Taking the Message of Open Government to Burma
Posted: 20/02/2013 11:46
Let’s be honest. Burma isn’t the first country that comes to mind when one talks about open government. Yet despite its ongoing challenges, Burma has made huge strides towards reform and openness in the past few years. That’s why, as lead chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the international movement for transparency and openness, Britain is supporting Burma on its path towards OGP membership.
Last year prime minister David Cameron visited Burma, inaugurating a new phase in the historic relations between our countries. We are determined to back Burma as it strengthens its democracy, transforms its governance, and embraces reform. When President Obama visited Burma he secured the commitment of President Thein Sein to join the OGP by 2016. Burma’s willingness to participate in OGP is as remarkable as it is welcome – before the reforms of the past 18 months it would have been quite unthinkable for Burma to have taken this brave step.
All countries could be more transparent; all of us can benefit from greater openness. But – obviously – some countries are in better places than others; some people are further from freedom and closer to tyranny. OGP must do more than just preach warm words to committed reformers. As lead co-chair of OGP, Britain should support people living where democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights are starting to emerge from decades of dictatorship and repression. That is why I am visiting Burma this week.
I will be speaking to government ministers, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and also to wider civil society. We will discuss how we can help Burma meet the OGP’s eligibility criteria. Burma remains far from this aim. It is one of the poorest countries in Asia with weak health and education services. It faces a legacy of bitter and debilitating internal unrest. Human rights violations remain to be addressed and there is a critical ongoing ethnic conflict to be resolved. But if Burma does eventually join the OGP it would be a watershed for its people.
We will offer Burma the support it needs in cultivating good governance and public financial management, promoting responsible investment, improving transparency, strengthening the work of parliament, and helping the process of political dialogue and ethnic reconciliation. This builds on work already underway, including to fund the establishment of a Resource Centre on Responsible Business, our cooperation with the World Bank to help Burma manage its public finances, and plans to support poverty-reducing business proposals.
Some will be sceptical. They will question why the world needs OGP. Isn’t it yet another international movement? They might ask what the OGP is doing engaging with countries which are at present – to be blunt – less than open. Others will ask whether a new talking shop for groups of ministers and diplomats is really the answer (and if so, to what question?). Cynics will wonder how OGP will avoid being shaped just by developed countries?
These are legitimate questions. OGP is determined to be different. It’s barely two years old but it already has 58 members across every continent. Unlike some of the large multilaterals, OGP is slim and agile. Sitting at the table are civil society groups, not just governments. Fine words are not enough: members have to meet OGP’s criteria and then sign up to concrete commitments and firm timetables. Whereas other organisations let countries mark their own homework, OGP’s independent reporting mechanism (overseen by international experts) will ensure real public accountability. And its founding members include not just Britain and the US, but others like Brazil and Indonesia
This is an important year for Britain: our chairmanship of OGP coincides with us leading the G8 and our work on the UN’s High Level Panel to decide the next Millennium Development Goals. Uniting all of this is the golden thread of transparency. The theme of our OGP chairmanship is that transparency drives prosperity. Openness is good for social development, citizen engagement and civil participation, but it also furthers economic growth. In doing this, Britain is working closely with our co-chairs Indonesia and the Civil Society group, International Budget Partnership.
Earlier this week I visited Indonesia. Britain and Indonesia share an interest in building a successful global economy. But we also have common values including tolerance, diversity and democracy. Indonesia will succeed us as the next lead co-chair of OGP in October, and sits alongside us on the High Level Panel. In Jakarta we worked together with civil society partners to debate the future of OGP – both its opportunities and the challenges it faces.
Britain will shamelessly spread the word about the benefits of open government. This October we will host an OGP plenary meeting in London. Our aim is that by then the OGP, which already covers a third of the world’s population, will have the foundations needed to count as a serious, lasting organisation. We want to see prosperity for all – and transparency by driving growth, sharpening accountability and informing choice can help get societies there. But as we promote openness, our core priority over the next months will be to make this transparency movement truly sustainable.