5 December 2012

Africa: The Light of Transparency Shines Bright

Photo: Open Government Partnership
Mo Ibrahim (center) poses with ministerial and civil society members of the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee at a meeting in London.

editorial

London — Increased openness offers many benefits for societies which are brave enough to submit themselves to scrutiny. It can help root out corruption, expose inefficiencies and highlight poor performance.

Greater transparency incentivises government ministers and civil servants to perform better and can also drive economic prosperity and social improvements.

Fifteen months after the launch of the Open Government Partnership, the open movement is coming of age. The number of participating countries has reached 58 following an application by Argentina within the last month. Other interest countries are attending a peer exchange meeting this week in London to share best practice. This takes the combined populations of OGP countries to over two billion, covering nearly a third of people on earth.

OGP's membership is not closed. The Partnership stands ready to welcome any country which is prepared to meet a set of minimum eligibility criteria, endorse an open government declaration and develop a set of commitments they promise to deliver. During U.S. President Obama's historic recent visit to Burma, the Myanmar government announced its intention to join OGP by 2016. Representatives from Morocco and Tunisia are amongst those coming to a workshop this week to find out more about joining the movement.

While increasing membership is a positive sign, real progress is only possible if governments which are already part of OGP are seen to deliver on their commitments. These cover a range of issues - with education, extractive industries/natural resources, health, the environment and public law enforcement - being the five most common themes.

To ensure that governments stick to their promises to be more open and transparent, this week sees the launch of a unique body. A meeting of the OGP's ministerial Steering Committee in London marks the unveiling of an Independent Reporting Mechanism. This will see a panel of five technical experts working alongside civil society researchers to scrutinize each country's progress. These researchers will complete the first round of reports - for each of the founding governments of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States - by May 2013. IRM reports will be carried out every 12 months so that citizens within each participating country, as well as the international community, are aware of its progress.

We are honoured to have been asked to form the three-strong expert panel which is responsible for overseeing the mechanism's successful delivery.

Our role is to provide strategic advice as the researchers decide how to initially develop their assessment methods. Once the report findings are ready we will also engage on an international and regional basis to ensure they are accepted and acted upon.

Our motives for getting involved reflect our long-standing interests. We believe that issues of governance can be measured, as evidenced by the impact of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, and that civil society organisations have a key role to play in ensuring accountability. We are committed to ensuring the integrity and autonomy of the reporting mechanism, so it becomes a force for good in the world.

Some of our conclusions may not be comfortable for individual governments, but they are to be commended for opening themselves up to external scrutiny. Without independent verification, citizens cannot be sure that the promises governments make are being delivered.

The hard work starts here. It is easy for governments to promise to be more open but much harder for them to deliver greater transparency. This requires cultural changes and will lead to some discomfort as ministers and civil servants are taken out of their comfort zone. Once the first steps are taken on the path to greater accountability then it is difficult to turn back.

We look forward to working with governments and civil society organisations to ensure that the light of transparency shines bright and brings real benefits to two billion people.

- Mary Robinson, Mo Ibrahim and Graça Machel

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