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Securing human dignity through the lens of open governance

Por la dignidad humana a través de la gobernanza abierta

Mukelani Dimba|

It has been exactly one year since I had the incredible honour of speaking at the opening of the 5th Global Summit of the Open Government Partnership in Tbilisi, Georgia. What made the occasion special for me, being South African, was that it happened exactly on the 100th birthday of the late Nelson Mandela, the global icon for the struggle for freedom and South Africa’s first democratically elected president. 

In Tbilisi I drew inspiration from Mandela’s first speech at the United Nations where he said: “…the society we seek to create must be a people-centred society. All its institutions and its resources must be dedicated to the pursuit of a better life for all our citizens. That better life must mean an end to poverty, to joblessness, homelessness and the despair that comes of deprivation”. 

Mukelani Dimba, OGP 2017-2018 Civil Society Co-Chair, speaking at the OGP Global Summit in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2018.

These words are a great anchor for the work that we do as open governance advocates. When we seek to reform governance practices, we do this not for the sake of openness, accountability, transparency or participation themselves, but to fundamentally change the nature and process of service delivery to those most in need of government support for their survival and dignity. We deploy these as mechanisms for honest delivery of public services. 

Ten years since the proclamation of the Nelson Mandela International Day by the United Nations, the world is being galvanised to dedicate the next ten years to take #ActionAgainstPoverty; a call for governments, civil society, businesses and individuals to focus on social justice issues. The Mandela Day Goals for the next ten years include; quality education for all children, access to early childhood development learning resources, safe shelter for families to live and thrive in, elimination of homelessness, and safe sanitation facilities in every school and all communities. 

The Mandela Day Goals fit hand-in-glove with OGP’s focus areas and commitments as enablers for delivery of public services. Since the inception of OGP in 2011, over 180 education commitments, more than 140 health commitments and 53 water and sanitation services commitments have been included in OGP action plans. 

Some notable examples of these include the Education Sector Transparency through Data Publication project in which the Kigoma Ujiji Municipal Council (Tanzania) regularly publishes data online and on public notice boards on school funding and expenditures, student and staff numbers, school labor needs, and school building infrastructure. To help identify and target underperforming institutions, test results and school rankings are also made public. In Mongolia,  newly-trained social accountability activists are engaging with the government, through the Accountability for Better Government project, to improve public services, like healthcare, in their communities. Trainees have identified potential savings equivalent to ten percent of the health budget. In Uruguay, nearly 2,000 citizens, academics, and government representatives contributed ideas in 2016 for  the National Water Plan and its implementation. The suggestions spanned policy topics, such as environmental sustainability, spatial planning, and drought and flood risk management. 

These are just are just a few of the examples of how OGP members are responding to Mandela’s call from 25 years ago to place ordinary people’s needs and daily concerns at the centre of governance. 

This year is the tenth anniversary of Nelson Mandela Day, a day to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better, and in doing so build a global movement for good. 

For more resources on public service delivery in OGP, check out the OGP Policy Areas pages, the education, health, and water and sanitation sections of the OGP Global Report, and OGP’s latest publication, New Commitments, New Approaches: Emerging Policy Areas in 2018-2020 Action Plans.

These cases demonstrate that open governance can be a great enabler in critical policy areas that include delivery of public services as a response to the challenges of poverty. Mandela’s speech at the UN and the OGP Global  Summit in Tbilisi may recede into memory but the issues we were called to act on in those moments remain a present reality for tens of millions of people in OGP countries. As Mandela once reminded us, “poverty is not an accident. Like slavery and Apartheid, it is man-made and can be removed by the actions of human beings”. OGP’s approach to health, education and water and sanitation as policy priority areas can be a great shot in the arm for #ActionAgainstPoverty. 

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