OGP in the News – April 2017
A series providing a round-up of media attention received by the Open Government Partnership throughout the world.
April’s top OGP stories honed in on the relationship between trust and transparency, as well as the latest in civic tech developments with coverage coming from six of the seven continents. (Sorry, Antarctica.)
Does transparency fuel civic engagement? This certainly seemed to be the case with the Lavo Jato (Car Wash) scandal, which incited mass protests across Brazil. An article in The Christian Science Monitor and republished by Yahoo! News explored how the rise in investigative journalism and international transparency standards, such as OGP, have resulted in greater public awareness of corruption in Brazil. Yet, the article also pointed to an emerging phenomenon that may be an unwanted side effect of greater openness: “corruption fatigue.” Former vice president of Costa Rica, Kevin Casas Zamora, concluded that while increased transparency is “healthy for democracy in the long run,” it can also have a “devastating effect” on public trust in the short run.
The critical combination of transparency and trust was also a theme in an opinion piece by senior technician in Democratic Governance Borja Díaz Rivillas for El País. The author noted that initiatives like OGP and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) have helped citizens and institutions alike recognize the value of public information in ensuring accountable governance, both internationally and in Latin America, where OGP participation is particularly high. He argued, however, that transparency laws must be accompanied by a “renewed relationship between the State and the citizens that is based on trust and reciprocity.”
More on trust—or the lack thereof—came out of the United States, whose commitment to transparency and anti-corruption is being questioned by some foreign officials, particularly as the Trump administration faces continued accusations of conflicts of interest. In a piece for Mother Jones, reporters Andy Kroll and Russ Choma highlighted the contrast concerning issues of transparency between former President Obama’s administration, which helped champion OGP’s creation, and that of President Trump, which “has yet to say whether it will continue working with OGP.”
Reporters Kroll and Choma were not alone in questioning the United States’ open government agenda. Following the Trump administration’s decision to discontinue the the Obama-era legacy of publishing the White House visitor logs, several transparency watchdogs united in protest. Deputy Director of the Sunlight Foundation, Alex Howard, authored a blog berating this choice of “secrecy over sunshine.” In a piece for The Atlantic, author and senior political fellow at New America Lee Drutman offers a different perspective, emphasizing that “publicly available visitor logs don’t give the full picture of who’s influencing the president.” As in the Mother Jones article, Drutman underscores the differences between Trump and his predecessor. While former President Barack Obama “won praise” by supporting open government initiatives like OGP, he says, “Trump has made a bet that voters ultimately don’t care about transparency and openness in government.”
On a brighter note, business technology news website ZDNet reported open government progress in Australia, where the country’s 15 OGP commitments touch on issues of widespread public concern, including access to data, privacy, and corporate transparency and accountability. Furthermore, three former justices of the Supreme Court of Victoria wrote an opinion piece appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald and the WAtoday.com.au in which they characterized Australia’s participation in OGP as offering a “real prospect of restoring the integrity of our democracies.” Authors Tim Smith, Stephen Charles and David Harper applauded current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s move away from precedents established under the former Abbott administration by successfully drafting a 2016-2018 NAP in partnership with civil society and promising to restore FOI statutory functions to the Information Office.
OGP coverage appeared elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, even in non-participating country China. Mentioned in a report discussing the country’s government data policy and published in several major national news sources, OGP was credited with people’s growing “awareness of the importance of data,” particularly in terms of government transparency.
OGP and e-government also made headlines in Europe. In an opinion piece for L’Obs, the co-founder of the French investment firm The Family, Nicolas Colin, described France as being slow to adapt to the “digital economy.” He noted that President François Hollande, for example, did not recognize the importance of digitization until later on in his presidential term, when he oversaw France’s joining of OGP. With the fast-approaching presidential elections, however, the author speculates that France is on the cusp of change, in part due to presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s longtime enthusiasm for start-ups.
In Italy, meanwhile, the city of Turin geared up to participate in the 2017 International Space Apps Challenge from April 29 to 30. Born out of an OGP commitment in the first United States action plan, this annual 48-hour hackathon is sponsored by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and includes events around the world. According to an article in Diariodelweb.it, Turin was one of 170 cities participating in this year’s Space Apps challenge, which aimed to enlighten people about challenges facing Earth and pave the way for the planet’s future.
Finally, several articles in pan-African news aggregator AllAfrica.com covered OGP CEO Sanjay Pradhan’s recent visit to Liberia. In a meeting with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Pradhan commended the Liberian President’s commitment to OGP: “The quality of leadership of you, Madam President, in the OGP Process and overall governance in Liberia truly makes you an OGP Champion.”
Last but not least, looking to join the #opengov movement? You’re in luck because OGP is hiring! Check out all of the available positions here.
Of course, we can’t catch everything in our news round-ups, so if you see we’ve missed something or think a particular story ought to be featured, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.