8 May 2014

Perhaps indicative of the enthusiasm of participating countries, the highlight of the Open Government Partnership regional meeting in Bali this week appears to have been an address by Aruna Roy.  Or perhaps it was President Bambang Yudhoyono using the occasion for the inaugural flight of the Indonesian military’s “Airforce One”.  It was clearly not a high spot of Australian diplomatic endeavour, with the absence of any Ministers being available to pour oil on the troubled waters between it and  its northern neighbour.

New Zealand was represented by the Minister of Internal Affairs.  Despite our reluctant commitment to OGP obligations, the numerous examples of good government in New Zealand provided a comprehensive list of achievements for the Minister to refer to in his speech, although an extension in developing the prerequisite OGP Action Plan  has been necessary. He was able to highlight measures already underway independently of the OGP like the 2011 Declaration of Open and Transparent Government, the ICT Strategic Action Plan, the Better Public Services programme and examples of government use of technology to transform citizen engagement. High rankings in surveys published by the Open Data Institute and Transparency international anchor New Zealand’s credibility in Open Government circles.

The New Zealand chapter of Transparency International which is the lead civil society partner in developing the OGP Action Plan – and is also represented in Bali – is not quite as fulsome in its latest newsletter. The fundamental concern is that Action Plan proposals echo the sorts of activities which the Minister listed in his speech rather than embodying the spirit of the OGP which is about novel and ambitious commitments ( although the options of building on existing efforts or taking new steps to complete on-going reforms are acceptable.)

Aruna Roy apparently hit the right emotional spot at the end of her presentation by reciting what has become her mantra, lifted from Jeremy Cronin’ s definition of democracy – that Open government is about making power truthful, and truth powerful.