Following are remarks from WRI Executive Vice President and Managing Director, Manish Bapna, as he concludes his term as co-chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). He spoke on September 18 at Rebuilding Trust in Government during the UN General Assembly in New York City. OGP works with government, civil society organizations and civic tech entrepreneurs to promote transparency in public action, citizen participation and democratic innovation.
I am truly pleased to be here with such a remarkable and distinguished audience.
I’d like to especially recognize President Macron of France and his extraordinary team. Your leadership and commitment to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) have been invaluable. It’s been a real pleasure to be co-chair along with France.
I would also like to recognize my civil society colleagues, especially those on the frontlines working to defend, protect and advance the values of open government.
As I stand here today, I think back to two years ago, a moment of hope and promise: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted here, in this building; the Financing for Development Agenda was agreed to in Addis, and the landmark agreement on Climate Change was forged in Paris.
These three agendas collectively aim to fulfill an audacious vision: to end extreme poverty, advance human prosperity and protect the planet for future generations—and Open Government plays a critical role in each.
However, we must be honest. The reality is that the world has had a mixed record in open government in recent years.
In many countries, authoritarian regimes and nationalist movements are on the rise. Journalists and civil society activists are at risk of being silenced or even killed. Trust in government is at a historic low.
This is true even in countries that make up OGP.
In just the past few months, several of the founders of our own partnership have come under attack.
Nikhil Dey, a Right to Information activist in India, was sentenced to prison in a 20-year-old case for pursuing efforts to fight corruption at the village level on behalf of the voiceless. AfriCOG, a Kenyan NGO founded by Gladwell Otieno, was accused of illegal activity for challenging the recent national election process. And in Mexico, Juan Pardinas, another founding civil society member, was targeted with spyware. And last year we had to suspend a country from OGP for the first time due to civic space issues.
This is not right. It is not acceptable. And we can not remain silent.
We must protect and promote the core values that bind this partnership together.
What makes this Partnership so unique and so powerful, what’s in the DNA of this Partnership, is a shared and unwavering commitment to civic space and co-creation.
First, to achieve our vision, we must protect civic space: the bedrock rights of people to free speech, assembly and association. Yet, CIVICUS has reported serious violations of these rights in more than 100 countries, including 25 OGP countries.
We must do better.
Civic space needs to be a central component of OGP National Action Plans. And when governments violate the basic rights they promised to protect, we must speak up and take action.
Second, we must stand up for co-creation. Placing citizens at the heart of government is a promise we made as OGP. We must ensure that all citizens have a voice in decision-making and that all leaders listen to these voices. Only in this way can we restore trust between those governing and the people whom they represent.
As President Obama said in his last OGP speech, “Those in power should serve the people, not themselves." The reality is that today open government is at a crossroads. If the world is to take the right path, we must be firm in our resolve, live up to our ideals, and build the political will to deliver on our promise.
Who then can guide us in the right direction? You don’t have to look far. We just need to tap the magnetic energy of the champions here and around the world―and we need to lead by example.
Minister Andres Ibarra from Argentina, who is hosting our next Americas regional meeting in November and is leading the implementation of an ambitious action plan co-created with over 100 civil society organizations that includes commitments on climate change, gender equality and subnational governments.
The leadership of the Open Society Foundation, who despite many attacks have funded civil society around the world to advance open government.
Pablo Soto, from the City of Madrid, who has pioneered platforms such as Decide Madrid, to engage citizens directly in policy making and budgeting decisions.
And civil society leaders, such as Oluseun Onigbinde from Budgit, who is helping citizens to follow the money and governments to respond to their findings in Nigeria.
And Maryati Abdullah, one of OGP’s envoys, who’s worked hard in Indonesia and the region broadly to advance extractives transparency through OGP.
Make no mistake:
With this type of leadership, we have the power to change our communities, cities and countries for the better.
We have the ability to ensure the promise of open government turns into a reality.
For we know that while open government alone can’t fix the world’s problems, they can’t be solved without it.
It’s time to get to work.