Open Government Partnership

Francisco A. Laguna & Melanie Enciso

This week, we begin a 2-part series on the Obama Administration’s Open Government Partnership.  Today, we describe the program; the following posts will review the progress made by the participating countries.

President Barack Obama believes that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments.   Open governance describes a relationship between the government and its citizens that is founded on transparency, cooperation and the public’s participation.   The concept of open governance ensures that a country’s citizens have access to their government’s information, data and processes.   It demonstrates that governments are willing to respond to citizens’ suggestions and collaboratively work together to solve the issues currently challenging the country and its political system.   In participating in active communications with their government, citizens should essentially be able to communicate with their country’s leaders, directly and indirectly, through complaints, criticisms and suggestions.   In an open government structure, mechanisms are put in place so that citizens can request better services fully knowing that their government has the capability of responding accordingly.

Open Government Partnership

OGP_logo_-_print_layersWith the concept of open governance in mind, the Open Government Partnership (“OGP”) was formally launched on September 20, 2011.   A completely voluntary multilateral initiative, OGP’s primary objective is to secure firm commitments from governments to promote open governance by combating corruption, improving transparency, empowering citizens and utilizing new technologies to improve governance.   The eight founding governments include the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Norway, and the Philippines.   By aiding participating governments in becoming more transparent, accountable and responsive to their own citizens, the OGP’s ultimate goal is to improve the quality of services citizens receive as well as the quality of governance.

Joining the OGP

To become a member of the OGP, participating countries must first meet the standards of eligibility.   A potential OGP country must substantiate its commitment in the four main areas of fiscal transparency, information access, disclosures of income and assets, and citizen engagement.   Using public sources for data, OGP scores the countries on a 100-percent scale; each country must score at least a 75% in each main category.   In addition to the categorical rating, the country must submit a letter of intent and must designate a leading ministry or agency to begin implementing the country’s respective open government strategy.

Fiscal TransparencyAfter passing the initial criteria for membership, as a new member of the OGP, participating countries are required to: 1) accept a “high-level Open Government Declaration”; 2) develop a “concrete action plan” created through public consultation; and 3) agree that their progress going forward can be reported by independent sources.   By agreeing to uphold the Open Government Declaration, a government makes a commitment to increase the availability of information about governmental activities, support civic participation, implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout its administrations, and increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.   Governments that wish to participate in the OGP must also establish rules that require public disclosure of assets and income for senior and elected public officials because such rules are integral to fighting corruption and facilitating government accountability.  Additionally, governments must develop fiscal transparency by publishing essential budget documents in a timely manner in order to promote budget accountability and an open budget system.   In supporting both government reforms and civil society recommendations, OGP aspires to advance open government by providing a cover for challenging reforms and forming a community of supportive like-minded reformers from countries worldwide.

OGP Countries 

Since its inception, the OGP’s eight founding governments have received the commitment of 57 other governments as members.   In total, OGP’s 66 participating countries have made more than 1,000 commitments for the purpose of making their governments more open, transparent, and accountable.   In the almost four years since its formation, the question that should now be considered is whether a firm foundation for open governance has been established, and if it has, whether that foundation has a positive effect on its participating countries.

TransLegal is available to discuss how the Open Government Partnership may affect corporations and individuals in the member states.  Call us with your questions.

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The African Growth and Opportunity Act Continues to Grow Trade

Francisco A. Laguna & Wojciech Kornacki

In 2000, the United States opened its domestic markets to sub-Saharan African nations. At that point, no one expected that within 14 years, Africa would be exporting over $400 billion in goods and services to the United States. Currently, with the increased competition from the European Union and China, the US and its African partners are developing new trade and training opportunities that could benefit your business.

Background

Africa

Africa

 In 2000, the United States decided to expand, simplify and diversify its trade relations with sub-Saharan African countries. In part, this was in response to the trade agreements the EU signed with 79 countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific during the same period. Through the African Growth and Opportunity Act, the United States unilaterally opened its domestic markets to the African countries in the sub-Sahara so long as the African countries reformed their economies and made them more transparent, among other requirements.

The benefit for US companies was that this created many new opportunities to provide credit and technical expertise to various sector in Africa. It also allowed many American companies to benefit from new business-to-business opportunities with the African businesses. Continue reading

Benefits of BRICS New Development Bank for Brazil

Francisco A. Laguna & Annapurna Nandyal

This week, we conclude our 4-part series on the BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB), focusing on the potential benefits the NDB could offer Brazil, the only BRICS country in the Western Hemisphere.

The closest BRICS to Brazil is South Africa

The closest BRICS to Brazil is South Africa

Brazil is one of the world’s largest growing economies. In comparison to other BRICS, Brazil is seen as soft rising power rising, and it tends to be underrated: the country’s growth rate was just 3% in 2013, while China and India had 8% and 6%, respectively. Notwithstanding, Brazil is hot on the international stage: it held this year’s World Cup; it will soon be the home of the 2016 Olympics; and it hosted the 2014 Sixth Annual BRICS Summit this year. Heads of other South American states participated in the Summit for the first time, and the event turned out to be one of the region’s most significant geopolitical summits in recent history. Continue reading

Creation and Role of the BRICS New Development Bank

Francisco A. Laguna & Annapurna Nandyal

Map of BRICS countries

Map of BRICS countries

In July, Brazil hosted two important events, each significant in its own way: the FIFA World Cup; and the Sixth Annual Summit Meeting of Emerging Economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS). The members of BRICS meet annually to discuss the world economy, global development and the further strengthening of the BRICS group. Since its inception in 2009, BRICS have called for a greater role in international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as transparency in electing the leaders of these institutions. Despite robust economies, BRICS members continue to play a relatively minor role in global finance decisions. In a first step to provide an alternative to “Western-dominated” international financial institutions, the BRICS members announced a proposal to open the New Development Bank (NDB) during their 4th annual summit, held in Delhi, 2012. Continue reading