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Faces of Open Government – Zoe Reiter

Open Government Partnership|

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: 

How does open government make a difference in people’s lives?

Open government doesn’t make a difference in people’s lives, people do.  Strong mechanisms for transparency, accountability and ensuring people’s right to information are enablers but they won’t achieve much unless those people most marginalized from power have the capacity and sufficient awareness of their rights to tap in to those enablers.   The question for me is how the OGP can be better at engaging people?  We need to be better at linking up with Community Based Organizations, better about linking the OG agenda to the problems that most impact people’s lives, and then better about demonstrating how involvement in OG has made people’s lives better.  Building those connections takes a fair amount of time, trust and resources, possibly beyond what the national action planning cycle of OGP currently provides.

How has civil society benefited from exchanging ideas with government?

I actually would like to put the question another other way.  I.e. how do national action plans benefit from the exchanging of ideas between government and civil society?  Often, government officials do not have a lot of experience in particular areas of open governance and, in the best case scenarios, look to civil society for support in meeting the OGP grand challenges.  A TI survey of its Chapters in November 2013 indicated that those governments who conducted high-quality, regular and open consultations with civil society are much more likely to have high-quality, achievable commitments and indicators in their national action plans. 

At the regional summits of the OGP, there is an invaluable opportunity for the government folks really responsible for implementing the OGP (as opposed to the political leadership that is more removed from the operational aspects) to meet and dialogue in a spirit of parity with civil society actors from diverse sectors.  I hope that the upcoming Summit in Costa Rica will take advantage of this opportunity and focus on providing spaces for genuine exchange between the actual OGP “doers” in the region from government and civil society along both thematic and geographic lines. 

Describe one OGP commitment from your region that you are proud of.

I am proud to work with a network of 20 national CSOs in the region (TI Chapters), three-quarters of which are involved in the OGP.  I can’t pick a favourite commitment or I’ll get in trouble!  However, I find especially encouraging those commitments that stem from long-fought advocacy campaigns by our Chapters and their partners such as, for example, the Access to Information Law in Colombia. In Peru, it is good to see that one of the commitments that will be included in the next plan is the creation of an authority to monitor and enforce the national access to information law.  A strong and well-resourced authority will help to achieve something civil society has been pushing for since the law was passed ten years ago.

Another thing that is exciting to see is when the logic behind open governance really shifts the way government does business. In Mexico, nearly all government budgets are becoming subject to the open government approach. As a result, all of the funding for reconstruction in the wake of natural disasters is transparent and monitored from the point of federal budget allocation to delivery on the ground. This is critical to ensure money is getting to the people most in need, as intended, and is not be siphoned off by corrupt actors or for clientelistic purposes.

How are you working to overcome challenges in opening up government in your region?

At the regional level, TI in the Americas focuses on the issues that most affect people’s lives in the region, especially inequality and insecurity.  We know that transparency, accountability and participation are key elements for tackling these problems.  Therefore, much of our current work collectively as a regional network is to advance more effective transparency and social accountability mechanisms in the security and justice sectors as well as in large-scale poverty reduction programmes.  Of course, this work is particularly challenging in highly corrupt contexts where institutions are weak, organized crime has made incursions into the state, and/or the space for civil society is highly limited.  In these countries, you have to think incrementally and work locally to build trust with those communities most affected by these problems, while creating political pressure for reform through evidence-based advocacy based on strong international standards of transparency, accountability, and participation.  This is why TI is working with partners around the world to foster international open governance standards.

With respect to the OGP, one of the things that I work particularly hard at with our Chapters and also our partner, Alianza Regional para la Libre Expresión e Información, is to push the OGP platform to be better at 1) involving civil society more genuinely in both the planning and monitoring processes of the National Action Plans; and 2) ensuring a strong set of commitments that better tackle the imbalances of power and social injustices that plague the Americas. 

Unfortunately, the resources that it takes to push for this at the national and regional level are quite significant and so we are going to be looking for donors to do a lot more to support the human resources on the ground that it takes to make this happen.  The resource drain in the Americas is a particular problem and many of the TI Chapters are quite strained by their on-going efforts to push governments participating in the OGP to better fulfill the promise of open government.   

 

Zoe Reiter is Regional Programme Manager at the Americas Department at the Headquarters of Transparency International. 

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