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P is for Partnership: U.S. Embassies Partner with Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Macedonia to Push OGP Forward

Marisa Mac Isaac |

P is for Partnership, and that is the mantra that U.S. Embassies in Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Slovakia have adopted with our OGP counterparts.  In June 2015, we organized a ten day International Visitor on Demand visit to the United States for government and NGO representatives from our host countries to see firsthand what is happening on the OGP front in the U.S.  In April 2016, the U.S. Embassy Bucharest and Romania’s OGP team organized a follow up working meeting in Bucharest.  26 colleagues from U.S. Embassies, governments, and civil society in Romania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Slovakia gathered to exchange best practices, brainstorm and enjoy some true Romanian hospitality.

In a region still struggling to shrug off decades of communism, openness and transparency have only recently entered the lingua franca.  OGP has emerged as a tool to transform the modus operandi of governments, and also as a means to cement the working partnership between the United States and these countries.  Institutionalizing the rule of law and fighting corruption in these countries is a top priority of the United States Government.  As Vice President Biden said in Bucharest in 2014, “Corruption is a cancer, a cancer that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy, diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity; already-tight national budgets, crowding out important national investments.”  While criminal prosecution is certainly an important element of fighting corruption, empowering citizens with information to interact with their governments and hold them accountable is the key to creating democracies which are for the people, by the people and with the people.  OGP institutionalizes a method to make that happen.

What makes OGP successful is that there is no set formula to implement the National Action Plans, so countries can create things that work best for them.  Macedonia created six standing working groups on topics such as fiscal transparency and anti-corruption that are in constant email communication‎.  Slovakia included IT companies in developing its National Action Plan.  Romania held Open Government Week, where the U.S. Embassy participated in the first ever open parliament event.  Bulgaria upped its efforts to include NGOs for the lifecycle of its National Action Plan.

Collectively, we identified some areas on which to work in the coming year.  Many people, both in and outside of governments, still lack basic knowledge of OGP.  Embassies can assist in the PR campaign by participating in host country OGP events or by making public service announcements like the one produced by U.S. Embassy Bucharest (https://youtu.be/t1EhJJ1ylmQ ).  The private sector is still not very involved in OGP. U.S. Embassies can utilize their connections with American Chambers of Commerce to learn what would motivate American companies to join OGP efforts.  An OGP Club, similar to the one in Romania (a monthly meeting with a guest speaker at a library) could be a platform for engaging the private sector.

As regional partners, both our host countries and U.S. Embassies have a lot in common. By working together and learning from each other, our shared commitment to democracy and human rights will result not only in more open governments, but also a more prosperous and secure partnership between our countries.