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Undersectretary Otero’s Remarks at the International Right to Know Day Celebration

Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to be here with you all for the celebration of International Right to Know Day.

As you have heard, I am Maria Otero, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, and I have the pleasure of serving as co-chair of the Open Government Partnership with Minister Jorge Hage of Brazil.

The Open Government Partnership — or OGP — has had a big month. In fact, with its formal launch just over a week ago, I’d venture to say that everyone who believes in the principles of open government has had a big month.

Last Tuesday, President Obama joined world leaders from forty six nations to launch OGP in a historic demonstration of commitments from governments to improve the way they do business in the service of their people.

This partnership was born out of President Obama’s 2010 speech to the UN General Assembly — just one year ago — in which he called on governments around the world to recommit to transparency and accountability, to increase civic engagement, and to harness new technologies in the pursuit of better governance and a better world.

But it was also born out of two decades of increasing attention and demands from civil society and government champions — many of whom are on the agenda here today — for governments to recognize that open is not scary or unattainable; but instead that open is good for everyone and well within our reach.

So here we are, one year later, and the steering committee of the Open Government Partnership — the US, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, and Norway — we have welcomed no less than thirty eight countries as they join us in stretching the traditional notions of government in twenty first century.

Let me just say that again; because I think it’s remarkable. Thirty eight governments — in addition to the eight founding countries of OGP — have committed not only to open government in name and theory but also in action. Forty six total governments that, with the help of civil society and the private sector, will take concrete steps to make their governments work better, respond better, and serve better.

The really phenomenal point — even beyond the sheer number of countries — is that they have signed up voluntarily, entirely out of appreciation for OGP’s founding premise: that open is good for all of us, and that the tools of our digital, globalized age make it easier than ever for governments to be more accountable, more transparent and more engaged with citizens.

In President’s Obama’s words, open government is the essence of democracy. And we are seeing around the world how governments are returning to that essence. Many of you are familiar with the stand-out examples that are demonstrating what is possible through open government:

To start with, we celebrate today the fact that more than 85 countries now have government transparency laws, guaranteeing citizens the right to seek information.

One of those countries is Kenya, which is using technology to increase civic participation, to support innovation, and to make development more participatory and transparent. Earlier this summer, it became the first African country to launch an online portal that gives citizens access to government data.

In Latvia, citizens can introduce proposals to their parliament by collecting signatures through an online petition. The United States just launched a similar tool — “We the People” — as part of our OGP country action plan.

Another ground breaking example is Iceland, which this year updated its constitution by “crowd sourcing” the changes directly with citizens over social media.

And in Brazil, the expenses of government officials are posted online within 24 hours — meaning extravagant purchases will not go unnoticed and officials are sticking to honest, official expenses.

Thanks to the leadership of OGP’s steering committee — which itself is a partnership between governments and civil society — we are seizing the opportunity before us, and setting a new affirmative agenda for countries to follow suit. Let me outline the three ways we are doing this:

1. Through the OGP declaration — available on OGP’s new website — we affirm that openness can help us do our jobs better in serving and responding to our people.

2. Through country action plans that are informed by civil society, we are grounding this commitment in concrete steps. These plans will continue to evolve, but I can tell you that they are already making governments think, talk and act in new ways.

3. And we are generating momentum for a race to the top in good governance. The thirty eight countries we welcomed last week will now begin the development of their own action plans; and we look forward to welcoming more countries to the Partnership in the coming weeks and months.

As OGP continues to grow and develop, it will remain a unique international initiative for two reasons that I think are worth mentioning.

First, it is unique in that it relies on productive collaboration with civil society — from the Steering Committee itself, to the development and assessment of country action plans. As President Obama said last week, “our countries are stronger when we engage citizens beyond the halls of government…our civil society representatives [are a part of OGP] not as spectators, but as equal partners in this initiative.”

And second, OGP is unique in that it strengthens government accountability, not between OGP and a member country, but between the member country and its people — where accountability is most important. Through OGP, 46 nations are now committed their respective members of civil society to improve transparency, openness, and civic engagement.

