Remarks at the Open Government Partnership High-Level Meeting
Secretary of State
I also know that we have a number of high-level representatives from the countries represented here, and it is a great pleasure to have you with us as we prepare for the formal launch of the Open Government Partnership in New York in September. I’m also delighted that civil society is represented, because we know that we need a partnership between government and civil society and particularly representatives from the business community and NGOs. What you are doing to create economic opportunity, to hold governments accountable, to make sure they are open and transparent, is exactly the kind of work that we want to explore with you.
I think we can say without fear of contradiction that there is an undeniable connection between how a government operates and whether its people flourish. When a government invites its people to participate, when it is open as to how it makes decisions and allocates resources, when it administers justice equally and transparently, and when it takes a firm stance against corruption of all kinds, that government is, in the modern world, far more likely to succeed in designing and implementing effective policies and services. It is also more likely to harness the talents of its own people and to benefit from their ideas and experiences, and it is also more likely to succeed investing its resources where they are most likely to have the best return.
And so for us, as we look at many of the countries represented here today and see the progress that your countries, your governments, and your people have made, we do draw conclusions that we think are legitimate and credible. Because when a government hides its work from public view, hands out jobs and money to political cronies, administers unequal justice, looks away as corrupt bureaucrats and businessmen enrich themselves at the people’s expense, that government is failing its citizens. And it is failing to create an environment in which the best ideas are embraced and the most talented people have a chance to contribute. And it is also denying people often access to education, health care, electricity, or a justice system and a market economy that work for them.
And most importantly, that government is failing to earn and hold the trust of its people. And that lack of trust, in a world of instantaneous communication, means that the very fabric of society begins to fray and the foundation of governmental legitimacy begins to crumble.
As we have seen with the protests that have broken out around our world this year, when people are kept away from participating in the work of their governments or the actions of their leaders, when they have no idea how decisions are made or tax revenues are spent, when they have no voice in the political process, eventually they will say, “Enough.” And it might have been possible in the past – and by the past I mean 20 years ago, not so long ago – for governments to just refuse to be transparent because there were monopolies on sources of information and channels to people. But that is no longer the case.
And we’ve also seen the correlation between openness in government and success in the economic sphere. Countries committed to defending transparency and fighting corruption are often more attractive to entrepreneurs. And if you can create small and medium size businesses, you have a broader base for economic activity. At a time when global competition for trade and investment is fierce, openness is not just good for governance, it is also good for a sustainable growth in GDP.
I think we have a real opportunity here to tackle both openness in government and openness in the economy, and to look at the correlation between the two. Governments that have not gained the trust of their people struggle to generate the tax revenues necessary to fund sustainable development progress. I go around the world bragging on Brazil, so I’ll do it again here. But what Brazil has done over the last 25 years is remarkable, because it expanded its tax base, increased its revenues as a percentage of GDP, and then did not enrich a small elite, but spread those resources broadly among the Brazilian people in an effort that has lifted so many out of poverty while at the same time enhancing the even stronger establishment of democratic institutions and positive results.
I spoke about this at the OECD 50th anniversary in Paris in May, and I feel so strongly about it because we have such good examples in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, and elsewhere.
In the coming weeks, I will issue policy guidance instructing every diplomat and every development officer at the State Department and USAID to elevate the fight against corruption as a focus of their work with other countries. We will also be establishing an innovation fund to create incentives and boost political support for transparency, anti-corruption efforts, and tax reform. And we will launch a pilot project to support a small number of countries in their efforts to make comprehensive, integrated reforms in all three areas.
The Open Government Partnership complements this work by representing a new global effort to do exactly that: promote transparency, fight corruption, and energize civic engagement. This is a partnership on three levels. First, it is a partnership among governments. We all face common challenges. We have a great deal to learn from each other, and so this is a two-way conversation where we are all sharing ideas and learning. Second, it is a partnership with civil society. And third, it is a partnership with the private sector.
