Transparency: The Time has Come

In a few days time, representatives from governments covering around a third of the world’s population will gather alongside civil society, youth and private sector representatives, including senior representatives from multilateral institutions, for the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) Summit in London.

The summit will embody the growing global transparency movement. As the partnership’s co-chairs, the United Kingdom and Indonesia are determined that transparency must be beyond platitudes or empty promises.

It is time to show just what powerful changes open government can deliver and what transformation open government can catalyze. We want to see transparency and innovation hard-wired into international governance and embraced by governments around the world.

At the summit, while reflecting on the solid progress that has been made, our priority is to embed the OGP as a credible force for making governments more open, innovative, accountable and efficient, as well as societies healthier and more prosperous. We have asked every member state to bring a new, stretching open-government commitment to the summit.

Britain, the host, will be unveiling a new action plan designed to further drive greater transparency. Indonesia, as the incoming lead chair of the OGP, will also be announcing its new flagship ambitious commitments to catalyze greater and more inclusive openness in the archipelago.

The OGP’s 60 member states span the whole world — showing just how global the transparency movement now is. We are all at different places along the path to greater openness. The point of the partnership is to support one another in making progress.

We have no illusion that this will be easy or automatic.  We are not oblivious to the limitations and current challenges and accept that at times progress will be slower than we would like, but believe that ambitious commitments made in front of a global audience have the potential to effect significant changes.

We are heartened that countries in transition, such as Myanmar and Libya, have expressed their intention to join the partnership when they are able to do so.

The summit will focus on five key areas where open government has the power to deliver clear and measurable outcomes:

• Open data: Radically opening up government data to boost entrepreneurship, better public services, growth and accountability.

• Government integrity: Fighting corruption and strengthening democracy through transparent
government.

• Fiscal transparency: Joining a new global standard in the automatic exchange of information to ensure taxpayers can follow their money.

• Empowering citizens: Transforming the relationship between citizens and governments.

• Natural resource transparency:  Working toward a common global reporting standard, ensuring that payments for extractives and natural resources are transparent and used for public benefit.

Around these five themes, governments will gather to share success stories, check that previous transparency promises have actually been kept, and set ambitious new commitments for greater openness. Civil society will hold their feet to the fire and exchange inspirational new ideas.

The summit will also celebrate how transparency initiatives are leading to real improvements in the lives of ordinary people. After all, this is the ultimate test of the benefits of transparency.

Our “Bright Spots” shortlist showcases the most inspiring examples of how transparency can change life on the ground. The shortlisted projects come from Chile, Estonia, Georgia, Indonesia, Montenegro, the Philippines and Romania.

They include mobilizing citizens to audit government projects; an online portal for complaints about public services; a mobile app for people to report problems in their communities; a tool to channel public input on the legislative agenda; and an open system for civil service appointments.

Open government requires ministers to take themselves out of the comfort zone, and these examples show how countries are doing exactly that.

This is an important and epochal moment. People around the world are demanding much greater openness, good governance and accountability from their governments. Citizens are demanding that the state should be their servant, not their master, and that information that governments hold should be open for everyone to see.

At the same time, new technology is disrupting established bureaucracies and creating opportunities for much more responsive government. Around the world, reforms to open up government are delivering tangible benefits: faster growth, better public services, less corruption and less poverty.

In short, transparency is an idea which is sweeping across the world, or to paraphrase Victor Hugo, an idea whose time has come. And nothing is more powerful than that.

Francis Maude is British Minister for the Cabinet Office. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto is Head of the Indonesian President’s Delivery Unit. The article was prepared for this year’s Open Government Partnership Summit in London on Oct. 31-Nov. 1. (The Jakarta Post)