Of course, just because we’ve set the process in motion, with great momentum, does not mean the path is fully forged. Governance will never be simple or easy. Many governments, including the United States, are still learning. Our country action plans may evolve as time goes on. But with the Open Government Partnership, we have taken a big step towards our shared goal of improving lives through better governance.

So I want to thank you for your support and look forward to working with you as we make governments more open around the world.


Opening Remarks by President Obama on the Open Government Partnership

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everyone. And welcome to this inaugural event of a partnership that’s already transforming how governments serve their citizens in the 21st century.

One year ago, at the U.N. General Assembly, I stated a simple truth — that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and in open governments. And I challenged our countries to come back this year with specific commitments to promote transparency, to fight corruption, to energize civic engagement, and to leverage new technologies so we can strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries.

Today, we’re joined by nations and organizations from around the world that are answering this challenge. In this Open Government Partnership, I’m pleased to be joined by leaders from the seven other founding nations of this initiative. I especially want to commend my friend, President Rousseff of Brazil, for her leadership in open government and for joining the United States as the first co-chairs of this effort.

We’re joined by nearly 40 other nations who’ve also embraced this challenge, with the goal of joining this partnership next year. And we’re joined by civil society organizations from around the world — groups that not only help hold governments accountable, but who partnered with us and who offer new ideas and help us to make better decisions. Put simply, our countries are stronger when we engage citizens beyond the halls of government. So I welcome our civil society representatives — not as spectators, but as equal partners in this initiative.

This, I believe, is how progress will be achieved in the 21st century — meeting global challenges through global cooperation, across all levels of society. And this is exactly the kind of partnership that we need now, as emerging democracies from Latin America to Africa to Asia are all showing how innovations in open government can help make countries more prosperous and more just; as new generations across the Middle East and North Africa assert the old truth that government exists for the benefit of their people; and as young people everywhere, from teeming cities to remote villages, are logging on, and texting, and tweeting and demanding government that is just as fast, just as smart, just as accountable.

This is the moment that we must meet. These are the expectations that we must fulfill. And now we see governments around the world meeting this challenge, including many represented here today. Countries from Mexico to Turkey to Liberia have passed laws guaranteeing citizens the right to information. From Chile to Kenya to the Philippines, civil society groups are giving citizens new tools to report corruption. From Tanzania to Indonesia — and as I saw firsthand during my visit to India — rural villages are organizing and making their voices heard, and getting the public services that they need. Governments from Brazil to South Africa are putting more information online, helping people hold public officials accountable for how they spend taxpayer dollars.

Here in the United States, we’ve worked to make government more open and responsive than ever before. We’ve been promoting greater disclosure of government information, empowering citizens with new ways to participate in their democracy. We are releasing more data in usable forms on health and safety and the environment, because information is power, and helping people make informed decisions and entrepreneurs turn data into new products, they create new jobs. We’re also soliciting the best ideas from our people in how to make government work better. And around the world, we’re standing up for freedom to access information, including a free and open Internet.

Today, the eight founding nations of our partnership are going even further — agreeing to an Open Government Declaration rooted in several core principles. We pledge to be more transparent at every level — because more information on government activity should be open, timely, and freely available to the people. We pledge to engage more of our citizens in decision-making — because it makes government more effective and responsive. We pledge to implement the highest standards of integrity — because those in power must serve the people, not themselves. And we pledge to increase access to technology — because in this digital century, access to information is a right that is universal.

Next, to put these principles into practice, every country that seeks to join this partnership will work with civil society groups to develop an action plan of specific commitments. Today, the United States is releasing our plan, which we are posting on the White House website and at OpenGovPartnership.org.

Among our commitments, we’re launching a new online tool — called “We the People” — to allow Americans to directly petition the White House, and we’ll share that technology so any government in the world can enable its citizens to do the same. We’ve develop new tools — called “smart disclosures” — so that the data we make public can help people make health care choices, help small businesses innovate, and help scientists achieve new breakthroughs.

We’ll work to reform and expand protections for whistleblowers who expose government waste, fraud and abuse. And we’re continuing our leadership of the global effort against corruption, by building on legislation that now requires oil, gas, and mining companies to disclose the payments that foreign governments demand of them.

