OGP 2.0: Adapting to our New Geopolitical Context
Spurred by recent electoral results, the BBC published an article asking whether these mark the end of liberal democracy. There are troubling signs of closing civic space and rise of authoritarianism. Civicus reports that in 2015, there were violations of at least one of three basic civil liberties (freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association) in 109 countries – including more than half of UN member countries. Authoritarian rulers have been emboldened by the processes emerging in the West, and the impact is going to be much more exacting and brutal in other parts of the world.
Yet the doomsday scenarios and prognostication are missing an important opportunity: rather than the end of democracy, this is an opportunity to reinvigorate and deepen democracy. At their core, recent electoral results from the US, to Brexit in the UK, to Moldova, and to Bulgaria represent deep citizen distrust of their government. Citizens perceive their governments to be captured by elites and the status quo, who are in a cocoon disconnected from their reality, or are complicit in schemes that benefit the few at the expense of the broad citizenry.
The open government movement can serve as a countervailing force to these troubling trends. But for that, it will need to transform itself from a transparency movement alone, to one where government reaches out, listens, and responds to citizens; where government and civil society work together to tackle the roots of elite capture and grand corruption; where government, in the words of President Obama, exists to truly serve and empower its citizens rather than the other way around.
These changes in our geopolitical context coincide with OGP’s five-year anniversary. Heading into the OGP Global Summit in Paris next week, this is also an opportunity to launch OGP 2.0 – a refreshed strategy, co-created with the OGP community, for the next phase of OGP in a new global reality.
We will discuss many elements of OGP 2.0 at the Global Summit. For now, let me summarize three critical and transformative reforms that need to be scaled up for Open Gov 2.0 to be successful as a countervailing force in the present geo-political context:
Genuine participation with inclusion. This entails renewing and deepening the essence of democracy, which was the imperative and invitation for citizens to shape their own lives. OGP 2.0 must deepen civic participation in policymaking and feedback on service delivery, scaling up good practices of OGP countries.
- In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has published mandate letters to his ministers which require systematic consultation with citizens, and the Canadian OGP action plan commits to open dialogue and open policymaking – with 140 federal consultations with citizens taking place simultaneously to ensure citizens feel genuinely heard.
- Brazil’s participatory budgeting and Paraguay’s participatory Municipal Development Councils are other examples of deepening citizen participation in policy making.
In these participatory processes, Open Gov 2.0 must push against a real risk of majoritarian dominance and exclusion, ensuring inclusion so that minority voices, such as those of women, children, indigenous peoples, and other groups are not excluded in the decision-making process.
In Costa Rica, OGP processes helped institutionalize a consultation mechanism on land development with indigenous people, which stopped violent protests and ushered in education and water investments.
Inclusion of the marginalized offers the promise that a genuine equality in voice may balance the inequality in resources.
Government responsiveness to citizen feedback. Participation and inclusion may exacerbate skepticism and distrust unless the government responds to citizen feedback. Closing the feedback loop entails opening a door to allow citizens to see government working, giving citizens the opportunity to provide feedback, and obligating government to respond to that feedback.
- In the Philippines, the government disclosed its five major flagship expenditures online, often geo-coded to the local level. Citizens started doing participatory social audit of the budget to see if proposed roads existed, or if the teachers and textbooks were showing up in school. The Commission of Audit – the formal accountability institution – started commissioning participatory social audits, which led to government responsiveness to the findings, with potential savings of up to $300,000 per ghost road saved.
We need to scale up such examples of responsive governance in order to restore trust between citizens and government.
Tackling elite capture and grand corruption. Elite capture and grand corruption fuel citizen distrust, alienation and apathy – the conception that government doesn’t work for the people can distance citizens from those who are supposed to serve them. We are seeing transformative reforms in some OGP countries to tackle elite capture and grand corruption – these need to be scaled up more systematically.
- In Ukraine, reformers from civil society, government, and the private sector launched the ProZorro platform using open contracting data standards, so there is transparent competition for government contracts, and all contracts are searchable. This has already decreased the cost of procurement by 14% (an estimated $230 million in savings) and significantly increased the number of bidders. Another OGP commitment in Ukraine, on e-declaration of public officials’ assets, has led to an unprecedented disclosure of wealth by thousands of public officials, including the Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers, prosecutors and judges. The disclosure has revealed glaring discrepancies between some top officials’ income and assets, which the newly created and independent National Anti-Corruption Bureau will investigate.
- Chile’s lobbying reform seeks to curb influence-peddling by compelling authorities to disclose their meetings with and donations from lobbyists in a public register.
- In Georgia, the Supreme Audit Institution started publishing data on political donations in a user-friendly format, which is being used by watchdog groups to track whether donors to political parties are also benefitting from public contracts.
At the Global Summit next week, groups of OGP countries and civil society organizations will join hands to undertake collective actions through a Paris Declaration to scale up across countries transformational reforms like open contracting, lobbying reform, beneficial ownership transparency, and transparency political party financing. The goal is to advance open government norms, so for instance, all contracts will be open and there will be no “anonymous” companies where stolen wealth is stashed away.
Taking these new directions of OGP 2.0 forward will require a step-change in the open government movement. We face an important global leadership transition for OGP. Founding countries are moving through various states of transition. The Global Summit in Paris will be attended by over a dozen heads of state as well as thousands of civil servants and civil society activists. Several new countries are expected to join the existing 70-country partnership. In light of recent events, the summit has acquired a new significance. The French government (a present co-chair of OGP) has billed it as the “COP for democracies,” referring to the landmark climate agreement. It is an opportunity to forge a new and diversified global coalition, broadening to additional countries like Canada, Germany, Argentina, Georgia and others, who will together take the baton of open government forward.