As ORG calls for more open and transparent governance, increased citizen participation and greater collaboration among civil society, government, and the private sector in, sometimes it can feel that we are alone. However, as Executive Director Matt Aubry, learned at the Open Government Partnership Summit, in Ottawa, Canada in late May, our calls for positive, inclusive and sustainable reforms to governance echo the majority around the world.
This year, ORG was selected to attend The Summit, which brought together over 2,000 representatives of government and civil society to discuss ways to leverage open government initiatives and build stronger, more accountable, and responsive democracies. The Open Government Partnership(OGP) is an international organization of reformers inside and outside of government, working to transform how government serves its citizens and includes 79 member countries. Over the past years, the Organization for Responsible Government has used many of the resources and research created by the OGP in the development of our positive reform initiatives.
Through a week of sessions, trainings, and discussions, ORG was able to connect with government and civil society representatives from Cambodia, Jamaica, Trinidad, Argentina, Ecuador, Canada, Afghanistan, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Ghana, Estonia, Serbia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, United States, Jordan, Tanzania, Sudan, Nigeria, Kenya and Haiti to share our work in The Bahamas ,as well as discover what is being done in their countries to improve governance. Some key topics discussed were
- building a culture of citizen participation through youth engagement;
- Increasing the access and funding of Civil Society organizations;
- greater inclusion of women in policy development and government; and
- the importance of measuring progress and impact of governance reform.
In these discussions, it was evident that there is much opportunity to learn from the experience of others. As such, ORG will be following up with a number of regional and international groups working for open government in their countries to explore partnership opportunities. These include learning from anti-corruption efforts in Quebec, Sri-Lanka and Cambodia and citizen advocacy efforts in Scotland and Nepal.
During the Summit, ORG was able to participate in a one-day “Un-conference” on Open budgeting. This intensive and innovative learning session was quite relevant to ORG’s efforts to increase Fiscal Transparency and Fiscal Literacy. A main take away was the critical importance of ensuring data literacy among citizens and government employees. As more government information becomes available, government employees and citizens must be prepared to understand and utilize the data to develop stronger policies and fiscal plans. If we can build the fiscal and data literacy here in The Bahamas, it could lead to more effective and efficient government spending and decision making. ORG will be incorporating established models, drawn from successful work in Serbia and Jamaica, into our upcoming “Let’s Be Clear” Fiscal Literacy Campaign.
ORG was also very proud to be part of a Bahamian contingent at the Summit. The group included Deputy House Speaker Donald L Saunders and Independent Senator Renard Henfield, who is leading the Government effort to join OGP, as the newly elected Vice President of Parlamerica. Countries are able to apply for OGP membership only once they have met certain criteria. However, with the recent passage of FOIA, the Fiscal Responsibility Act and increased accessibility of government budgetary information, The Bahamas potentially could apply to The OGP as soon as 2020. The Bahamian contingent had the opportunity to observe a session of Canada’s Parliament; hear commentary from Justin Trudeau, Canada's Prime Minister, on the vital role of Civil Society and Government working together; and explore the use of technology to increase citizen participation with international experts. ORG was very encouraged to see the commitment and interest expressed on behalf of the Government of the Bahamas. ORG believes that membership in the OGP could benefit the Bahamas by raising the profile and value of government accountability, transparency and efficiency and effectiveness among citizens. OGP membership could also provide additional international mechanisms to pressure for and sustain positive reform agendas for accountability, economic development, and education even if government administrations change.
Finally, ORG had the opportunity to meet with the Institute on Governance, an internationally recognized training and research center which helps governments and civil society improve governance and grow citizen participation. The Institute on Governance team had great familiarity with The Bahamas given that, in 2016, they worked with Dr. Nicola Virgil-Rolle on the creation of The National Development Plan. ORG took the opportunity to review the current status of the NDP and our work to keep this document relevant as a guide to coordinate efforts among civil society and government. We also discussed efforts to design and implement local government, promote integrity vs corruption and increase civic education in communities through Freedom Schools. The Institute was very impressed with ORG‘s work and offered a number of resources to support our progress. In the coming months, the institute for governance and ORG will explore opportunities for informal and formal partnership here in the Bahamas and in the region.
Participation in the Open Government Partnership Global summit served as a good barometer for ORG. Meeting with other civil society groups and government representatives from other developing countries helped to show how much ORG and The Bahamas has achieved to date. Seeing what has been accomplished in other jurisdictions has also highlighted how much further we must go to achieve a positive and sustainable future for The Bahamas. The accomplishments of the OGP members signifies the strong global shift towards government transparency and accountability and the critical importance of strategic co-creation toward this end among government and civil society.
There are many excellent examples of positive governance reform from which the Bahamas can learn. However, one theme that prevailed throughout the stories of success that were presented at the OGP Summit was that meaningful sustainable solutions cannot be imported. Hence, ORG concludes that we must do the hard work here in The Bahamas ourselves to address our longstanding issues.
We must ensure that stakeholders of all kinds are included in meaningful discussions of national development.
We must utilize technology to create access for citizens to timely and meaningful government information on spending and decision making.
We must use data to better understand national issues and drive stronger decision making and more effective and efficient government services.
We must join all the sectors to improve the education of our youth and reduce the impact and cost of corruption.
These measures are proving successful all over the world and the Organization for Responsible Government emerges from the Open Government Partnership Summit confident that we are on the right track. We now move forward with an even stronger commitment to uniting Bahamians toward a Brighter Future.