Today, I can announce that the United States will join the global initiative in which these industries, governments and civil society, all work together for greater transparency so that taxpayers receive every dollar they’re due from the extraction of natural resources.

So these are just some of the steps that we’re taking. And today is just the beginning of a partnership that will only grow — as Secretary Clinton leads our effort on behalf of the United States, as these nearly 40 nations develop their own commitments, as we share and learn from each other and build the next generation of tools to empower our citizens and serve them better.

So that’s the purpose of open government. And I believe that’s the essence of democracy. That’s the commitment to which we’re committing ourselves here today. And I thank all of you for joining us as we meet this challenge together.

I want to thank you very much for your participation. And with that, I would like to turn over the chair to my co-chair, President Rousseff.


FACT SHEET: The Open Government Partnership

“In all parts of the world, we see the promise of innovation to make government more open and accountable. And now, we must build on that progress. And when we gather back here next year, we should bring specific commitments to promote transparency; to fight corruption; to energize civic engagement; to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundations of freedom in our own countries, while living up to the ideals that can light the world.”

–President Obama, September 23, 2010

The Challenge

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2010, President Obama spoke of open economies, open societies, and open governments as the “strongest foundation for human progress.” He recognized that the work of strengthening democratic government requires sustained commitment, and that countries around the world are taking innovative steps to better serve the people they represent. He issued a challenge to the leaders assembled in New York to gather together again in September of 2011 with specific commitments and plans of action to promote transparency, fight corruption, energize civil society, and to leverage new technologies.

Answering the Call

Responding to the President’s challenge, a group of governments and civil society organizations spanning the globe have come together to form the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a new multilateral initiative that supports national efforts to promote transparency, fight corruption, strengthen accountability, and empower citizens. At the core of the Partnership is a commitment from participating countries to undertake meaningful new steps as part of a concrete action plan, developed and implemented in close consultation with their citizens.

Led in its first year by the United States and Brazil, OGP is a unique partnership with a steering committee composed of governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and civil society organizations (Africa Center for Open Governance (Kenya), Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (Brazil), Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad (Mexico), International Budget Partnership (international), MKSS (India), National Security Archive (U.S.), Revenue Watch Institute (international), Transparency and Accountability Initiative (international), and Twaweza (Tanzania)).

The Launch of the Open Government Partnership

Today in New York, President Obama and President Rousseff hosted the formal launch of OGP at an event with Heads of State and senior officials from 46 countries. The high-level meeting focused attention on the shared challenge of improving governance, and demonstrated a strong political commitment around the world to the kinds of reforms necessary to enhance transparency, fight corruption, and strengthen mechanisms of democratic accountability.

The eight founding governments embraced an Open Government Declaration in which they pledged to advance the core principles of open government. And each government presented an action plan with concrete commitments to put the principles of the Declaration into practice.

The Partnership also welcomed the commitment of the following 38 governments to join OGP and deliver their own action plans in Brazil in March 2012: Albania, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, Turkey, Ukraine, and Uruguay.

Each of these countries has already demonstrated a commitment to open government across four key areas – fiscal and budget transparency, freedom of information, asset disclosures for public officials, and citizen engagement – and published a formal letter of intent to participate.

The Open Government Declaration

The Declaration is a high-level political statement by the leaders of the eight founding governments of the value of openness, and their commitment to:

Promote openness, because more information about governmental activities should be timely and freely available to people;

Engage citizens in decision-making, because this makes government more innovative and responsive;

Implement the highest standards of professional integrity, because those in power must serve the people and not themselves; and

Increase access to new technologies because of their unprecedented potential to help people realize their aspirations for access to information and a more powerful voice in how they are governed.

Eight Action Plans

Today, as part of the formal launch, the eight founding governments delivered action plans pledging new commitments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness the power of new technologies. Each action plan contains detailed commitments in a wide variety of areas, developed by governments in consultation with citizens. Among the highlights, the action plans include commitments to promote:

Effective management of natural resources revenues: The United States will join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) as an implementing country – forging a new partnership between government and industry to ensure that taxpayers receive every dollar they are due from the extraction of our natural resources. (You can view the full U.S. National Action Plan here.)

