Remarks Delivered to the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) Regarding Transparency, Accountability, and Openness in Government

Michael G. Kozak
Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
OAS Headquarters
Washington, DC
July 27, 2016



Date: 07/27/2016 Location: Aztec Patio, Washington DC Description: Following his remarks to the OAS Permanent Council, Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Kozak (middle left) is joined by Uruguayan Permanent Representative to the OAS Hugo Cayrus Maurin, Maria Fernanda Trigo and Matthias Jaeger of the OAS Secretariat for Hemispheric Affairs; OAS'' - State Dept Image

Mr. Chairman, I am Michael Kozak of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Let me begin by recognizing the leadership of the Government of Uruguay for proposing this discussion, and for hosting the recent Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting in Montevideo. The United States was proud to have attended that important meeting and we commend the incredible progress which Uruguay has made with respect to innovation in public management and open government.

I also want to acknowledge the important work being undertaken in these areas by the OAS Secretariat and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In particular, I want to recognize the OAS Fellowship on Open Government in the Americas.

Mr. Chairman, the United States places high value on the Open Government Partnership and the principles of transparency and accountability in government. This is a crucial moment. Across the hemisphere we are witnessing unprecedented prosecutions, brave media reporting, and peaceful citizen protests against corruption. We must support their efforts and push ahead.

As President Obama pointed out, corruption isn’t just immoral. It siphons off billions of dollars that could feed children, build schools, and improve infrastructure. It stifles economic growth and promotes inequality. It aids and abets human rights abuses. It fuels organized crime and instability.

With this in mind, we have taken significant action within the United States Government on transparency. Let me share several of our recent advances with you.

On his first day in office, President Obama signed a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government. This document has informed many of our government’s efforts to become more open and citizen-centered. In December 2009, the White House issued an unprecedented Open Government Directive. It required federal agencies to achieve key milestones in transparency, participation, and collaboration. And, in 2011, President Obama launched the Open Government Partnership at the UN General Assembly with seven other heads of state.

On June 30 of this year, President Obama signed into law the Freedom of Information Improvement Act of 2016 — nearly 50 years after the original Act was signed into law by President Johnson. This critical bipartisan legislation codifies transparency principles and actions that will be institutionalized throughout government and carried forward for years to come.

Mr. Chairman, the United States has responded to calls for more accountability and transparency in our own government, and we commend the many nations throughout the Americas who are also demonstrating how government can respond to citizen activism. Citizens across our hemisphere are organizing to demand better governance. And they are finding that they can effect change democratically and peacefully.

This is a huge victory for our citizens and a huge opportunity for us – as government officials – to ensure more transparent governance.

Mr. Chairman, the story is not yet finished. The Open Government Partnership, OGP, plays a more important role than ever. Through OGP, governments are able to demonstrate to their citizens a firm commitment to accountability and transparency. OGP brings citizens and governments together to formulate joint goals.

With this in mind, we welcome the fact that civil society across the Americas is increasingly an engaged partner. They amplify the voices of the governed and weave a resilient social fabric. This critical partnership, within our countries and here at the OAS, is essential for building stronger institutions.

We want to welcome the establishment of the OAS Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). The United States is supporting MACCIH through $5.2 million in contributions. We believe it will serve an important role in a comprehensive, long-term effort to tackle corruption networks and improve the rule of law in Honduras. We encourage continued close OAS and Honduran government engagement with civil society.

We also know that there are laudable efforts underway in Guatemala. The UN Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) continues to combat corruption and impunity, as well as build up Guatemalan rule of law capacity. CICIG has been a vital ally to Guatemalan victims of impunity and Public Ministry prosecutors. It has acted as an anchor for rule of law issues, enhancing professional capabilities, and a catalyst for judicial reform.

Building on the successes of these efforts, we are delighted by our region’s strong leadership and cooperation within OGP. Brazil and Mexico were co-founders of the initiative. Mexico hosted OGP’s global summit last year. We welcomed Argentina’s announcement of a renewed commitment to open governance during President Obama’s visit to Buenos Aires in March. Simply put, OGP is a “race to the top” we are delighted to run alongside our neighbors in the hemisphere.

At the London Anticorruption Summit in May, Secretary Kerry noted that corruption is “a poison that erodes trust, robs citizens of their money and their future and stifles economic growth in the places that need it most.” Leaders at the Summit vowed a new focus on combatting corruption and fighting impunity at home and abroad.

I conclude, Mr. Chairman, with my country’s pledge for continued partnership on transparency and open government, here at the OAS and within OGP. The United States released our third National Open Government Action Plan last year. I encourage each of you to review our Plan and share your observations with us. Every country should take an honest look at its own performance, identifying the areas where we are falling short – and that includes the United States.

So we look forward to your comments and we look forward to engaging with your governments as we work together to advance the principles of accountability, transparency and democracy which unite us.