The opening plenary of the second day (7 May) of the first OGP Asia Pacific Regional Conference held in Bali, Indonesia was probably the most inspiring session in the whole conference. It is a clear and persuasive depiction of what the conference theme is all about – unlocking creativity and innovation in finding ways where government can best engage citizens for better governance, and in creating that space where private sector and civil society can help shape the kind of government that they and the rest of the citizens need.
Diah Setiawaty of Association for Elections and Democracy shared how election information has reached Indonesians through an application they developed. Jose Solomon Cortez showcased how business groups in the Philippines can enhance government transparency by setting standards for corporate integrity through the Integrity Initiative. Sowmya Kidambi of Society of Social Audit in India emphasized on how social audit can determine retail corruption practices, identify culprits, recover money, and regain for governments the trust it gradually loses. These are just a few of the stories highlighted in 7-minute talks that seemed like glaring reminders to participants of basic things we knew all so well – that good election results rely on better information, that business can be held accountable, and that squandering citizen’s money should not and could not be tolerated.
As the conference wound down and as participants started to say goodbye after a closing plenary where panel speakers expressed hope on what a future of open government can do to the region and its inhabitants, the deafening silence that is starting to seep through my consciousness gave me an opportunity to step back and think about the key messages that this day has offered. What sticks to my head is a premise I highlighted in the title of this piece – that the tools have changed but the fundamentals remain the same. I identify here three of those that the speakers in today’s plenary and breakout sessions have highlighted:
- Leadership is fundamental. Mr. Suyoto, Regent of Bojonegoro, Indonesia put it very strongly – that leaders should listen more, and that they should ensure that government is part of the solution and not part of the problem. This same message is mentioned by Gabriel Baleos, Co-Lead Coordinator of Open Data Philippines, where he emphasized that key to the Philippines’ rapid development in open government is the commitment of President Benigno Aquino III. Finally, Budiyanto Sidiki of Indonesia says that the Emonep tool for monitoring and evaluation just supports open and accountable governance; it is the commitment of leaders that is paramount.
- Governance is not just about the government bureaucracy. It is about every stakeholder taking his/her part in the process. Maria Ressa of Rappler acknowledged that governments need other stakeholders to make things happen because the bureaucracy is too large and government concerns are numerous. Solo Kota Kita in Indonesia, Community Monitoring in Afghanistan, and the AIDS Coalition in Indonesia, were all powerful initiatives originating from outside government, supported by different international organizations, but done in partnership with national or local government units. The governance structure of the Open Government Partnership illustrates the point that open governance does not work when only the government bureaucrats sit at the discussion table. Collaboration, interconnectedness, partnership, co-creation, multi-stakeholder participation, according to Maryati Abdullah of Publish What You Pay Indonesia, is the key. It is heart-warming to note that in this process, the business community actively take part like what the Makati Business Club in the Philippines is doing in Integrity Initiative. In the case of Indonesia, Mr. Yuniarto of Schlumberger Indonesia, expressed his eagerness to take part in Open Government Indonesia.
- The road to better and more open government is long; we need a lot of energy and some amount of patience to get there. Undal Gombodorj of the Democracy Education Center shared that while their achievements in the Check My Service effort in Mongolia are small, these are not necessarily insignificant. For most of us working in development, we know that getting from a state of impoverishment to better quality of life does not happen in a year, not even in a decade. But every big win starts from a small step and the many examples highlighted in today’s sessions, both at the plenary and the breakout rooms emphasized this. Indeed, as Dr. Eko Prasojo, Vice Minister of the Ministry of State Apparatus and Bureaucratic Reform emphasized in his closing speech – “Ideas and innovation really do come from anywhere and anyone.” And these innovations and ideas, taking life in the different projects implemented by government, business groups, media, academia, and civil society organizations, prove that initiatives to promote open governance can be started, can work, and can bring benefits to people. Apart from concerted efforts, we also need the patience, and as what Phil Matsheza of UNDP-Asia Pacific says, the perseverance to bring ideas to action, and action to results.
As participants leave Bali today or in the next few days, they bring with them new insights, new learnings, and new tools that they can use to advance open government in their respective countries and in the region. The journey to more open government in Asia and the Pacific continues. I hope that the travellers gained renewed energy and strength in this OGP Conference in Bali, the city of the gods. Till we meet again. Terima kasih.
This post was written by Michael P. Canares, Team Leader of the Open LGU Research Project (see http://www.lguopendata.ph/)