Remarks at the Open Government Partnership Opening Session
Secretary of State
As co-chair of the Open Government Partnership for the past year, Brazil and the United States have had a front-row seat to see how swiftly and enthusiastically the community of nations has come together. Fifty-five countries now belong, 47 of which joined in the past eight months alone. A quarter of the world’s people now live in OGP countries, each of which has outlined concrete, credible steps that it will take to open the work of government so citizens are empowered, problems are solved, democracy is strengthened.
I particularly want to thank the Brazilian team. Minister Hage, thank you for your leadership, along with Under Secretary Maria Otero of the State Department. The two of you have worked very hard leading this process, and we are grateful. I want to thank my colleague and friend, the foreign minister of Brazil, and also welcome the other foreign ministers who are representing their country. And we are particularly pleased that the president of Tanzania and the prime minister of Georgia are here, and you will hear from them shortly.
I also want to recognize Minister Maude from the United Kingdom, which will serve as the next co-chair along with Brazil. And I’m confident that this partnership will continue to glow – grow and flourish.
Let me also offer a special welcome to the hundreds of civil society organizations represented here. This is called the Open Government Partnership, but it is equally a partnership with civil society. The mission of OGP is one that civil society has long fought for, and therefore, we need civil society to have an equal stake and an equal voice, because without your advocacy and expertise, this enterprise simply cannot succeed.
When President Rousseff and President Obama launched the Open Government Partnership last fall on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, six other founding governments and eight civil society organizations were present. At that time, President Obama made clear that the purpose of the Open Government Partnership was to advance specific initiatives to promote transparency, fight corruption, and energize civic engagement and to leverage new technologies so that we strengthen the foundation of freedom in our own countries while living up to ideals that can light the world.
In the 21st century, the United States is convinced that one of the most significant divisions among nations will not be north/south, east/west, religious, or any other category so much as whether they are open or closed societies. We believe that countries with open governments, open economies, and open societies will increasingly flourish. They will become more prosperous, healthier, more secure, and more peaceful.
By contrast, those governments that hide from public view and dismiss the idea of openness and the aspirations of their people for greater freedom will find it increasingly difficult to maintain peace and security. Those countries that attempt to monopolize economic activity or make it so difficult for individuals to open their own businesses, they will find it increasingly hard to prosper. And those societies that believe they can be closed to change, to ideas, cultures, and beliefs that are different from theirs, will find quickly that in our internet world they will be left behind.
I know we don’t need to make the case for openness to you. You’re here. But what we have to do is make a convincing case that those of us who have joined up to the Open Government Partnership really mean what we say. It’s not enough to assert that we are committed to openness. We have to deliver on the commitments that we have made.
Let me mention a few examples of how that is already occurring. Chile, Estonia, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Peru, Romania, Spain, and Tanzania are all creating websites to make public data available to citizens on everything from crime statistics to political party financing to local budgets and procurement.
Bulgaria, Croatia, and Tanzania are creating “citizens’ budgets,” to explain in plain, accessible language how public resources are spent.
Ukraine, the Slovak Republic, Montenegro are introducing “e-petitions” on websites to make it easier for citizens to send their ideas and opinions directly to policymakers, and I want to commend the Slovak Republic and Montenegro for also introducing whistle-blowing protection laws to ensure that those who expose corruption are not punished or harmed.
Now other countries have also pledged to make the location and status of natural resources transparent, map the location of water access points, pass national anticorruption legislation, create innovation funds for development of technologies that support openness, strengthen protections for the media, create social networking websites on drug trafficking so citizens can anonymously and safely report suspicious activity.
These initiatives are designed to reduce corruption because we know corruption kills a country’s potential. It drains resources. It protects dishonest leaders. It takes away people’s drive to improve themselves or their communities. So the cure for corruption is openness, and by belonging to the Open Government Partnership, every country here is sending a message to their own people that we will stand for openness. And we’re going to hold ourselves accountable. As this process moves forward, we’re going to have to have report cards about whether we are living up to our own pledges of openness or not.
Now for our part, the United States is committed to 26 initiatives designed to increase public integrity, promote public participation, improve public services, and do a better job of managing public resources. We are joining the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to bring more transparency to our oil, gas, and mining industries, and you’ll hear more about this from my colleague, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, later today.
Additionally, I announced in Busan, South Korea that we will join the International Aid Transparency Initiative. We’ve created websites where people can get clear information about government regulations and consumer information on products and services, and we’ve launched a website where citizens can send a petition directly to the White House. This adds up to a collection of far-reaching, practical, and, we believe, achievable ideas, and that’s important. Because if ideas just remain theoretical, they are not much use to anyone, so we need to match our aspirations with our actions.
Now one theme running through these national action plans is technology, because in the digital age, we now have tools that previous generations of open government advocates couldn’t even dream of. New technologies make it both possible and useful to do things that were once impractical or prohibitively expensive, like releasing enormous quantities of public data, or making national budgets easily available online. And of course, new connection technologies empower citizens to connect with one another and their leaders, as we have seen in this past year of the era of awakening.
I’ve seen how technology is transforming the way that we and other nations do diplomacy and development, and later today, I will be sending policy guidance to every U.S. Embassy worldwide on modernizing technology through diplomacy. We want to open up the State Department not only to U.S. citizens, but to people everywhere, because in keeping with the principles of open government and this partnership, we believe that when people are empowered to speak their minds and leaders are held to account for their actions, we all do better.
But of course, technology isn’t some kind of magic wand. Ultimately, it is political will that determines whether or not we hold ourselves accountable. Corruption, closed doors, the consolidation of power, these are as old as human nature itself. The new tools of the digital age will not change human nature. Only we can do that. But through this partnership, we can advance progress together.
My country, like those represented here, were founded on noble ideals. President Lincoln memorably described our government as of the people, by the people, and for the people. And these words ring true as to what all of us believe government should be and should do. As we’ve seen in this past year, the remarkable events in North Africa and elsewhere have really opened that potential wider than ever, and I am personally so pleased that we have, as a member of the Open Government Partnership and represented here at this conference, representatives from the Government of Libya, a government that before this year could never have participated in an Open Government Partnership.
So we now have a chance to set a new global standard for good governance and to strengthen a global ethos of transparency and accountability. And there is no better partner to have started this effort and to be leading it than Brazil, and in particular, President Rousseff. Her commitment to openness, transparency, her fight against corruption is setting a global standard. So the United States is proud to be co-chairing with Brazil, and we intend to do all we can to help make the Open Government Partnership a leader in ensuring that the 21st century is an era of openness, transparency, accountability, freedom, democracy, and results for people everywhere. Thank you. (Applause.)
PRN: 2012/ T62-06