NZ joining OGP seen as a good thing

22 September 2013

The announcement that New Zealand will seek membership of the Open Government Partnership was blogged favourably on Open and Shut – the Australian privacy blog, which periodically bemoans the reluctance of the Australian government to do anything more than talk about OGP membership.

The application process is formally structured, with specified dates by which aspirant states are required to comply.  To become part of the  “Group Four” nations which will become members from April 2014 New Zealand will have to apply by December and by the end March have a draft action plan developed in concert with civil society on how it will give effect to the OGP principles (as the NZ chapter of Transparency International released a media statement applauding the New Zealand move there will be civil society support).

By April 2014 New Zealand must have presented its plan to the OGP steering committee, and begun putting the plan into action. Then by September 2015 it will report on progress with implementing the plan and confirm whether it intends remaining a member.

This structure is intended to ensure that real change is effected and the OGP does not develop the talkfest characteristics of most international organisations.  Russia, which joined the Second Group indicated in May this year that it will not continue as a member.

There are several websites promoting awareness of the OGP, through news and blog items. The Freedom website although reporting the Prime Minister’s statement, spelled his name incorrectly.

An interesting post on the Global Integrity website last week suggests that the US President, criticised by many for having no strategic approach to foreign policy,  in fact is promoting open government as the Obama Policy!

“Here’s the argument:

  • Open government is one of the few policy issues of interest to this administration that cuts across both domestic and international lines and has commanded the President’s personal attention and engagement. It was his senior aides in the first term that conceptualized and helped launch the Open Government Partnership, a ground breaking partnership between 60 governments and civil society to advance the open government agenda internationally. While domestic open government reforms are indeed very incomplete, the president and a number of close advisors have done more to push the agenda than a number of his predecessors combined.
  • While observers like Inboden rightly point to certain key foreign policy cabinet officials being distant from the president (e.g. Kerry, Hagel, Clinton), he chose to install a close advisor and open government champion in the form of Samantha Power as ambassador to the UN. Fellow OGP architect Jeremy Weinstein, who left the White House to return to Stanford two years ago, has been recently called back to serve as Power’s chief of staff in New York.
  • An open government approach helps to explain, at least in part, why we might be perceiving a hesitation on the part of the president to micromanage other countries’ internal processes (or conflicts). Open government, for all its warts, relies on an approach of governments hashing out their challenges with domestic constituencies and local stakeholders, not with elite power brokers and kingmakers at the international level….”

NZ will blend its open government processes into the OGP

19 September 2013

New Zealand will be joining the Open Government Partnership.  This must be wholly unconnected to the invitation to a family weekend at Balmoral, but after meeting yesterday with the UK Prime Minister – and the UK is the current co chair of the OGP – John Key indicated that he will take up the British invitation to formally express New Zealand’s intention to join the OGP later this year.

The OGP currently has 58 countries (and nine civil society organisations) committed to transparent and open government and combatting corruption.

The membership is a mixed bag with Northern European countries with aspirational values New Zealand shares, but also much of Central America and Eastern Europe with quite different motivations – yet apparently keen to adopt the underpinning Open Government Initiative. The propensity of some for corrupt and undemocratic politics must bring the genuineness of their declarations into question.

Although over the last 18 months the OGP has been recruiting hard in a largely uninterested community, Mr Key indicated that he was pleased the UK had made the invitation to join. In Australia where the previous Government had published plans to become part of the OGP had but done nothing about it, the possibility is that the Abbott administration will see signing up to the Open Government Initiative as a fitting illustration of its manifesto to restore strong, democratic and effective government.

The strength of the OGP is the involvement of civil society to avoid the partnership becoming just another side show in the international circus. Member states are required to publish a concrete, succinct and action-oriented plan with declared implementation time frames.  New Zealand already has an open government plan more reflective of the OGP expectations that the initiatives published by many of the member countries.

Should we show more enthusiasm for open government?

23 September 2015

Open Government seems to be back on the agenda in Australia.  A sense of satisfaction is evident in Peter Timmins’ post today on Open and Shut.  He has unceasingly advocated that Australia should be a leader in international measures to improve the accessibility and usability of government information.  His blog records his increasingly exasperated exhortations to Ministers to fulfill a 2013 commitment to join the Open Government Partnership. Now the new Prime Minister appears to be breathing life into what was an increasingly moribund looking obligation to give effect to the Open Government Declaration.