Delivering public information: Brazil will develop several activities toward increasing active transparency and open data, including restructuring the Transparency Portal and launching the Brazil Open Data Portal, in order to converge to the appropriate environment for future enactment of the Access to Information Law.

Gender equality: Norway will promote gender equality and women’s full participation in civic life, the private sector, public administration and political processes, including by: following up the recommendations of the government white paper on equal pay; launching an effort to have more women apply for top posts in the private sector; and undertaking an initiative to strengthen the role of women in local democracy and develop a gender equality program with all municipalities.

Open data: The United Kingdom will promote improvements in outcomes and accountability in the public sector by transforming the rights of citizens to obtain data from public authorities and establishing standards and frameworks to embed a culture of transparency in the UK.

Citizen participation: The Philippines will extend participatory budgeting across the government to 12 government departments and 6 government corporations by 2012; establish an empowerment fund to support bottom-up involvement in development planning and budgeting; and institutionalize social audits as a tool for monitoring the implementation of public infrastructure projects.

Service delivery: South Africa will enhance the capacity and capabilities of communities to access and claim their socio-economic rights through the roll-out of national public education campaigns and set up “Service Delivery Improvement Forums” in all nine provinces to provide timely citizen report cards on service delivery at the community level.

Public integrity: Indonesia will pursue an ambitious effort to bring greater transparency to range of critical areas that have been sources of corruption in the public sector, with commitments to publish basic information and performance data for the police and public prosecution service, the tax court, the immigration office, the customs office, and the land administration office. They will also increase the transparency of civil service recruitment.

Government transparency: Mexico will increase the publication of socially useful information in four key areas – budget allocation, security, education, and telecommunications – in order to strengthen public integrity and public participation, and to enhance the oversight of performance in the education sector to improve educational quality.

The Domestic Open Government Initiative

In addition to committing to implement EITI, among the highlights of the U.S. National Action Plan:

The White House recently announced the launch of the “We the People” petition platform to give Americans a direct line to voice their concerns to the Administration via online petitions. In addition, the White House plans to publish the source code of the recently announced “We the People” petition platform so that it is available to any government around the world that seeks to solicit and respond to the concerns of the public. This will foster greater participation in government.

The Administration will launch a platform called ExpertNet that will enable government officials to better communicate with citizens who have expertise on a pertinent topic. It will give members of the public an opportunity to participate in a public consultation relevant to their areas of interest and knowledge, and allow officials to pose questions to and interact with the public in order to receive useful and relevant feedback. ExpertNet will foster greater collaboration within government.

The Administration will continue work on a new civil service personnel category (or job series) for officials who specialize in administering FOIA and other information programs. It is important to recognize the professional nature of the work done by those administering FOIA. In addition, the Administration will expand the use of technology to achieve greater efficiencies in FOIA administration, including utilization of technology to assist in searching for and processing records.

Recently, Congress nearly enacted legislation that would eliminate loopholes in existing whistleblower protections, provide protections for employees in the intelligence community, and create pilot programs to explore potential structural reforms in the remedial process. The Administration will continue to work with Congress to enact this legislation. But if Congress remains deadlocked, the Administration will explore options for utilizing executive branch authority to strengthen and expand whistleblower protections.

The Administration will launch an initiative that will recommend reforms and require reporting on current records management policies and practices. The initiative will consider changes to existing laws and ask how technology can be leveraged to improve records management while making it cost-effective. The initiative will seek a reformed, digital-era, governmentwide records management framework that promotes accountability and performance.

Brazil 2012 and Beyond

Six months from now, on March 5th and 6th, 2012, Brazil will host the second high-level meeting of OGP. A group of countries – including the 38 who expressed their formal intent to participate today – will endorse the Open Government Declaration and deliver their own action plans to strengthen the pillars of open and accountable government.

The founding governments are committed to continuing the Partnership beyond Brazil, with commitments from the United Kingdom, Indonesia, and Mexico to chair the effort in subsequent years. OGP will work actively to expand the ranks of participating countries, engage civil society and the private sector, and to help countries deliver meaningful reforms that increase government accountability, effectiveness, and efficiency.


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