printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Preview of the Launch of the Open Government Partnership

Maria Otero
Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs 

Jorge Hage Sobrinho, Minister of State, Office of the Comptroller General of Brazil
Washington, DC
July 11, 2011

Date: 07/11/2011 Location: Washington, DC Description: Maria Otero, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, and Jorge Hage Sobrinho, Minister of State, Office of the Comptroller General of Brazil, previewing the launch of the Open Government Partnerhsip - State Dept Image

11:45 A.M. EDT

Open Government Partnership - U.S. Dept. of State

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Well, maybe we can just begin. Thank you for your interest in, clearly, our – the reason that we are meeting today is, as the executive – we are meeting as the steering committee of the open government initiative. And maybe to start, I should just say a few things about what open government initiative means.

This open government concept really has three core principles. The first one is the concept of transparency in government, how it is that our government is able to report and provide the public with information about what it does and how it’s doing it. So this is the first principle. The second one is civic participation. That is bringing in the public, to bring its expertise, its questions, its knowledge, its experience, to be able to help government make policy and other decisions. So this civic engagement is the second part. These two, we would say, come into the third principle, which is accountability. And accountability really is nothing more than ensuring that the government can – is responsible for accounting for what it does and is accountable to people in a way that the public can then know how positions and actions are made.

So these are really – the third principles that we are holding. And we’re incorporating into this the concept of technology because technology has evolved so much that it is making it far more possible. And we’re also incorporating into this the growing interest on the part of governments to be more transparent because they see that as a very important component of being good governments. And so if you put some of these things that have come together today, it makes this issue one that is more timely and more interesting. And so I think we are seeing that the concept itself is the one that has been now agreed upon by a steering committee of eight countries and will then be presented tomorrow to almost 60 countries from governments and civil society also that will be present at the meeting tomorrow in which we will be launching this idea to move forward.

QUESTION: And this will be in Washington?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: And it will be here in Washington. I can say a lot more about it, what it is that we are seeking, but let’s just go ahead and let the minister, if you want to say a few words about this.



MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: Well, this – for us, this started last January or a little before that, when we got the invitation from the United States Government, so that Brazil would join the United States from the very beginning in this initiative that wanted to be a global initiative, not a one-country initiative. And then we came for one first meeting here in two days in January – decided Brazil and the United States, six or seven other countries.

QUESTION: And who are the countries?

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: The countries – UK, Norway, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico –


MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: Bangladesh is one of them?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Bangladesh is invited two tomorrow’s meeting, yeah. Okay.

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: This – those countries that I mentioned, they were the initial group, and they compose now what we call the – what Maria mentioned, the steering committee. Then the steering committee started developing criteria in order to invite other countries to join the initiative. Those criteria had to be as much objective as possible in order to avoid subjectivism and discretion. And on the other hand, if we choose – we tried to find objective criteria – we fall in another problem because they have to be somewhat formal criteria, not necessarily real indicators of political will or willingness to advance. But in the balance between the two risks, we preferred to run this risk instead of running the risk of being suggestive or discretionary in choosing this country and not that country to the first invitation.

Then we started with four basic criteria, all of them developed by other institutions, third party institutions – for example, the World Bank or the International Budget Partnership and other recognized institutions, that had developed indicators. For example, does the country have – does the country make public at least two of the four budgetary main documents, which include the budget proposal, the approved budget, the balance of the execution of the budget in the end of the year, and the citizens budget? Which means the budget translated in a way that any citizen can understand, not the technical language. From those four budget basic documents, it was established that the country had to fulfill two, at least two of the four. So if the country publicizes the budget proposal and the balance of the execution of the budget, it’s all right for the other two documents. And so we started selecting the countries by objective criteria. Maybe they aren’t the best criteria, but they are objective.