Australia and New Zealand “signed up” as part of the class of 2013, intending to file the requisite action plans in 2014.  New Zealand met the deadline, but with diminishing political enthusiasm, it looked like Australia would withdraw, as Russia did last year.  New Zealand has the status of implementing the first action plan cycle along with many of the other 66 member states. Australia, still developing its action plan, remains on the fringes of the OGP.

This week the Prime Minister has indicated that Australia should be a member of the D5 – another open government ginger group – made up of United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Korea, Israel and Estonia (all OGP members also.) He apparently has “put down a marker that he is serious about the shift to 21st Century openness”, which,  by inference, was not the perspective of his predecessor.

Ironically, while Open and Shut urged Australian Ministers to follow the New Zealand lead, there is a sense of disillusionment among Open Government enthusiasts in New Zealand because of the unimaginative character of our action plan.  The website inviting public feedback on the action plan solicited 18 comments during August, but hasn’t attracted any further responses this month.

A major point of difference between the Open Government Partnership and other international bodies is meant to be the central role which civil society plays alongside governments in the development, implementation and monitoring of national action plans. There seems to be limited interest outside Wellington in generating this civil society.

Sagging a little on Open Government

14 April 2015

Last week State Services Commission announced a proposal for a Stakeholder Advisory Group that would help shape the way New Zealand gives effect to its commitments as a member of the Open Government Partnership.  The SSC website seeks expressions of interest from interested parties willing to serve on the Stakeholder Group.  SAG seems to be an unfortunate acronym for enthusiasts who will be paid an allowance and travel expenses for attending up to seven meetings a year which are intended stimulate Open Government principles across the public sector.  A cross section of the community is invited to show interest, with particular reference to the inclusion of Maori, Business, Civil Society –being the community and voluntary sectors, and Academia.

A google search suggests that few in these target groupings have awareness of, or interested in, the aspirations of the Open Government Partnership. This of course is not a surprise. There is almost no familiarity with the OGP or of New Zealand’s action plans and the compliance regime concomitant with membership.

This despite results of the 2015 Open Government Index conducted by the World Justice Programme showing that New Zealand is perceived as the second most open administration measured on the  dimensions of published laws and government data, right to information, civic participation and complaints mechanisms. New Zealand is achieving the characteristics promoted by the OGP although not yet having completed the full requirements of membership

(see Correction below).

Australia appears less committed than New Zealand to the OGP.  The Australian Freedom of Information blog – Open and Shut which is critical of the reticence of Australian Governments to give effect to platitudes about information freedom – had a post on 11 April suggesting that good government could be reclaimed if there was a genuine commitment to the Open Government Partnership, and a “meaningful” relationship with civic society to develop action plans required by the OGP.  Although not an OGP member Australia nevertheless is ranked 9th on the 2015 Open Government Index.


Andrew Ecclestone (SSC) has confirmed that New Zealand fulfilled the OGP membership requirements by publishing its action plans. The specification on the OGP website that membership involves countries submitting a letter endorsing the Principles of the Open Government Declaration is now satisfied with the publishing of its approved action plan.

The following website guidance is no longer the practice:

To join OGP, countries must commit to uphold the principles of open and transparent government by endorsing the Open Government Declaration …. Through endorsing this Declaration, countries commit to “foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.” The Declaration has been endorsed by 65 OGP countries, and the countries that are currently developing action plans will send a letter endorsing the Declaration together with their final approved action plan. : 

Why are we not interested in the Open Government Index?

7 April 2015

This time last year a post about the rule of law reflected on the release by the World Justice Project of the Rule of Law Index. The post was titled “New Zealand again rates well in Rule of Law Index – but who cares?”  And New Zealand was placed 6th at that time.  Two weeks ago the World Justice Project published the Open Government Index.  New Zealand is ranked second of the 102 countries included  – the runner-up to Sweden as the country best adhering to the characteristics of open government – but that result stimulated even fewer articles in the New Zealand media about the World Justice Project than last year.

The agencies that could be anticipated acknowledging this recognition and which echo media announcements of the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index when published each year – also perhaps feel that Open Government ratings are less newsworthy.   Although the New Zealand Open Government Action Plan targets being ranked in the top ten places on the Index there has been no reference to the Index result on either the SSC website or on the open government website .

