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Keynote speech delivered on 21 March, 2016, at the Club of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, Kyiv

Joe Powell|

Introduction

Thank you to Vice-Prime Minister Zubko for convening this meeting, to UNDP and Transparency International for all their support, and most importantly to all of the reformers from government departments and civil society organisations who have gathered here today.

The Open Government Partnership has grown fast from eight founding countries in 2011 to 69 today, and 1000s of civil society organisations. In many countries civil society activists and government reformers are now co-creating reforms which have a potentially transformative impact for citizens. This crafting of new reforms was the start-up phase of OGP. Now we need to move to stronger implementation of commitments on paper, and to deepening the interaction between civil society and government to make it truly about co-creation and collaboration.

1. What is the Political Opportunity?

OGP can only work with high level political buy-in from government and civil society. So what is the political opportunity for a country like Ukraine?

First, it is access to a huge network of reformers around the world, all of whom are battling with similar problems. From Brazil to Guatemala, to the United States and Romania, there is a huge challenge to rebuild the trust of citizens in government. Millions of people are marching against corruption. Citizens are demanding a more responsive, accountable and participatory government. An open government is part of the answer to these challenges. At OGP we believe good ideas can come from everyone and everywhere, including civil society, and that the sharing of those ideas is one of the most powerful tools reformers have.

For example, in the Philippines civil society is now engaged in social audits on government spending, including infrastructure projects. In Chile lobbying reforms have been made, to help open up political party financing and help citizens follow the money. In Mexico, a tripartite system has been set up which means government officials, civil society leaders and the autonomous access to information commission co-decide the country’s open government priorities. And in Sierra Leone there are moves to make open government part of the constitution.

In Ukraine, the latest analysis from the Independent Reporting Mechanism, for which I commend the researcher Dmytro Kotliar, found that there were three examples of potentially transformative OGP commitments that have been successfully implemented in the past two year – so called starred commitments.

First, Parliament passed a law that provides public access to communist-era archives which have been closed for decades. Second, legal acts were passed that require various government agencies to publish their information in open data format on their websites and on the government’s central open data portal, starting with over 300 priority data sets. Third, a draft law was submitted to the parliament that would improve the oversight of access to public information.

This marks good progress for Ukraine – many OGP countries do not receive any starred commitments. And now we also have a Open Government plan for the Parliament, which is one of the first in the world.

2. What Next for Ukraine?

The challenge now is to deepen the reforms, including implementing the many laws passed in last two years and taking the reforms to the local level. This does not mean abandoning the commitments in the current OGP plan, but building on them and strengthening their impact.

In talking with civil society organisations they have highlighted several ideas for the new OGP action plan that I would like to share with you. The first is to ensure the National Agency on Prevention of Anti-Corruption fulfills its mandate, including on protection of whistleblowers, political party financing and conflict of interest monitoring. Second, to make further progress on implementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, including publishing who owns the companies in oil, gas and mining, opening up contracts and disaggregating the data to the project level. There are also areas where Ukraine is ahead of other countries, including by having a law on beneficial ownership to reveal who is the ultimate owner of companies, and reduce money laundering and tax dodging. For this to truly work, including information on offshore companies in Cyprus and elsewhere, we must together advocate for more countries to adopt similar laws and share the data openly. Finally, progress made on open contracting, including ProZorro, could be brought into the new OGP plan to ensure open data and public participation in the government’s public procurement process to provide value for money in government deals, increase competition, reduce fraud and corruption, and provide better goods and services to citizen.

There should also be space to ask local government actors for their ideas, and help to spread the reform effort. I would like to congratulate the representatives from Dnepropetrovsk who are here today, and have taken the initiative to apply for OGP’s subnational pilot programme which launches in the coming weeks. 

3. Linking to the International System

At the UN last September new Sustainable Development Goals were agreed by every country around the world. These are high level global goals that all countries should implement, regardless of income levels or region. For the first time governance was explicitly included as part of goal 16, including targets to reduce illicit financial flows, curb corruption, develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions, increase access to information and – crucially – make government decision-making more participatory and open to the people. Of course Global Goals agreed in New York can seem very distant from on the ground challenges in Kyiv – but I urge people here to see these goals as an opportunity, and not just goal 16. All countries will be accountable for making progress on the new goals – and open government has a role to play throughout. We have developed a guide full of ideas on how OGP can be a forum for civil society and government to work together to push for better outcomes in health, education, environment and many other issues. The next Ukraine action plan can learn from these experiences from other countries to ensure citizens feel the tangible benefits of the reforms.

There is also an opportunity with the United Kingdom hosted international Ant-Corruption Summit on May 12th this year. I understand the Government of Ukraine has been invited to attend, and this will be an opportunity to promote some of the reforms we’ve discussed today, and call for support on their implementation. On that note I strongly call for the international community to support the open government reforms in Ukraine with technical and financial assistance to the new OGP action plan when it is finalised. 

I would also like to invite the Minister and other representatives to the fourth Global OGP Summit in Paris in December. It would be wonderful to have a stronger Ukraine presence at OGP meetings, both to share your experiences, and to make connections and exchange ideas with reformers from across the world. 

Conclusion:

Transparency and openness is deeply political. 

It challenges vested interests.

It puts power in the hands of the many, not the few.

It is about changing the culture of government. About being less reactive, and more proactive on disclosing information. 

Used well, OGP can help the reformers in the room to work together to make transformative changes to Ukrainian society.
It is in your hands.  

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