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Manish Bapna Discusses Priorities for Open Government Partnership at UN General Assembly

Manish Bapna, WRI’s Executive Vice President and Managing Director and Co-Chair of the Open Government Partnership, addressed the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2016. Here are his remarks setting out three priorities for the Partnership in the coming year.


Thank you, I’m truly delighted to be here today.

I would like to recognize my friends and co-chairs, Ayanda and Alejandro, for their relentless commitment to advance open government and strengthen the Partnership.

I feel privileged to follow President Zuma and join France as co-chair and speak alongside President Hollande.

France has long been a champion of open government.

Think of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen from 1789, which formed the basis for the French Constitution. It states: “Law is the expression of the general will. Every citizen has a right to participate personally, or through his representative in its foundation.”

Deeply impressive and still relevant today.

I will not attempt to cover the entire co-chair agenda for the coming year. Rather I will focus my remarks on three areas where we believe OGP should do something new or different.

First, I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and why I am here.

I grew up in two very different worlds.

During the school year, I lived in the suburbs of Chicago: picture -- quiet, tree-lined streets, modern homes, immaculate lawns.

I spent my summers in Udaipur, an old and exquisite city in India, nestled among glimmering lakes and tree-covered hills.

Each summer, when I arrived in Udaipur, I noticed how rapid, poorly planned development took a toll on the city. Trees were cut, hills were mined and waste was dumped into the lakes.

One summer, I arrived to find the main lake in the center of the city completely dry. Many in the city, especially the poor, were left without water for drinking, bathing, and farming.

The problem was not the desire by city leaders to create jobs or promote growth. It was the failure of those leaders to engage with ordinary citizens. I came to realize that development efforts that didn’t truly involve ordinary people were likely to fail.

In many ways, addressing this injustice became my life’s work. It is why I am here today.

Flash forward 30 years…

Precisely one year ago this week, the world came together to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the related 17 global goals.

At the same time, around half a million people marched in the streets, just outside this building, demanding global climate action. The following month, the largest gathering of heads of state on a single issue came together, and the world forged the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.

What is often overlooked is that at the heart of these two agreements are crucial provisions on transparency, accountability and good governance.

The worlds of climate and good governance are interdependent. You cannot have success on one without the other.

This brings me to our first priority for OGP: To create a climate-safe, sustainable future, we must bring the worlds of climate and governance together.

How can we do this?

With new tools, greater transparency and citizen engagement:

  • Consider air pollution. More than 80 percent of cities exceed WHO limits on air pollution with staggering impacts on human health.
     
  • With more and better monitoring and greater transparency of air pollution, citizens are empowered to demand changes in how energy is produced, where factories are sited, and how people move around.  Nowhere has this been more dramatic than in China.  On this issue, China can offer useful lessons on how to release detailed air pollution data via social media in a way that stimulates citizen engagement.
     
  • Similarly, more open data on climate projections, weather and natural resources can strengthen resilience planning. Armed with this information, people can develop more effective and robust responses to our changing climate. The United States, Kenya and France have already made commitments to release data that will inform resilience planning. Imagine what we could do together if dozens of countries made such commitments!

Our first co-chair priority is to bring these two global agendas together.

This brings me to our second priority. Despite progress in the international arena, governance trends are not headed in the right direction. In far too many countries, civic space is closing.

Last year CIVICUS recorded violations in at least one of the fundamental rights associated with civic space in 109 countries. Nearly one-third of those are OGP countries.

This is unacceptable.

It weakens the dialogue at the heart of OGP and risks damaging OGP’s reputation and credibility.

OGP countries should be at the forefront of good governance. As our founding declaration says, members “pledge to lead by example.”

Our second priority is to lead by example: to ensure our principles and values are fully reflected in how we work.

As co-chairs,

  • We need to strengthen eligibility criteria for countries seeking to join OGP and uphold the response policy when countries fail to meet minimum governance standards.
     
  • We need to strengthen the co-creation of national action plans and deepen civil society engagement, including around the Independent Review Mechanism.
     
  • We need to speak out, privately or publicly, when OGP countries violate basic rights that they promised to protect.

Our third priority is to build a broader and deeper movement for open government.

Government ministries and civil society groups dedicated to open data and transparency are at the heart of OGP in many countries. This is a great start, but we need more.

We need to engage the whole of government-- across ministries and at all levels, particularly subnational entities like cities and regions.

This is where some of the most exciting innovations are taking place: where governments are closest to citizens.

As co-chairs,

  • We will actively support the new pilot initiative to bring city and subnational governments into OGP.
     
  • We will broaden civil society engagement to include climate change and sustainable development groups, including those working directly with communities.
     
  • We will accelerate efforts to deepen engagement with parliaments and with the private sector.

In order to build a broader and deeper open government movement, OGP must show it can make a real difference in people's lives.

We need to see more concrete commitments and follow-through on issues such as water and sanitation, health, education, natural resources and infrastructure.

In doing so, we can create an open government movement that meets the aspirations and responds to the needs of all people, from all walks of life.

This is a critical year to get things right.

Each day, I think of the people in Udaipur whose water ran out. I think of indigenous groups trying to protect the forests on which they depend, and of children living in slums, choking on the air they breathe.

What we do here matters. The work of open government has consequences for millions of people in thousands of communities. Ultimately, we will be judged not by our commitments, but by our ability to affect change on the ground.

By setting these priorities for the coming year—bringing the governance and sustainability worlds together, leading by example in how we work, and building a broader movement -- we can make real-world change happen.

We can move closer to achieving OGP’s ambitious vision.

We can raise the bar for good governance.

And, we can empower people to create a more inclusive and sustainable society for all.

Thank you.

To learn more, read this blog on the Open Government Partnership website.

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