Opportunities and challenges for open government in Latin America

Filed under - Governance

Speech by Zoë Reiter, 10 January 2013 – Regional Open Government Partnership meeting, Santiago, Chile

Translations: ES  
Image of speaker/author

Translated from the original Spanish

In many senses the year that has just ended was a positive year. Important economic and social indicators point to improvements and this has led to a general feeling of optimism in many parts of Latin America. Moreover, during the last decade poverty rates in Latin America and the Caribbean have dropped to almost 15%.

Notwithstanding, the region faces several challenges that could reverse the current advances, if they are left unresolved. These challenges include insecurity and violence. Several Latin American countries are among the most violent countries in the world. The problem is particularly severe in some Central American countries, but insecurity and violence affect the entire region. The global average murder rate is 9 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants; however this average rises threefold, to 27, in Latin America.

Additionally, in spite of economic growth, this region is still one of the most unequal in the world: 12 of the 20 countries with the highest inequality rates are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Furthermore, democratic governance, which involves far more than merely holding elections, is often notably absent.

Within this context it is important to reflect on the opportunities offered by the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in the region as well as to consider some of the challenges that will have to be overcome if transparency and open government are to become the norm and not the exception in Latin America.

In my opinion the OGP provides four central opportunities:

  1. The way the initiative is conceived in the OGP declaration means the initiative should help generate dialogue between civil society, the private sector and government throughout the region. Such a dialogue would have to be based on an understanding that different points of view will have to be integrated in order to break the vicious circle of polarisation and confrontation that has such a tight grip on many Latin American societies.

    There should be no doubt that governments need to promote transparency through such dialogue, which is crucial for developing more harmonious social relations. We cannot afford to miss this chance.
  2. In this same vein, we would like to use the opportunity provided by this initiative to generate more spaces in which civil society can be viewed by government as an effective partner and not as a rival or enemy.
  3. In line with the above, open government is much more than just transparency. An open government is a better government because it is more able to respond to citizens, to their social needs, and in particular to the needs of the most vulnerable. The poorest people are also those who find themselves furthest away from government and political decisions. Consequently, we believe that open, transparent and  inclusive governments are better equipped to deal with the great challenges mentioned above: insecurity, inequality and securing fundamental rights.
  4. Finally, concerning opportunities, it is important to remember that for an international movement such as Transparency International, and particularly for its chapters in the Americas, open government means going beyond the regional or international commitments that states and governments have committed themselves to via international conventions. Certainly, influencing national legislation and putting the basic principles into practice is important, but open government is far broader than this because it refers to the development – as much by citizens as by their governments – of a culture of transparency, accountability and participation in public policy and the exercise of power in general.

In order to make full use of these and the other opportunities for regional development provided by the outstanding OGP initiative, we also need to understand and confront a series of challenges. There are four challenges in the Americas that will need to be tackled if the opportunities provided by the OGP are to become reality.

CHALLENGES

  1. The main challenge faced by the Open Government Partnership in the Americas is ensuring the initiative does not lose its significance; instead, it needs to gain in importance. For this to happen it must provide solutions and concrete results. Some governments have already made what we could call ‘light’ commitments, in other words, measures that do not bring about structural change or progress in the way that power is exercised but instead are more of a form of political marketing. In other cases, governments have opted to concentrate on a specific formula such as open data. However, it should be clear that information is not an end in itself but a resource for better and greater citizen participation in public affairs; on the other hand, diverse constraints still exist when implementing tools such as open data in poorer countries due to the huge differences concerning access to the internet, and rates of both functional and digital literacy.
  2. A further challenge is the need for national action plans that reflect the political, economic, social, cultural and legal situation in each country. It is worrying that some governments have failed to include issues that are relevant to people’s everyday lives in their action plans. I have already mentioned the question of violence and insecurity, and Latin American action plans tend to avoid this grave issue.
  3. A third major challenge is the integration and involvement of civil society. It is worth pointing to the fact that the Open Government Partnership is a recent initiative. Methodologically, it proposes bold but experimental measures to achieve the results for which we all hope. One of these measures is the participation of civil society at all levels. The successful cooperation on the design and implementation of national action plans by government and civil society provides grounds for optimism; however, we are still quite concerned about cases where governments have unilaterally sent country reports without consultation, thereby totally negating the very essence of this initiative.
  4. Finally, and this is linked to the above, it is fundamentally important to recognise the work that has already been undertaken by civil society. The goals and principles of the Open Government Partnership are not new: civil society organisations in the region have a long history and great experience in these matters. As such, it is essential that the key actors involved in the Open Government Partnership make a continuous effort to connect the initiative’s work with the decades-long experience and work already undertaken by civil society and various governments in the region. In this way we avoid reinventing the wheel and instead invigorate this initiative with the rich experiences of success and lessons learned that can be built upon and used for inspiration. This is particularly important now, as the cooperation, attention and the energy of civil society and many governments and donors are currently focussed on the Open Government Partnership.

