Is the Open Government Partnership complimentary, contradictory or in competition with the Sustainable Development Goals and in particular SDG16 on governance? That was the big question posed by researchers from the Partnership for Transparency Fund writing earlier this week. The writers conclude that there is much to be gained from a complimentary approach and hope that conversations at the forthcoming Mexico OGP Summit will start to enable that to happen. The questions are posed in the context of some arguing that OGP should be the ‘home’ for SDG16 on governance, justice and peace to be implemented.
In response I think that the question is wrong and the answer is only partly right. Wrong because the idea that this is the first time that a multilateral initiative has been replicating large parts of another initiative is clearly not true, this is just the latest example. And only partly right because the opportunity here is fundamentally more exciting than just better co-ordination or the avoidance of duplication. We have an opportunity of a generation to actually do something effective for once about the interplay between power, politics, conflict and poverty. But we'll have to do that away from international institutions and policy wonkery, and in new and different ways.
On whether OGP should be the home of SDG16 I think there are fewer nuances. The idea is madness. For this to be the case you would need all countries of the world to join. And it’s worth bearing in mind that some existing member states have a nasty habit of shutting down a free press, locking up political opponents and using violence against their own citizens as a political tool. Perhaps a bit of institutional housecleaning to be done first.
The authors note that there is significant overlap between OGP goals and targets and that of SDG 16 on governance, peace and justice. Welcome to the world of international initiatives. OGP has also overlapped with the New Deal for Engagement with Fragile States for years. While the authors rightly argue that this could lead to unhealthy competition among initiatives rather than actually helping, I would politely suggest that the elites in many of the countries that have been members of both these initiatives, and who have made least progress on either, may also welcome the opportunity to merrily play the international community off against each other. That’s politics, folks.
The authors argue that OGP and SDG16 could collaborate in a brave new agenda for “…the larger goal of good governance”. Aside from the very loaded term ‘good’ it might also be worth bearing in mind that the OGP’s experience to date, and that of the New Deal before it, offer sage lessons in the challenges that face anyone seeking to turn SDG16 into reality. The New Deal ran into sand when elites in some member countries started to perceive that the OECD donors were themselves losing interest. OGP member states have stood accused by its own Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) of instrumentalising the initiative without delivering any form of governance reform at all. Chief among culprits was the current Chair South Africa, prompting President Zuma to reprimand the oversight of the IRM in front of President Obama at the 2014 OGP meeting at the UN General Assembly. Which was awkward.
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If we genuinely want to seize the opportunity of SDG16, then that’s the deal, folks.