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Government For the People, With the People

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 29/10/2015 Alejandro González Arreola
GUATEMALA GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION © ASSOCIATED PRESS GUATEMALA GOVERNMENT CORRUPTION

For 20 weeks in a row the citizens of Guatemala protested the corruption at the heart of their government, in the heart of their capital. First the vice president, and then the president, were arrested and charged. Now, following elections on October 25, there will be a new president.

People power has, for the moment at least in Guatemala, brought about renewed faith in the possibilities of government. It shows mass mobilisations can be an effective tool. But at the end of the day this also represents a failure: people should be able to let government know what they want without having to take to the streets.

There is a growing movement around the world working actively to bring people into the process of governing on a systematic basis. In neighboring Mexico, just days after Guatemalans elected a new leader, over 70 governments are meeting to discuss what progress has been made on this and what more needs to be done.

The movement itself is called the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and was founded four years ago by eight countries and nine civil society groups dedicated to securing a strong role for citizens in government. It was a reaction to the uprisings around the world against oppression that sought to channel frustration into positive actions. It was also a logical next step in the technology revolution, which offers greater access to information for citizens around the world.

Never has there been a more important time to remind leaders of the importance of people and governments working together. Trust in government remains low and space for citizens is under threat around the globe. Revolutions of hope are now footnotes to increased oppression.

In the latest data from Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer of 107 countries, in 51 countries around the world political parties, are seen as the most corrupt institution. Civicus just release its report showing that, in 2014, there were serious threats to civic freedoms in at least 96 countries around the world.

There is a strong and consistent need for government to respect the voices of the people and their valid contributions. The Nobel Peace Prize this year was a validation of this idea, if one was needed.

Open government requires real participation to connect local aspirations with those in power. We live in an age where there are now more tools than ever before to do this -- from phone apps to report bribes by the police, to databases of procurement contracts, terms and conditions that people can easily search.

Where there is a data-trail, people can be held accountable for their decisions -- and if such data trails are made public, there are far fewer opportunities for bribes and kick-backs.

At this week's meeting in Mexico City, leaders of government and civil society will also examine ways in which the OGP mechanism can support the new United Nations Global Goals. Governments will discuss how citizens can work with them to implement them at the local level.

This is important because it produces new initiatives that improve people's lives. In Colombia, the government has developed technological tools allowing citizens to track and understand the status of judicial cases; and in Mexico a "database of the disappeared" is expected to make the judicial system more transparent.

But being a member is not a fig leaf as countries that are closing down civic space have found out. Azerbaijan, Hungary and Montenegro have all been cautioned, and Russia backed out of its membership pledge: the obligations for supporting civil society participation in government could not be met.

The message that open government means government for the people and with the people is one that needs reinforcing constantly. In Mexico we are encouraging the OGP delegations not only to reaffirm their commitments to people's participation but to take actions to make this a reality.

Alejandro González Arreola is co-founder and Executive Director of GESOC, A.C. a Mexican research-based civil society organization (CSO) and Elena Panfilova is vice chair of Transparency International, the global anti-corruption movement.

This post is part of a series produced by the Huffington Post and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) surrounding OGP's 2015 Global Summit, which is taking place in Mexico City from October 27-29.

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