Another criteria is if the country has or does not have a constitutional provision assuring access to information by the citizen. If decides the constitutional provision, does the country have procedural law establishing the proceedings for the citizen to apply for information of this of that document, for example? Another criteria, does the country have ways to facilitate citizen participation in the formulation of the public policies? Public consultation, what we call in Brazil popular initiative of bills in the congress, things of that sort. So, and the fourth criteria was whether – does – do the elected authorities in – and other high authorities have to present the assets declaration when they get to office? Those are the four areas. So the country had do fulfill a minimum score on those four areas. That was the idea.

And then about 60 countries –

UNDER SECRETRY OTERO: Even more. Yeah. But more than 80 countries.

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: Eighty countries –


MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: -- have fulfilled this. And now we have around 60 –

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: We have 60 that are coming.

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: -- are coming --


MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: -- for this meeting this meeting tomorrow.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: So this open government is for countries that are already committed to opening their government in these areas that the minister has outlined and want to create action plans to focus on ways to even improve more their transparency and their accountability. And so the countries that will be present at this event tomorrow are countries that are interested in doing this and that are going to put together a national action plan, which will then be discussed on the margins of the General Assembly meeting in the United Nations in September, where we are hoping we will have President Obama and the heads of state attend this and really make this, through the signing of a declaration and the action plans that each country is developing, a way to really move this forward towards a new way of addressing the question of transparency, and of corruption, and of accountability, all these problems that all of the countries share and oftentimes have not found a way to address.

And now, when we start with this open government initiative, we find out that many countries are already active and moving in this direction. So this creates a platform to strengthen that effort, to bring in civil society, to bring in the private sector because the private sector develops the technologies, can bring resources to the table, can bring innovation to the table. And it engages the governments. And it engages governments at the federal or at the state or at the local level, depending on how governments want to address these issues.

QUESTION: Can we change for a moment? Anyway, my name is Arshad Mahmoud, and I’m the Washington correspondent for That is in Bangladesh, online paper. What you just mentioned about this transparency, civic participation, and accountability, these are nothing new. I mean, I don’t see any kind of new innovation. Why, all of the sudden, you are trying to focus on this issue? What happened? Why is this an issue now? Because this has been the issue for years.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: As I said earlier, every country has been addressing this. Any country one goes to, the same issues come up. From our perspective, this is the first time that countries have come together to form an initiative that includes countries from the north and from the south, and that establishes the minimum standards that countries should have in adopting transparency and accountability. There is a very big difference between countries saying that they are addressing these issues, because every country says that, and countries developing concrete plans, using technology and using what we are now seeing as the best practice in doing this, and doing it all together at the global level.

And so the innovative part of this is that in the recognition at the country level, bringing all countries together to agree on a way to do this and to challenge all the countries to present a plan, and then to be reviewed by the other countries to make sure that their plans are being carried out. That is really the innovative part, that it is an – a global initiative that is carried out by all the countries in the world that want to participate in this.

QUESTION: But you know about the Washington consensus, right?


QUESTION: The IMF and The World Bank, and that has exactly been the criteria for this whole concept. So I’m really not quite sure, apart from creating another huge bureaucracy and then the people go there in that – in their own direction. Even in the United States, a country like United – it’s very hard to get information. So what is the solution to that?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Do you want to just address the broader question?

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: Yeah. The broader question, not the United States. Maria will answer. But the broader question, from my point of view, from my perspective, I think when President Obama launched the idea and the invitation for the other countries, he started from two premises. The way I understood it, the way I read it – I read it – first, it’s a consensus that trust in government is declining around the world – not here, not there; around the world. Trust in government is declining, and this is very dangerous for democracy. Well, this for me is a reason sufficient enough for any kind of effort in order to avoid the weakening process of democratic precedent, in order to resort to another – other kind of solutions. Okay. This is one reason.