New Zealand is well regarded for its commitment to the good government implications of open government despite being a late – and possibly reluctant – applicant for membership of the Open Government Partnership. But then Australia which is also in the top ten is an even more reluctant participant in the 4th tranche of the OGP.


Open Government Index

1 Sweden
2 New Zealand
3 Norway
4 Denmark
5 Netherlands
6 Finland
7 Canada
8 United Kingdom
9 Australia
10 Korea

What this may confirm is that the substantial contributions which the Gates Foundation makes to the Rule of Law Project, are not conditioned on high profile promotion of the Index and its funders.

The Open Government Index scores participating countries on four dimensions:

  • Publicised laws and government data ( New Zealand  ranked 1st )
  • Right to information        ( New Zealand ranked 2nd )
  • Civic participation        ( New Zealand ranked 6th )
  • Complaint mechanisms  (New Zealand ranked 6th )

Obama cares! President wants Open Government Partnership to focus on corruption

21 October 2014

The pattern of corruption reported each week by media around the World is sufficient to perpetually dishearten most who believe in human decency. Professions and vocations traditionally thought to embody honourable conduct and to deserve respect, have lost their sheen. Just this week

  • British bankers have again been found to have been manipulating the Libor,
  • India seems mortified that many of its elite are fraud beneficiaries with sums equivalent to much of the nation’s currency reserves being held in personal accounts with Swiss banks,
  • the Chinese National Peoples’ Congress is proposing better deterrents for fraud in a week when not only has a former Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission admitted to massive fraud, including the selling of military appointments, but the Supreme Peoples’ Protectorate  has reported that detected fraud over the last year has increased by almost 38%,
  • more than 50 senior Spanish politicians close to the Prime Minister have acquired sizeable Swiss bank accounts from payments throughout the GFC from property developers,
  • United States lobbyists are shown to have successfully “courted” States’ Attorneys-General to spike investigations into anti-competitive practices by big business,
  • Austrian banknote printers have engaged in large scale bribery in Azerbaijan,
  • Balkans corruption is pervasive, and a substantial proportion of $ 2bn US aid to the region is funding Manhattan condos and art collections for its political leaders,
  • New Zealand medical professionals are defrauding the Accident Compensation Corporation of about $2.5m a year,
  • An Australia mining executive has defrauded his company of at least $4 m over the last year,
  • A former NZ drug squad detective has pleaded guilty to stealing drugs stored for presentation as trial exhibits.

Similar incidents occur with undiminishing frequency.  If the UN Convention Against Corruption has had influence it is to slow down the growth of corruption, the incidence of corruption seems unaffected.  New institutions like the Open Government Partnership have adopted a broader approach to promoting trustworthy government, but the OGP looks increasing just like another international organisation.

In September President Obama criticised the OGP for not focusing on corruption.  Undue influence continues corrupting political systems, diverted public funds are still corrupting national development, weakened control agencies allow the corrupting of government integrity, and in too many places,  the payment of bribes is corrupting the delivery of basic services. The objective of Open Government is good government. Good government reflects public trust. There will be no trust without trustworthy officials.

Trust cannot coexist with corruption. The President emphasised the need to fight corruption  “….Corruption is not simply immoral, from a practical perspective it can be used to siphon off billions of dollars that would be better spent promoting development. Corruption leads to inequality, it fuels human rights abuses, it strengthens organised crime and terrorism, and ultimately leads to instability.”

Making power truthful, and truth powerful – an Open Government message at Bali

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.

By reneging on Open Government Partnership Australia makes New Zealand look good

28 April 2014

Both New Zealand and Australia were slow off the mark in committing to the Open Government partnership.  But while a working group in New Zealand is supporting efforts to get some sort of head of steam in place for the early May OGP regional conference in Indonesia, the Australian Government appears to have gone cold on OGP membership and the requirement to develop and implement an action plan.

On the day the Australian Finance Minister indicated that Australia would delay any commitment, the French Minister of the Reform of the State and of Decentralisation  announced that France would  join the Open Government Partnership “with great determination”.

Ireland, also joining the OGP this year, has demonstrated its enthusiasm for the movement by hosting the European regional meeting next month.

Although the previous Australian administration seemed willing when “invited“ by the United States to seek membership of the OGP, at no stage has any enthusiasm been evident among ministers in the Abbott Government.  “The Australian” has reported that it has been refused access to correspondence between Ministers about the OGP because “the government has yet to reach a final policy position on these matters’’.  The feel good factor of participation appears to have been outweighed by the implications of being held to account to an international NGO for an action plan which though attractive to civil society, may be better managed with flexibility to reflect other government priorities.