We envision the Open Government Partnership as a network of support for those leaders and citizens working to bring more transparency and accountability to governments worldwide. This can be a lonely, sometimes even dangerous, task. But through this partnership, we hope to change that.
We also want to use this to build a network for disseminating successful innovations. Now, often ideas that work in one place can work in other places, and we need a better system for sharing best practices.
Look again at what Brazil has done. Brazil’s transparency portal, which gives every citizen an internet connection and therefore the chance to see how their government money is being spent, is an extraordinary innovation and one that we really admire. Or Indonesia’s development program, which allocates blocks of funding to villages and then invites villagers to join in deciding where the money should go, so it’s not just people sitting in government building in Jakarta, but it’s people on the ground looking at their own needs. Or the citizen monitoring websites that have been launched in both Kenya and Chile to publish the voting records of elected officials and the platforms of political parties to give citizens a channel for sharing their views, both positive and negative, with their leaders.
Now, some of these innovations were made possible by new connection technologies. Mobile phones, SMS messaging, social networks – these are 21st century tools. And we have a unique opportunity to put those 21st century tools to work on behalf of 21st century governance. So that is the promise that is represented by this Open Government Partnership.
Now the hard part starts: to translate that promise into reality; to sign on to the principles of this Open Government Declaration; to make concrete commitments to do more to ensure openness and accountability within our governments and societies; and then to do the difficult, but I believe very rewarding, work of fulfilling those commitments in the months ahead.
We have two months until we meet again in September for the official launch. The United States will join with Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, and the United Kingdom in announcing our own open government commitments at that time. And I would invite all of you to join us and signal your commitment with us on the margins of the UN General Assembly. We should send a clear message to the world that this community of nations coming together voluntarily – as Minister Hage reminds us, this is truly an open partnership for open government, no one is coerced or required to be here. But because we have come together, let us look for ways that we can send a message about what we are willing to do to get results.
I have been greatly privileged to meet with many leaders around the world over a number of years and particularly in the last two and a half years as Secretary of State. And oftentimes leaders are struggling to get the political support they need to make the hard decisions. I think that this Open Government Partnership can help support leaders who are trying to do the right things.
I met with a president of a country who’d been trying so hard to raise the tax revenues of his country. And basically, the rich of his country refused to pay anything for schools, for hospitals, for infrastructure. They just said no. And this president is trying so hard because he knows that he will never be able to lift his people out of poverty, put them on the right track, give them opportunities, have an open opportunity society, unless he can deliver results.
Well, I’m hoping that we will be able to take this message to the very business people in his country who may not fully grasp how important it is for their own self-interest to help make these investments in a better life in the future for their fellow citizens.
So let’s be creative, let’s be innovative, and let’s look for the way we can deliver results within our own countries, and through this partnership, encourage, motivate, facilitate others to do as well. I’m very proud to be working with you, and now it is my great pleasure to introduce Brazil’s Minister of External Affairs Antonio Patriota. (Applause.)
FOREIGN MINISTER PATRIOTA: Thank you. Let me start by thanking the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a good friend, for making me a part of this today, and I’m very proud to be here in Washington with Jorge Hage Sobrinho, who has been a true leader in Brazil in what concerns open government, transparency. He is minister of state, head of the office of the comptroller general. Greetings to my other good friends here in this room, and I see many friendly faces – ministers of state, heads of delegation, Ambassador Mauro Vieira of Brazil, Ms. Samantha Power, Under Secretary Maria Otero, members of the steering committee, representatives of invited countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a true pleasure to be in Washington together with my colleague, Minister Jorge Hage, and I thank the U.S. Government for hosting this event. I am honored to address with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this meeting of the Open Government Partnership, a joint effort that can become useful in our shared commitment to improved and more transparent governance. We are fulfilling aspirations expressed last March in the joint communiqué by President Dilma Rousseff and Barack Obama issued on the occasion of President Obama’s visit to Brazil.