The other reason, the use of internet and the intensive use of technology, technology of information. The sophistication of the managing of information, all sorts, have made citizens every time more with potentiality to participate. By the internet, the – all kind of information comes to the citizen and citizen can communicate with – by the social networks and everything. And this offers a tremendous opportunity for governments to improve their dialogue and interaction with society, which is something very, very powerful, in order, let’s say, to rehabilitate, in order to recover the trust in democracy.

And then we have two things in – coincidentally in this moment, the declining of trust in government and the other side, the huge possibilities offered by internet and technology of information, and the clear demonstration all over the world, not to talk only about the Arab world, the – how say you, the –

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: The use. The use of –

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: (Inaudible) of democracy.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Oh, the will. The will that –

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: The will, the desire for democracy.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: The desire; it’s not will. Yeah.

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: Which is very, very clear all over the world. At the same time that the trust in democratic governments already established is diminishing, there is on the other hand a huge desire for democracy on the countries where there is not democracy. All of this makes, from my perspective, this moment very special. And I think it’s very fortunate that the President of the United States took this initiative in order to invite other countries to this kind of dialogue, which is different from other initiatives already existing. Brazil, for example, participates in many other initiatives, but they are kind of mandatory. They are basic conventions. For example, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.


MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: We are working with this. The OECD Convention Against Transnational Bribery, the Inter-American Convention, the African Union Convention Against Corruption, we are already involved in many obligations, legal obligations, by convention. This initiative is different. It’s voluntary. It’s on a voluntary basis. And we expect that the countries, they do not have to do the same things as, of course, in the conventions. There is not a list, a menu, that you are obliged to fulfill, no. We look in each country what is being done there and the best way they can advance more. For example, in one country, the emphasis is more in financial transparency. In another country, the emphasis is more in natural resources –

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Extraction – minerals --

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: Yeah. And transparency about this, about the transactions related to extractive industries. In another country, the emphasis is more in problems related to education. So it’s a diverse – diversity that is going to be not tolerated but stimulated. So I think this initiative has some important differences in relation to others.

QUESTION: Minister – I’m sorry. But in the case of Brazil, what are the main points to attack?

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: The main points to attack.

QUESTION: Yeah, because I think that is not one in Brazil.


QUESTION: It’s where you have many --

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINO: Many, many, many, like any other country, many, many, many. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: One of the difference from – of Brazil in relation to other countries is our freedom of press, freedom of expression.


MINISTER HAGE SOBRINO: Not considering the (inaudible). (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah. (Inaudible).

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: Not considering this (inaudible) --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: -- absolute exception – (laughter) – due to one judiciary measure, not the executive there. But I think it’s very important in Brazil that we have a very robust press, a very robust and autonomous ministry public – public (inaudible) office.

We have a very good federal police. And we have a very good social NGOs network, civil society organizations. And from eight years ago to now, we have our internal control office, general control office, which is (inaudible), in Brazil. All this together, I think, made – have made very important progress in those last years in terms of budgetary transparency. We have today a situation that every single expenditure made until tonight we will be in the internet tomorrow morning. We are starting new portals for the World Cup and the Olympic Games that are going to expose from the project until the photograph of the execution, so that the population can follow this.

We are starting a national conference on transparency and prevention of corruption policies. You know that we have had in Brazil in the last year many national conference in all areas – in education, health, social assistance, everything. Now we are starting a conference in social participation and transparency. It has started already, the period for the reorganization of this in the municipals, in the municipalities. And then from – two or three months from now, it’s going to happen on the states level. And then the recommendations will be channeled to a national event, national conference, in the beginning of next year.

In – all of these are initiatives in transparency and incentives to citizen participation that have been implemented in the last years. Not to talk about other kind of measures, like the observatory of public expenditures that we created in (inaudible), which works with the (inaudible) updated to identify patterns of repetitive frauds and illicits in order to make the auditing more (inaudible) and they’re also (inaudible).