After a year of contemplating the OGP obligations, the Australia Government appears unwilling to sign up to an action plan – which for the 4th cohort of OGP members was anticipated this month.  New Zealand, also in the 4th cohort, is planning to have something in the way of an action plan to proffer at the Asian regional meeting in May.

By contrast, France will be in the fifth cohort and expected to submit a draft action plan by April 2015. However France not only has declared an intention to join, but to…”to contribute…with full commitment and by engaging in a fruitful dialogue with its partners…”  The Minister has indicated that the French draft action plan will be published later this year – six months ahead of the OGP requirement.

The media statement about the French intentions indicates that it will be the 64th OGP member state – overlooking action by Russia to rescind its membership and the ambiguity of Australia’s status.

Those second-thoughts are not shared by France which enthusiastically declared that “…What’s at stake is innovation and building the public action of tomorrow. It’s not only about being accountable, it is also about deeply renewing the way we design, drive and assess public action.

Stealing a March on Australia – transparency at last on commitment to the Open Government Partnership

9 April 2014

State Services Commission has published the timelines for developing the action plan required of New Zealand as one of the prospects in the fourth, and most recent, cohort committing to the Open Government Partnership.

Member states are required to implement challenging action plans that will give effect to the OGP’s transparency and accountability objectives. The fourth cohort countries will formally join the OGP later this month once they have demonstrated their willingness to promote open government through the specifics of their action plans.

New Zealand will obviously not have a finalised action plan within the expected timeframe. By comparison, Ireland which is in the cohort with New Zealand, has been working with civil society for at least nine months, refining its proposals. The obverse is the case with Australia, also in the cohort, but whose intentions are even less clear. Perhaps as the invitations to join the OGP – to New Zealand by the British Prime Minister, and to Australia by President Obama – didn’t afford sufficient time, latitude has been permitted in complying with the OGP governance requirements. (Those requirements, republished last week after a review, include the specification that aspirant members have “concrete” action plans.)

New Zealand and Australia may have something to present to the Asia Pacific Regional Meeting taking place at Bali in early May. However the first meeting with civil society – Transparency New Zealand has taken the lead in seeking to contribute – is not until next week. The SSC timeline also indicates that it will be 31 July before the action plan is published. Mongolia, another fourth cohort country in the region, does not appear to be any more compliant. The Mongolia page on the OGP website is as devoid of content as those of New Zealand and Australia.

The SSC announcement will raise the ire of the privacy blogger at “Open and Shut”, who is continually critical of the lack of action regarding the OGP across the Tasman. New Zealand may have stolen a march on Australia.



Are we leaders in the public sector digital revolution?

8 January 2014

 “Why New Zealand and UK are leading the public sector digital revolution” was the title of an article in the public leaders section of yesterday’s Guardian, released jointly by the British Cabinet Office Minister (Maude) and New Zealand’s Minister of Internal Affairs (Tremain).

The substance is about technology for enabling access to government information. Open Government requires evolving systems to meet the demands of users. In both countries initial arrangements to coordinate agency information had proved inadequate. A different approach was necessary. Over the last 15 months, new arrangements have centralised all British departmental material on New Zealand is now beta testing  which applies much of the British experience.

The article hangs on the contribution of the UK and NZ as “world leaders in transparency” and the need for effective  technology to deliver the aspirations of the Open Government Partnership – that governments must be more transparent, accountable and responsive to their citizens.

The involvement of NZ as the 61st member of the OGP is recognised also in the recommendations of “Integrity Plus”, the National Integrity Systems assessment prepared for Transparency International NZ.  The second recommendation in the report published in November is that “…The Ministry of Justice initiate a cross-government programme of wide public consultation to develop an ambitious New Zealand Action Plan for the international Open Government Partnership…”

As an OGP member, New Zealand has committed to preparing a national Action Plan containing new initiatives developed together with civil society, and to submit to regular, formal, independent monitoring by domestic civil society of progress in implementing the Action Plan.

The OGP places importance on the involvement of civil society to ensure that governments don’t retreat from commitments. The NZ National Integrity Systems assessment is that civil society is strong – although one of the lowest NIS ratings relates to engagement by the business sector with civil society in combatting corruption.