70 countries have been made since OGP’s founding in 2011. These commitments have pushed the boundaries, encouraging countries to sign up to and go beyond the EITI standard and accelerating beneficial ownership transparency, contract transparency and environmental disclosures. However, there is more to be done, specifically on State Owned Enterprises, commodity trading disclosure, and on gender, open data and civic space. For example, with support from the OGP Multi-Donor Trust Fund and in partnership with the World Resources Institute, NRGI is  working to address the lack of knowledge, gaps in policy and implementation and disconnected networks to leverage OGP as a vehicle to amplify and deepen gender informed resource governance policy. 

As you rotate out of the OGP SC, what would you like to see in future action plans and open government processes?

The future of open government requires that our efforts expand beyond the narrow realm of the OGP process and life cycle and become integrated into our everyday ways of governing. OGP will have succeeded only when its role as a platform and amplifier and connector of reformers in government and civil society is no longer needed. With this ambition in mind, in the short-term, I hope to see new leaders from both government and civil society step up within the community to share their diverse experiences  and perspectives. I hope that we achieve basic asks such as universal permanent dialogue mechanisms across all OGP countries. I hope that we see continual improvements and advancement in eligibility scores, rather than backsliding. And I hope to see greater ambition in commitments that seek to improve the quality of life for citizens and build trust between government and the people. 

What is your proudest OGP moment?

After eight years of service within the OGP community and at the Steering Committee level, I remain most inspired by the caliber of civil society and government leaders that OGP brings together. I have learned so much from so many and am sustained by the knowledge that such a dedicated set of individuals exists even in these trying times. Chief among those was the opportunity to meet and hear from former U.S. President Barack Obama, founding member of the Open Government Partnership. As we shared the stage during a UN General Assembly, I said how proud I was to carry on the work in open government. I asked for a family photo and he inquired, “who is your family?” I shrugged and said “Civil society of course!” But our true family are the many individuals around the world who work tirelessly to enact everyday the values and principles of OGP. Thank you for the opportunity to serve on the Steering Committee, for the inspiration and motivation that being part of this community affords, and for sustaining the belief that together we can achieve open government.  

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