SA helps steer open government drive

21 September 2011

The principles of openness, transparency and accountability are built into and guaranteed protection by South Africa’s Constitution, President Jacob Zuma said at the launch of the Open Government Partnership – of which SA is one of eight founding governments – in New York this week.

Zuma joined 45 other world leaders on Tuesday in formally launching the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a new international initiative aimed at securing concrete commitments from governments, in partnership with civil society, to promote transparency, increase civic participation, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

At the launch, the eight OGP steering committee governments – the US, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa and the UK – delivered their OGP action plans, signed a declaration of principles, and welcomed 38 new countries into the effort.

Open Government Declaration

Zuma joined the leaders of the other seven national founders in declaring their respective governments’ commitment to:

  • Increasing the availability of information about governmental activities.
  • Supporting civic participation.
  • Implementing the highest standards of professional integrity throughout their administrations.
  • Increasing access to new technologies for openness and accountability.

The forum will be chaired in its inaugural year by the United States and Brazil.

The 38 new OGP countries will develop their own country action plans in consultation with civil society, to be announced at the next OGP meeting in Brazil in March 2012.

US President Barack Obama, speaking at the launch, said that open societies, economies and governments together made the “strongest foundation for human progress”.

He added that the Partnership came at a good time, with people across the Middle East and North Africa pushing for their governments to represent and serve them, and with emerging democracies worldwide showing how “innovations in open government” could increase prosperity and justice.

Constitution, press freedom

Zuma, in his address to the gathering, said South Africa’s Constitution “specifically provides for the establishment of independent institutions to safeguard and enforce openness, transparency, accountability, responsiveness, and ethical governance in the public and private spheres.”

The country’s “Chapter 9 institutions” – the Public Protector, Human Rights Commission, Auditor-General, Independent Electoral Commission, Gender Commission and Commission on Traditional, Linguistic and Religious Communities – were “an important armoury in promoting and protecting the rights of our citizens,” Zuma said.

The country also prided itself “on having freedom of expression and media freedom that are enshrined in the Constitution.

Informed citizens, efficient public service

“We also regard the development of an efficient, effective and development-oriented public service and an informed and empowered citizenry as key tools in the promotion of open government,” Zuma said.

“We promote citizen engagement and participation through direct contact with citizens by undertaking visits to hear their suggestions and concerns and to monitor service delivery.”

South Africa also had a number of institutions specifically mandated with “preventing and investigating acts of corruption, as this is one of our key national priorities”.

Zuma said the government was consulting with civil society in drafting an open government country action plan, and would also continue to in the African Union’s African Peer Review Mechanism, which encourages governments to improve governance, including openness and service delivery to their populations.

SAinfo reporter