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The Open Government Partnership – a new direction for US foreign policy?

The new US- and Brazil-led initiative to encourage government transparency could provide the US another means to promote democracy and free trade.

By Greg MichenerGuest blogger / July 13, 2011

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton listens at right as Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota speaks during the Open Government Partnership high-level meeting at the State Department in Washington Tuesday.

Alex Brandon/AP

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The US and more than 50 other countries met Tuesday to discuss a new international initiative to promote open government around the world, the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The aim is to create a multinational, multi-stakeholder compact to advance openness, accountability, transparency, and good government. The OGP is to be announced at the inauguration of the United Nations in September of this year. While the OGP appears to be a promising means of advancing the human condition, it immediately raises a few conceptual and methodological points of contention, as well as a few critical questions about the direction of US foreign policy.

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First written-up in November 2010, the Partnership was initially to be co-chaired by the US and India, but India is now out and Brazil is in. Like much about the initiative, the reason for this switch remains hazy, but what is known is that it will involve upwards of 50 countries, and will be led by a “Multi-stakeholder International Steering Committee” comprised of governments from Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and more than 60 civil society organizations from around the world. Notably, one of the original catalysts for the OGP, India, is missing from the group.

Tuesday's July 12 inaugural meeting was closed to the press save for the opening and closing remarks.

Criteria for being part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP)

Documents provided by the initiative establish four criteria for eligibility, based on a 16-point index wherein countries must meet a minimum membership threshold of 12 points. The criteria, judged by “an independent group of experts,” comprise the following categories:

a) Fiscal Transparency (2 points each for two budget documents)

b) Access to Information (4 points)

c) Disclosures Related to Elected or Senior Public Officials (4 points)

d) Citizen Engagement (4 points)

Is Brazil fit to co-chair the OGP?

The scoring is apparently somewhat tricked-out. Brazil, the co-chair of the OGP, still has not passed an access to information law (freedom of information), and as I have written about extensively in other posts, resistance to openness has been a prominent feature of politics in both Brazil's Congress and presidency. Notwithstanding the historical record, Brazil scores 15 out of 16 points. On access to information, Brazil scores 2 points for possessing a constitutional provision for public disclosure. It scores an addition point for having a draft access to information law, which is now being considered in Congress. Thus on this criterion Brazil scores almost full points, even though its constitutional guarantee to access public information is effectively impracticable without comprehensive regulation (a freedom or access to information law) and the draft law has been stuck in Congress since 2009. A recent bill to conceal dollar numbers on procurement contracts for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics has also apparently been glossed over, as has Brazil’s somewhat dysfunctional Transparency Portal – Brazil’s earns full points on fiscal transparency.

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