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Tough challenges and big opportunities: commitments to watch in the Americas.

Retos difíciles y grandes oportunidades: compromisos en la mira en las Américas

Denisse Miranda |

To date, the Americas region faces a number of challenges in advancing  open government reforms. For many countries, insecurity, corruption and human rights violations are just some of the critical issues that governments need to tackle. Access to information and public accountability are key to to tackling these challenges. In this context, we would hope that  National Action Plans (NAP) be used as an opportunity to overcome the region’s issues and to push for ambitious open government reforms.

The latest track record of Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) assessments for the 17 countries in the region shows that a significant amount of commitments, 71%, focus on access to information initiatives with a high emphasis on information and data disclosure through web portals, but not in all cases in open data format. Without diminishing the importance of this, it is also important to note that out of the 405 commitments in this set of IRM assessments, only 12% were scored as having a transformative potential.

To highlight the opportunity that OGP can provide as a vehicle for reform for the most critical issues in the region, we would like to look at some commitments from the region that show room for growth. These commitments might not have met the IRM’s star criteria but have the potential to make significant impacts should future NAPs get a greater push for ambition and implementation.

Let’s take a look at some commitments from the 9 countries assessed in the latest IRM cycle of reports:

Canada: Foundation for open science 

  • Open Science. The free flow of scientific information can turn particularly controversial when it highlights undesirable effects of industrial development. This commitment promised more access to scientific data from federally funded research programs. At the time of the IRM mid-term assessment the commitment’s implementation was delayed. Although the scope of the commitment did not tackle the bigger issue of scientist muzzling and further access to scientific data, it does set the foundation for more ambitious open science commitments in the future.

Chile: Oversight over public institutions

  • National Civic Participation Council. Strengthening civic participation institutionalization in Chile is key to advance towards open government. The National Civic Participation Council’s principal role would be oversight over compliance with the 20.500 Law—on citizen participation—and be a coordinating body for civic participation public policy in public administration. There are still pending tasks in this commitment’s implementation, but its progress toward the end of the action plan cycle and its inclusion in future action plans is promising.

Dominican Republic: Open and participatory environmental policy

  • Access to environmental information. The Dominican Republic government committed to create an interactive web portal with environmental information and enable informed citizen participation in the creation of environmental policy. Natural resources represent an important source of income for the country and its protected areas a big eco-tourism potential. The commitment has two key elements to it, on one hand disclosure of open environmental data, on the other, a functionality in the web portal to enable citizen to take part in the decision-making process for environmental policy.

El Salvador: Citizen oversight on community police performance

  • Transparency in the implementation of the community police plan. The community police model is part of the government’s security strategy. Given the importance of the insecurity problem in the country and the lack of information on police effectiveness, this commitment could have significant effects on citizens to hold government accountable for the performance of this new model. Progress of this commitment is yet to begin but the coordinated support of implementing agencies will be crucial to bring this commitment forward to its desired results.

Guatemala: Institutional support for access to information

  • Improve transparency and access to information levels. Guatemala does not have an Access to Information Institute or similar autonomous body. The goal of this commitment is for public institutions required to comply with the transparency and access to information laws to sign a transparency pact. Although the pact has not been signed, the commitment could strengthen the enforcement capacity of regulating agencies and boost citizens’ ability to demand accountability from them.

Honduras: Improving availability of medicines in the public health system.

  • Monitoring medicines in the public system. This commitment seeks to increase access to public information on medicine distribution. Inventory management irregularities and corruption in the health sector have led to a country-wide 40% shortage of medications at health centers. Only 10% of health centers meet 80% stock of medicines. The government published a decree to track relevant stakeholders involved in the distribution process. However, despite the decree and civil society’s initiatives, there is still no evidence of progress in the tracking platform the commitment promises. Implementation of this commitment as set out in the action plan is potentially transformative but will require all the institutional and citizen support possible to advance.

Trinidad and Tobago: Natural resources governance.

  • Open public access to licenses and contracts for oil and gas exploration. Prior to the OGP, information on licenses and contracts to explore natural resources in Trinidad and Tobago were not universally available. Civil society organizations involved in Trinidad’s extractives industry transparency initiative continue advocating to improve the quality, quantity, and format of information disclosed on extractive industries in the country. For them this commitment is big step forward and expect that its implementation would open new frontiers for transparency in natural resource governance.

While ambition is a challenge in the region, it is also true that there are some star reforms to follow. In the last cycle of IRM reports, 5 countries from the region—Canada, Chile, Guatemala, Paraguay and Uruguay— received a total of 11 starred commitments. OGP’s recent publication on the most ambitious reforms in OGP highlights 3 of these. Boosting citizen’s participation in Paraguay, scaling up open data in Canada and environmental governance in Chile.