At 7.00 New York time, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the UK and the USA – the countries on the steering committee of the Open Government Partnership – published their Action Plans. They contain a wide range of exciting measures to enhance transparency and accountability and to make governments more open and responsive to their citizens. Efforts to tackle corruption feature heavily in many of the plans, including those of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and South Africa. Initiatives to enhance budget transparency and to improve the delivery of public services feature in the plans of Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines and South Africa. And welcome moves to enhance aid transparency feature in the plans of the UK and the USA. On transparency about natural resource revenues, Norway has signalled a commitment to consider passing legislation that would require multinationals to publish tax information on a country by country basis. And by signing up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the USA has continued the leadership it showed last year in passing legislation on extractives transparency.
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) looks set to be an important forum for sharing experience, encouraging and assisting governments to become more open. Africa’s involvement is currently limited with just four African countries – Ghana, Kenya, Liberia and Tanzania – joining South Africa within the OGP. However, the partnership has great relevance for Africa and for ONE: the ability of African citizens to hold their governments to account is shaped by the actions of the USA, the EU and other countries that provide aid to Africa and whose companies operate in Africa; African governments can share experience with other emerging economies as regards transparency and accountability; and, over time, we hope that many more African countries will choose to take the path towards more open, transparent and accountable government.
We know that in 2012, Brazil will continue to lead the way on the open government agenda, hosting meetings of the Open Government Partnership, the Global Initiative on Fiscal Transparency and the International Anti-Corruption Conference, and perhaps joining with the USA in requiring its oil companies to publish what they pay to the governments of the countries where they operate. And we trust that Mexico will pick up the baton of transparency and accountability as it takes over the leadership of the G20 from France.
See also ONE’s introduction to OGP and our policy pitch.
Brazil’s Action Plan sets out a wide range of domestic commitments and reaffirms the country’s support for the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Public Officials in International Business, the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The Action Plan also notes Brazil’s active participation in the G20 working group on corruption and other global forums working on the issue, including the World Economic Forum. On budgets Brazil pledges to open up their Resource Transfer Agreements and Contracts System which provides information on resource appropriations of the Federal Fiscal and Social Security Budgets. The Transparency Portal, of which Brazil is rightly proud, has been in operation since 2004 and now publishes all government expenditure daily. This will be revamped under their OGP commitments with enhanced usability and a full historical database.
Indonesia’s Action Plan addresses three sets of challenges: poor public service delivery; corruption; and a lack of transparency about the management of public resources. Building on recent progress – significant improvements in budget transparency and becoming a candidate country for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) in 2010 – the Action Plan clearly sets out how the government will improve public services, including in health and education, increase public integrity, and ensure that public resources are managed more effectively. Indonesia aims to improve its score on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index from 2.8 in 2010 to 5.0 in 2014, to publish information about budget allocations and spending at the level of individual schools and hospitals, and to be fully-compliant with EITI by October 2012, in part by publishing in full information about revenues earned from the oil, gas and mining sectors.
Mexico’s Action Plan gives strong endorsement to important international agreements including the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Public Officials in International Business, the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. This is in line with ONE’s asks in previous G20 policy pitches. On natural resources, Mexico identifies fossil fuels as a key sector for transparency, but at this stage focuses on publishing domestic geological and geophysical information. On budget transparency the Action Plan commits Mexico to improving public finance examination procedures in order to implement accounting practices that improve the efficiency of public spending. Mexico also plans to improve corporate accountability, mainly through voluntary measures.
Norway’s Action Plan makes a number of commitments on: opening the public sector and making government more inclusive; on promoting gender equality; and, on transparency in the management of oil and gas revenues, and sovereign wealth funds. On natural resource revenues, Norway – although now soon to be joined by the USA – remains the only OECD country that has implemented the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Beyond its own oil-fields, Norway supports developing countries’ efforts to join the EITI, including through supporting international NGOs such as the Revenue Watch Institute and through Norway’s Oil for Development programme. Norway’s Action Plan also signals a commitment to consider introducing legislation – either in connection with planned EU legislation, or separately – to require multinationals to publish tax information on a country-by-country basis, a move that would go beyond what is currently being considered by the European Union.
The Philippines’ Action Plan aims to enable citizens to participate actively and meaningfully in public policy and programmes, improving public services, increasing public integrity and enhancing the management of public resources. The Philippines’ new commitments on open governance include: measures to improve the transparency of government agencies; initiatives to deepen citizen participation, for instance through greater use of participatory budgeting and social audits; moves to enhance accountability of key government institutions; and innovative efforts to use technology to enhance transparency and accountability, for instance through the development of an interactive platform for citizens to find about budget allocations and to file citizen reports on budget implementation.
South Africa’s Action Plan focuses on three key areas: tackling corruption; increasing citizen engagement in service delivery and policy development processes; and, holding public servants accountable to the public and the communities they serve through the development and implementation of an accountability management framework for public servants. On international action the OECD bribery convention is named as a key agreement, and South Africa’s world-leading performance on budget openness as measured by the Open Budget Index is rightly trumpeted. Eye-catching new commitments include strengthening the National Anti-Corruption Forum (including civil society representation) and Anti-Corruption Hotline, creating new guidelines on sanctions for corruption-related cases and a wide ranging budgets pledge to: ‘Enhance the involvement of civil society at every stage of the budgetary process across all spheres of government to enhance the progressive realisation of socioeconomic rights and enable citizens to track public expenditure.’
The UK’s Action Plan is focused on enhancing public service delivery through open government. The UK’s Action Plan is focussed primarily on transparency and feedback in relation to domestic issues. It does however set out some measures that the UK Government will take to make aid more transparent and accountable, building on the UK’s leadership on transparency and accountability in relation to aid. Measures outlined include: the use of OGP-eligibility criteria and datasets to inform decisions about whether to provide budget support; the use of funds already earmarked for transparency and accountability to support OGP-related goals in developing countries; and, the publication – in an IATI-compliant manner – of information about aid spending by departments other than solely the Department for International Development. The UK’s Action Plan is silent as regards transparency about natural resource revenues in developing countries, a surprising omission given the UK Government’s stated support for EU legislation to match the USA’s ground-breaking legislation on extractives transparency.
The USA’s Action Plan gives three key reasons for supporting OGP – as a means for accountability, to give people information they can use and to allow the public to have a greater say in how government is run. On aid transparency, the USA has committed to publish information about budgets, disbursements and project implementation on its Foreign Assistance Dashboard, in an internationally comparable manner – but not, it seems, as part of the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) – with the data to be updated on a quarterly basis. The USA’s Action Plan emphasises that aid transparency supports evidence-based, data-driven approaches to foreign aid, approaches that can – where appropriate and feasible – make use of randomized controlled experiments). The USA has reaffirmed its position as a global leader on extractives transparency by committing to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) domestically. This makes the USA the first G8 country to implement EITI and the second major developed producer after Norway. This will put ONE in a stronger position to advocate for African countries to implement EITI without being accused of double-standards.