Moderator Helen Clark noted the timeliness of the discussion, as crises including the pandemic, climate change, and authoritarianism make the Open Government Partnership more important than ever.
Heads of State and Government emphasized the importance of open dialogues, transparency, and trust in government.
The World Bank Group and IMF discussed measures they are taking to ensure transparency and openness in contracting and implementing pandemic response projects.
“Spend what you need to, but you need to keep the receipts.” Speaker after speaker elaborated on this theme and its objectives during a discussion organized by the Open Government Partnership on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s 75th session. Principles such as transparency, accountability, participation, trust, communication, and inclusion were highlighted as critical components for the effective governance of stimulus packages and efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020 Virtual Leaders Summit took place on 24 September 2020, and was moderated by Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Clark noted the timeliness of the discussion, as crises including the pandemic, climate change, and authoritarianism make the Open Government Partnership more important than ever.
To be more resilient to crises, democracies need citizens at the center.
Heads of State and Government emphasized the importance of open dialogues, transparency, and trust in government, including:
- Emmanuel Macron, President of France, stressed that the only way to be more resilient to crises is to build back democracies with citizens at the center. He said France has used citizen dialogues. On digital governance, he supported a middle road between restrictive governance and an unregulated internet.
- Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, stressed the importance of trust, which she said requires ongoing conversations, transparency, and decisions based on science and facts. The public, she said, expects decisions to be guided by fundamental values and human rights, and she stressed that democracy depends on open dialogue.
- Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, called for safeguarding elections and protecting democratic rights and freedoms. He noted that as the pandemic has changed the lives of people everywhere, maintaining the trust of citizens is more important than ever.
- Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria, highlighted the international best practices that the Open Government Partnership promotes, and said he will champion them through regional institutions.
Representatives from civil society discussed the need to engage citizens in dialogues in order to address current complex challenges. Aidan Eyakuze, Executive Director of Twaweza East Africa, added that in addition to trust between citizens and their government, trust among citizens is also important and under threat when different groups’ needs are pitted against each other.
During a discussion on ‘Tracking the trillions of dollars in stimulus and safety net packages,’ Zainab Ahmed, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, said her government has used a cash management system to ensure information is provided in real time, to encourage decision makers to do what is right. Mari Pangestu, World Bank Group, highlighted the importance of having “boots on the ground,” and said the WBG is partnering with civil society organizations to ensure projects are being monitored and delivered as agreed.
Geoffrey Okamoto, International Monetary Fund, said the IMF’s advice has been to, “Spend what you need to, but you need to keep the receipts.” He said the IMF subjects countries to audits, publishes the results, asks for contracts to be published on government websites, and provides technical assistance to help governments comply with these transparency and accountability measures.
The CEO of the Open Government Partnership, Sanjay Pradhan, proposed incorporating three priorities into pandemic responses:
- ensuring transparency and oversight of pandemic recovery expenses, with open contracts, open budgets and open aid. He said open contracts should become the global norm;
- inclusion, justice, human rights, and openness in decision making to empower the most vulnerable; and
- protect freedom of speech and other civic freedoms, and enhance civic space and participatory budgeting.
Closing the event, Joe Powell, Deputy CEO of the Open Government Partnership, encouraged participants to use this moment to envision a better version of democracy, and suggested that everyone adapt one idea from another country for their own country.
The event also marked the leadership handover of the Open Government Partnership’s Steering Committee: the Government of the Republic of Korea and Maria Baron (Directorio Legislativo) will take the helm. The former Steering Committee leadership was provided by the Government of Argentina and Robin Hodess (B Team). [2020 Virtual Leaders Summit webpage] [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]