Recommendations

Faced with these challenges it is essential that proposals and recommendations be developed that minimise the risk of failure, and instead guarantee a basic platform to ensure the successful implementation of the initiative.

First, we believe it is very important to have shared criteria for the vision of success of the OGP. This is crucial in order to establish a basis with which the actors involved in the initiative can develop collective action and ensure accountability in the development of the OGP initiative.

In order to establish such criteria for the OGP, it would be very helpful to have a number of operating principles that guide what we mean when we speak of “open government”.  To contribute to such a discussion, Transparency International and our partner Alianza Regional para la Libre Expresion e Información propose three essential elements for open government in the following formula:

Access to information and participation as a right

+

Transparency, accountability and inclusiveness as policy

+

Open data as a tool

=

Open Government

Nonetheless, open government is of little value if it fails to improve the lives of citizens.

This leads to another recommendation: civil society partnerships around the OGP must be strengthened. Doing so will help prevent new divisions from developing and would foster better absorption of the experience of organisations that have promoted the different facets of open government for many years. That experience has created specific political and analytical capacities targeted to the problems faced by the region.  It is essential that this experience be incorporated and not duplicated if we are to translate the hopes and aspirations set out in the Declaration of Open Government into reality, and if these hopes are to have a strong impact on our societies.

Finally, I would like to emphasise that the work of advancing open government must not be done FOR citizens but WITH citizens. Consequently, we need to make a greater effort to engage our citizens, by understanding and responding to their needs and by involving them in monitoring the commitments made by their political representatives. Citizen participation is the fuel of open government and is crucial if the Open Government Partnership initiative is to have long-lasting impact, responding to the needs of the people.

Country / Territory - Chile   
Region - Americas   
Language(s) - English   
Topic - Access to information   |   Civil society   |   Governance   |   Human rights   |   Politics and government   
Tags - Open Government Partnership   |   Latin America   |   Zoë Reiter   

Related news

19
Jan
2018

Reform and policy recommendations for incoming Weah administration in Liberia

Transparency International and the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) have issued a series of anti-corruption reform and ...

5
Jan
2018

Pardon me? Presidential clemency and impunity for grand corruption

Recent events in Brazil and Peru have shone a spotlight on the issue of presidential pardons in cases of grand corruption. Read more to find out the ...

30
Nov
2017

Public statement about the current electoral situation in Honduras

Transparency International’s chapter in Honduras, the Association for a More Just Society (ASJ), issues the following statements to the people of ...

Related publications

Publication cover image

Collective Action on Business Integrity: A Practitioner’s Guide for Civil Society Organisations

Collective action on business integrity involves different stakeholder groups including civil society, government and business coming together to ...

Report published – Apr 2018

Publication cover image

Strengthening Anti-Corruption Agencies in Asia Pacific

The synthesis report, Strengthening Anti-Corruption Agencies in Asia Pacific, presents the major findings of country-level studies initiated by ...

Report published – Oct 2017