Faces of Open Government – Veronica Cretu
What got you personally involved in open government? What in your background inspired you to work in this field?
I guess there is no one single answer to this, rather, there are different experiences, stories, hopes and dreams that have come together nicely under open government-related work. When I joined the OGP Steering Committee back in 2013, I was bringing with me the experience of having organized and dealt with Techcamps and Hackathons at the country level, being invited to work on this by the World Bank and FHI360. I was already involved in the processes around National Action Plans on Open Government and coordinating the efforts around bringing more civil society organizations into the process. If I take one more step back, it takes me to the projects I managed for quite a number of years on critical thinking in education and participatory decision making at the local level. One of the projects I am proud of, implemented during 2007-2009, related to participatory decision making at the local level that covered more than 35 communities across Moldova and few thousand direct beneficiaries.
However, I guess the passion for open society, democracy and good governance take me back to the years when I was a student at the University in Chisinau, Moldova’s capital city – it was during those years when, in parallel to my studies, I had my first job with the Soros Foundation. I was very young – 17 years old – and the Soros Foundation was that platform from where I got inspired and motivated to do things differently. I was reading all the speeches by Soros, greedily reading all the reports, books, materials coming into the country from “the West.” We were just few years away from the moment that we got our independence. Those were very complicated and challenging times, and “open society” was the future I could envisage for the country I lived in.
As a member of the Steering Committee, what do you see as one of the big successes of your tenure? What are some of the lessons you’ve learned?
I would avoid speaking about big successes. However, I have really enjoyed working with colleagues in the region I come from, particularly with those based in Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Estonia. With some we launched the IRMs, with others we implemented projects and raised funds for new initiatives on open government; with others we strategized and discussed the future. Communication is key to the success of any initiative, and so it is for OGP. So, any Steering Committe (SC) member should prioritize communication with peers in the regions and countries.
Among the lessons learnt: SC members should have their personal targets and commitments for their mandate and make those public. At the end of the mandate, it is important to share with the community what you have managed to do during your tenure. In this context and given that I did not have a formal plan with specific deliverables, I have put together a 173-page collection of papers, articles, blog posts, and other pieces that I wrote during my mandate in the SC, and I will share this with the community. I strongly believe that we must be accountable to the community we represent on the SC.
As someone who’s worked in development for over a decade, what do you think is the main benefit of open governance in developing countries?
Open governance is about empowering people to be part of governance processes, be it in smaller communities or bigger ones. Co-creating local strategies, being part of the decision-making processes, knowing that one’s voice is being heard, makes people become more confident, better informed and prepared to scrutinize their elected officials. Only through having a strong ‘demand’ for better governance, for a more open and transparent government, there is a chance for change and improvement of the quality of life in these countries. So, the biggest change that open government brings relates to changing the mindset of the people, and takes them to a completely different dimension in terms of their relationship with governance, the governance processes, and their elected officials.
What’s your OGP “elevator pitch”? How do you describe OGP and its benefits to newcomers?
OGP is indeed a great global platform that can help bring concrete changes in the processes governments have in place when it comes to citizen’s voices in the decision-making process;
OGP is about bringing a new type of culture to the government-CSO relationship;
OGP is a hub of innovations in not only in government, but elsewhere;
OGP is a laboratory where vaccines for the corruption ‘virus’ are being constantly developed;
OGP is a place that unites people with unique mindsets – to achieve its agenda in the long term, it needs people who are able to think differently, who are visionary, who can understand the kind of future changes that will occur in the whole governance discourse, and plan for those;
OGP is about diversity, multiculturalism, gender equality, and needs champions in the government and CSOs;
And finally, OGP is about opening up doors – if one is able to get through them, one will never be the same, think the same, act the same … it all changes – transparency, accountability, good governance and open thinking among many others, will all become part of doing regular business.
Moldova was rocked by a corruption scandal two years ago, where 12% of GDP disappeared from Moldovan banks over three days. How do people perceive corruption in Moldova now? Do you think OGP has had a concrete impact on corruption or corruption perceptions?
Moldova is still in a very deep crisis after the massive corruption scandals. As a result, trust in government decreased to 8% on a 0-100 scale. It is not because of OGP that those acts of corruption had been revealed. However, initiatives such as OGP help build a culture for demand/disclosure of data among citizens. And even if the data disclosed as part of NAPs/OGP commitments might have not necessarily had to do anything with the money that disappeared from the Moldovan banks, the public started paying more attention to the activity of the government. Due to the demand for disclosure of the information about the money in the corruption scandals, the banks involved were closed and the process of ‘money washing’ that has been taking place for years, is being stopped. And I think this is very important.
Eastern Europe has become a hub for e-governance, most notably in countries like Estonia and Georgia. Your home country of Moldova has a commitment to make data “open by default.” Why do you think Eastern Europe has such strong support for e-governance and the use of open data? Where do you think the region can improve?
There is interesting research on the relationship between the internet, trust in government, and citizen compliance. The results of these analyses suggest that the more time individuals spend on the Internet, the lower their degree of trust in government and there is a lower level of citizen compliance. However, the same research suggests that such negative effects of the Internet can be moderated through citizens’ increased use of e-government.
Who knows, maybe policymakers in the champion countries in the region such as Estonia have taken into account such research and analyses, and believed that it is good to start for e-government!
A lot depends on how things started, what were the driving elements, who owned this agenda, who was a champion in the government, were there resources available, among others. And then, once a country does something, others want it too, especially if there is international recognition.
From my personal analyses, I can state that e-governance is a good start for other ambitious reforms in the public sector. E-governance initiatives have led to modernization of public service reforms, opened up opportunities for open contracting, online procurement, open budgets, and so much more. For countries with emerging democracies, this was a natural thing to do once the internet and ICTs started to develop and grow. Once you create access to ICT infrastructure, the next logical step is to provide content to the citizens and taking public services to the online medium is what boosts the uptake of technology even more.
But then the question is: how much emphasis one puts on technology and how much on other dimensions, and readiness of the Government to embark on something so ambitious and unpredictable at the same time!
Moldova, like several other post-Soviet states, has a “frozen conflict” in Transnistria. Do you think open governance can play a role in solving these frozen conflicts?
No. The Transnistrian conflict is a far too complex and complicated geopolitical issue. There are too many players involved – Russia, the US, the EU – and this is an agenda that goes beyond any initiatives such as OGP. And as long as this frozen conflict exists, Moldova will lag behind in any ambitious commitments around open governance, EU integration, and others – because a country that has the Russian army on its territory will always be captive and dependent on “someone” else’s agenda.
OGP just celebrated its five-year anniversary at UNGA. What do you see as OGP’s biggest challenges and opportunities for the next five years?
There is a lot to share and reflect on when it comes to the future of OGP. However, I will mention just one thing/aspect that I’ve been thinking about recently and more specifically it relates to the following questions: will the National Action Plans on open governance continue to be the only mechanism through which OGP will keep pushing governments to commit to transparency, accountability, citizen engagement, and innovation?! Is the Action Plan the only approach, the only solution?! Will we keep talking about 1st, or 2nd, or 3rd or 5th Action Plan in the OGP forums?! Aren’t we in the risky position of getting into a kind of routine with NAPs that can demotivate governments to engage? So, all of the above have to be addressed by the OGP SU, SC, and the broader community, and OGP should move to a new level, phase, or dimension – at least for those who’ve been in OGP for 5 years now!