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Vanessa Herringshaw: Act Now to Keep Governance on Post-MDG Agenda in February

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The following post by T/AI Director Vanessa Herringshaw is also posted on the Open Government Partership blog.

The 2015 end date for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is closer than we think and discussions are well underway to develop a new global agenda to replace it. But the timeframe to act to ensure that ‘open governance’ stays on this new agenda is even shorter.

Key decisions could be reached in an Open Working Group inter-governmental discussion this February 7th, 2014 in New York, and there is a risk that ‘governance’ and ‘openness’ could be taken off the table.

To encourage action, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative helped run a session at OGP’s London summit, focused on the post-2015 agenda. Panelists came from Africa (President Kikwete of Tanzania, and Rakesh Rajanai, founder of Twaweza), Asia (Minister Kuntoro of Indonesia) and Europe (Minister Greening and myself from the UK), with Martin Tisne as moderator from the Omidyar Network.

The consensus among the panelists from three continents was clear: We must ensure that governance, and especially the principles of Transparency, Accountability, and Participation (or ‘TAP’) are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the new agenda that is emerging as a successor to the MDGs.

In a letter earlier this year, OGP’s leaders called on the United Nations Secretary General to recognize the central role of openness and accountability in the post-2015 development agenda. As the countries and organizations on the OGP steering committee wrote, “We need strong institutions and governments that are more open and accountable to citizens.” The High Level Panel report to the UN Secretary General has made the same call.

But some governmental voices reportedly do not want ‘governance’ or ‘TAP’ to be included in the new agenda, speaking of them as too difficult to measure, or not central to the anti-poverty/sustainability focus of the MDGs/SDGs. Others are undecided. There is a real risk that, governance is pushed out of the core of the new agenda.

And this is where we are crucial – we, the members of the OGP community. We are the ones who understand that weak governance practices often lie at the root of poverty and sustainability crises. We are the ones, both government and civil society champions, who are working to open governments around the world because we can see that new sector policies and resource allocations alone will not be enough to solve these global challenges, unless governance is open and strong. So we are the ones who must act to keep governance on the table and at the heart of the new framework.

We have three immediate avenues available to us:

Firstly, civil society groups must let media and governments in their countries know that governance and ‘TAP’ have a central place in the new framework. They need to join with others locally and internationally to advocate in UN decision-making arenas. Our colleague Diarmid O’Sullivan is helping to spearhead this effort, and supporters can contact him via email.

Secondly, governments, especially OGP countries, should clarify their positions supporting  Transparency, Accountability and Participation at the heart of the new global agenda, and should voice that support in the UN’s Open Working Group discussions.

Thirdly and crucially, OGP itself has a unique role to play generating collective strength. Indonesia is the new lead co-chair for OGP, and Vice President Boediono announced at the London summit that the post-2015 framework will be central to his country’s co-chairmanship. That’s really great.

Given that time is short, rather than wait for the first official meeting In March, perhaps Indonesia could move to form an Action Group, with the active support of the past and future co-chairs (UK and Mexico)? Perhaps civil society members of the Steering Committee and others can join together to plan how to push the agenda and to organize lobbying in key countries?

We will not forgive ourselves if openness and governance are taken off the new global post-2015 agenda just because we didn’t get into gear and take action when we had the chance.

For related highlights and selected tweets from our OGP summit session, see below.

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