The Brazilian-North American co-presidency of the OGP group is an illustration of a bilateral relationship that grows deeper and becomes instrumental to stimulate and promote dialogue on issues related to global governance. The Open Government Partnership seeks to contribute to national efforts in governmental transparency through international cooperation. The idea is for countries to share experiences on transparency with a view to enhancing efficiency in the use of public resources, stimulating innovation, and improving the quality of public services offered to our societies at large.
The OGP is, thus, a process of self-knowledge and mutual support. We do not seek to develop a one-size-fits-all approach or to establish quality labels that might be used as preconditions for cooperation or technical assistance programs. We are here to assist each other as equal partners joined by common objectives. The OGP should be seen as a subsidiary exercise to the efforts being carried out through multilaterally negotiated conventions, especially the United Nations Convention against Corruption. The OGP will not replace or compete with initiatives under UN auspices. Such efforts and mechanisms constitute our priority, in fact. But it can represent a helpful tool to complement UN activity, which retains its central role.
In fact, a number of principles that have been included in the Doha declaration on the mechanism for overseeing the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption apply to our exercise here – transparency, efficiency, non-interference, and impartiality. We will not produce rankings; rather, we will promote the exchange of views and experiences in a spirit of respect for the specific circumstances of each individual country. Our goals are to establish a compendium of best practices, to stimulate the development of mechanisms for promoting transparency, and to create an environment in which countries can evaluate the implementation of voluntary commitments in a technical, neutral, non-adversarial manner.
We need to be able to harmonize the public demand for greater participation and the use of new technological tools with the realities and managerial conditions of participants. On our part, Brazil is actively working domestically and internationally on issues of transparency and on the fight against corruption. Nationally, we have achieved important developments in promoting budgetary transparency, as the Secretary of State was referring to earlier. We have conceived and implemented an online system that makes it possible for any citizen to access relevant data related to government spending.
We have also created what we call the Transparency Portal – or a template – a website dedicated to publicize all federal expenses, including direct expenses and transfers made by the Federal Government through states, municipalities, and citizens. The portal is updated on a daily basis. In the portal, we also hold the national department list, a list with the names of companies sanctioned by the Federal Public Administration for committing misconducts or administrative offenses and tenders in public contracts. We have committed in our OGP action plan to improve the Transparency Portal and to develop new electronic tools of the same nature. Furthermore, we have launched specific portals for the 2014 soccer World Cup event – and I hope that many of you will attend that – and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
The road ahead will demand a continued engagement on the part of our governments on domestic and international fronts. The OGP can prove helpful in tackling the challenges to come. And we share the basic assumption that we all have lessons to learn. In the recent past, we have seen that even highly developed countries may present inadequacies in terms of transparency. The present exercise derives from a growing awareness since 2008 of the global importance of good practices in terms of transparency, governance, ultimately responsibility. With these assumptions in mind, we have initiated last January the development of a methodology that can offer, at the same time, the flexibility required by each state and the necessary systematization of best practices.
The OGP is thus structured into four pillars. The first is the declaration of principles, which will be open to accession at the next United Nations General Assembly. Each country will then present a plan of action with voluntary commitments and timetables. The third pillar is the reporting mechanism on the implementation of the plan of action. And fourthly, it is understood that participants in the OGP will promote the inclusion in the process of civil society as a whole.
Once again, it is important to highlight that commitments will be voluntary even though there are minimum standards to accede to the initiative. Ladies and gentlemen, Brazilian foreign policy is oriented towards the strengthening of multilateralism. We are fully engaged in the consolidation of more inclusive, legitimate, and effective mechanisms of global governance without reproducing asymmetries from the past. In a context where societies all over the world demand more democratic participation, we wish to foster international cooperation and promote economic development with social justice, thereby enhancing prospects for sustainable peace.
By the end of this exercise, we hope to have built an additional space of mutual understanding and cooperation. This is the spirit which gives sense to this Open Government Partnership, and I thank you. (Applause.)