Now, what are the main problems that we still have? We have a very big problem in the judiciary. Our judiciary is too slow, not because of the judges. I myself am a retired judge, and I can talk from within. But our procedural laws and the interpretation of our supreme court on the due process of law and the guarantees for the defendant are unique in the whole world. There is not other country where a defendant can make use of so many amended appeals, so that a case lasts for 10 or 20 years in the judiciary. We had recently in Brazil a journalist of (inaudible) Sao Paulo that’s 19 – or 12 years, his –

QUESTION: More than (inaudible.) Nine, nine years.

MINISTER HAGE SOBRINHO: Yes. And it’s worse when it comes to white collar defendants – corruption, financial (inaudible) and everything. Here in the United States, they have put in jail Madoff in six months. In Brazil, Madoff would be free today and for more 20 years because the Supreme Court will guarantee him an endless possibility of appeals and everything. This is our biggest problem that creates in our country a sensation of impunity. Then we do the auditing and find irregularities. We send them to the federal police. That initiates the criminal inquiries. The public prosecutor goes to the judiciary and initiates the case, and then everything stops for 10 or 20 years. That’s our biggest problem.

Another problem, which not only Brazilian, but it’s in the bottom of the problem of corruption all over the world, in my opinion, my personal opinion, is the problem of campaign financing – campaign financing.

QUESTION: That’s the big issue in the United States, too.

MR. HAGE SOBRINHO: It’s all over the world. It’s all over the world. Either we have to move to public funding of campaigns – which, in my opinion, exclusive – or if it’s going to remain private, we have to increase tremendously the transparency of the donations and the control on the limits of the donations, if it’s going to remain private financing. That’s a second huge problem, in my opinion.

Now, besides this, what is in the possibilities of the government to do is to increase transparency, is to stimulate citizen participation, is to improve the mechanisms of control of all sorts. Now, you say why is important our presence here? I think that’s – it’s within your question. What’s going to improve in a culture like Brazil by being voted in this initiative? I think that’s what you are – I think, first of all, our participation here gives a clear message to – within the country of the real political will and disposition of the government to commit itself with measures of transparency, of opening data, of increasing participation, of open government in general.

Second, our participation creates for us commitment. It’s not legal in this case, like in the conventions, but moral image commitments. And this is very important because they reflect insight.

Third, it helps to attract investors, investments, because it raises the trust in the rule of law and transparency, which is fundamental. It’s not enough, economic growth. You have to give the message that the country is, from the institutional point of view, also in a higher level and standard, not only economic.

And last but not least, it facilitates the knowledge of good practice, best practices, from other countries. It’s tremendously important because, in the mechanism that the OGP is going to build, all the countries participating will have immediate knowledge of everything good that another country is doing better than we are. And this is important, also.

QUESTION: Minister, there is a number of things that --

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: We’re going to have to get out –

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

PARTICIPANT: I’d like to ask (inaudible).

PARTICIPANT: (Inaudible.) I’m sorry.

MODERATOR: A very quick question. I’m sorry they have to leave for another appointment.

QUESTION: Sure. I’d like to know if there will be any board overseeing this process, and how it will deal with another – are the (inaudible) kind of doing the same thing like the BIS in Switzerland?

And I have one question for you, Under Secretary. On the wake of the WikiLeaks, there are some fears within the State Department that the government would – could seek (ph) from our secrecy, including on this program, that this program could be slowed down. What’s – was any impact in this program because of the WikiLeaks? Is it a reaction? Is it any kind of response? Anything changed?

And to Minister Hage, I’d like to know if you don’t see a paradox in Brazil taking the lead in the program and we still have a problem with the documents of the military rule. So.

QUESTION: Just to follow up (inaudible) on that question is a yes or no. I just want to know if this – it’s a – an open exchange group or if we have a kind of survey of the countries, if the – one country can be excluded of this group or not, if you have a – how it will work and practical.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: First of all, there are other initiatives, as the minister said, that are addressing similar issues, but he’s outlined the differences in this one. And many of those initiatives are actually sitting round the table with us. Organizations like the international – the project – I mean the Budget Initiative, Transparency International, The World Bank, others that have initiated pieces of this sort, are in the – participating in this effort as well.

