Open Government Partnership should mark end to “transparency hypocrisy”

20 September 2011: With 46 countries gathering in New York today to launch the Open Government Partnership, Access Info Europe warned that the promises being made must be carefully monitored to prevent participating governments from using the process to give a false impression of their transparency credentials.

“This initiative has the potential to promote higher standards of openness, in particular in the area of proactive publication of information, but care must be taken to ensure that it does not become a window-dressing exercise,” said Helen Darbishire, Executive Director of Access Info Europe.

The danger of “transparency hypocrisy” is very real: at the same time as participating as a leading member of the OGP, the UK government is engaged in litigation against Access Info Europe to block access to documents about reform of the EU’s own access to documents rules.

Three other OGP participating countries – the Czech Republic, Greece, and Spain – are also involved in this legal battle against transparency and citizen engagement in EU decision making, in direct conflict with the OGP standards on open and participatory government.

The lack of rigorous entry criteria for members of the OGP “club” could make it easier for members to avoid full respect for the right of access to information: two of the EU participating states, Spain and Luxembourg, do not have an access to information law nor a constitutional protection of the right, and both have very limited levels of access to information in practice.

“No mechanism for promoting open government should tolerate failures to meet international standards,” concluded Darbishire.

Access Info Europe also raised a concern that Open Government Partnership member countries are free to select the indicators on which they will report progress.

“Voluntary goals monitored by civil society are useful for raising a public debate around open government,” commented Helen Darbishire, “but this in no way substitutes for the obligation to respect the right of access to information, nor for transparency commitments made in treaties such as the UN Convention against Corruption.”