This effort is much more focused on creating transparency of the data that is available to a government to its citizens. It’s much more focused on being able for the government to be accountable to its citizens in the way that it is using resources and disposing of them. It’s really, in some ways, separate from WikiLeaks. I mean, WikiLeaks supposedly makes available summary of conversations between two government officials. This is different. This is making available – for example, the – President Obama from the very beginning, from his first date in the office, said open government is a principle that we’re going to follow. Now, he’s made available almost 400,000 databases to the American public. It might not be easy to find them, but they’re there. And part of the bottleneck that exists or the challenge is just making the public aware that these efforts are there. If the public goes to, they can get all this information. That’s all it takes.

But that information, those databases, are everything from health-related issues to transportation-related issues to utility-related issues to education to – it just goes across the board – auto safety, airline travel, all these different areas that influence in the lives of people. So the effort, then, is to really continue expanding that availability of information for the citizen, and at the same time be able to make available to the citizen how it is that a government is spending the resources. This very important. So, for example, publishing the budgets of a country in a way that people can read them and can understand them, in and of itself, becomes a very important accountability. Publishing the salaries of key government officials, that in itself becomes a way in which the government is being accountable.

So I’m just giving some basic examples. But if you use technology and you use your imagination and you combine that with political will, because that’s really where this initiative also has a big difference, you can advance in a considerable manner the way in which you’re able to push this forward.

QUESTION: But will there be any kind of punishment for countries who are not following these principles?

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: This is voluntary.


UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: This is voluntary. The countries will come, and the countries that come have to demonstrate that they are already committed to these issues. Nobody is forcing anyone to do this. It is our hope that countries will want to be part of this, that this is a grouping of countries that you want to belong to. And so we think that that peer pressure will be also one way of advancing in this effort in a way that independent or forced mechanisms won’t be able to carry out.

QUESTION: No, but if they know –

MODERATOR: At this point, I’m sorry –

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Yes, we’re going to have to go.

QUESTION: Well, we have been waiting for half an hour. That’s not fair.

MINISTER SOBRINHO: Can I answer your question?

MODERATOR: Sure. Of course.

MINISTER SOBRINHO: Good. About the paradox. Well, let me tell you one thing. What Brazil is in debt, is one law establishing the procedures for the citizen to ask a specific document that he wants to access. Okay? That is what we call passive transparency because we have advanced in actual transparency, (inaudible) transparency, but we are behind in this.

Now, what happened? As everyone knows, in the – during the discussion process of the project, many of the ministers were in favor of the limit of 25, with one (inaudible), one – and no more than this. But the – in that moment, the project was sent with the possibilities of more, without the limit of renovations. Now, in the House of Representatives, this was amended, and then was established a limit of 25 plus 25. Now in this moment, I don’t know of any resistance within the government, the executive branch, to the approval of this. I went to the senate for a public debate and transmitted the orientation of the government, is that if the senate approves the bill the way it came from the house, there will be no veto.

So what we are expecting is the approval of this bill with the limit of one renewal, no more than this. And at this moment, the situation is – there’s this only resistance in one committee of the senate, one single committee of the senate, because it has passed already in the all other committees of the senate. I am quite sure the law is going to be passed either now before the July recess or right after the recess.

Because of the lack of this law, Brazil has completed 15 out of 16 points in the criteria of the OGP, but it’s very well in the picture. We have 15 out of 16. We are missing only one point. And we are sustaining and supporting the limitation in one renewal, as we always did, together with other (inaudible), like justice, like human rights, and like (inaudible), by our actual president. So there is no paradox. We are fighting for the same thing that we have been fighting all the time.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: We’re going to have to go.

MODERATOR: Yes. Thank you so much for your time.

UNDER SECRETARY OTERO: Thank you. Thank you very much.

# # #