One trillion dollars. That’s a big number. It’s hard to ignore.
One trillion dollars, according to estimates by Global Financial Integrity, is the amount lost every year by developing countries through illicit financial outflows connected to trade mispricing, bribery, theft, kick-backs, tax evasion, organized crime, and trafficking of drugs, weapons, and humans. This means that for every one US dollar developing countries receive in external assistance, ten US dollars are lost to illicit financial flows (IFFS). These estimates should be treated with caution—it is difficult to measure what is designed to remain hidden. But even if we accept that these estimates are uncertain, no one doubts that IFFs are huge.
IFFs drain hard currency reserves, heighten inflation, reduce tax collection, discourage investment, and weaken free trade. These practices stifle poverty alleviation efforts, undermine the integrity of government, and damage the foundations of society.
Recently, the lack of economic and social opportunities in many urban areas have triggered that the urban poor express a greater demand for a voice in local decision-making that affect their lives. An increasing number of city governments are realizing that open and responsive public institutions are imperative to achieving better and more sustained development results.
Important questions however remain: What are some examples of where the emerging Open Government approach has made a difference in the lives of the urban poor?
Four years ago, I became part of the newly formed Global Youth Anti-Corruption Network (GYAC). It was then a group of about 50 civil society leaders, journalists, and musicians (or “artivists”) who, using various methods, are fighting corruption in their home countries. I was part of the pack of six journalists. After a week of training and networking in Brussels, I came home to the Philippines more inspired and energized than I could remember. I was baptized and inducted into the anti-corruption world, but could a freelance writer be really tipping the scale in ending corruption?
On a Friday morning in December of 2011, Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old street vendor, started his day to sell fruits and vegetables from his cart in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. But he didn’t have a permit to sell and a policewoman asked him to hand over his cart. He refused. She slapped him.
Bouazizi then walked straight to a government building and set himself on fire. In Tunisia, “dignity is more important than bread,” said his sister. That same day, protests began, quickly spreading via mobile and internet. Soon demonstrations were everywhere in the country. About a month later, the president of Tunisia fled.
Tunisia inspired many in the Middle East to speak up and protest. We know this phenomenon as the Arab Spring. These protesters, mostly young, challenged their governments in at least 20 countries.
Throughout history, young people have used protests to hold governments accountable. Now, their roles in governments are front and center. Today’s youth are poised for greatness: not only are they the largest demographic in the world but they're also the most connected and educated generation.
For some time now, there has been a big buzz in the development community around good governance, open government and the need for citizen-state collaboration built on trust. This is at the core of sustainable development, and in this context Access to Information (ATI) plays a critical role. Citizens’ ready access to government information—through information requests or proactive disclosure by government—is a key dimension of open government and a necessary condition for meaningful citizen participation.
When citizens have access to information they can, for example, learn about and demand their entitlements under certain government programs: By finding out how public resources are allocated and used, such as the availability of medicines in local health centers, citizens can provide concrete feedback for better services.
As newly resource-rich countries grapple with how to manage their resources well, questions arise on how governments can channel natural resource revenues into smart investments, as well as lessons learned from past experiences. At a Flagship event preceding the Annual Meetings, panelists came together to discuss “Making Extractives Industries’ Wealth Work for the Poor.”
If managed well, revenue from resources such as oil and gas in Tanzania and Mozambique, iron ore in Guinea, copper in Mongolia, gas and gold in Latin America, oil, gas, bauxite and gold in Central Asia, can contribute to sustainable development. When poorly handled they can present long-term challenges for governments, communities and the environment.
The panelists included Marinke Van Riet, International Director, Publish What You Pay; Ombeni Sefue, Chief Secretary of Government, Tanzania; Samuel Walsh, Chief Executive Officer, Rio Tinto; and Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, Deputy Chairman, Nasional Berhad, Malaysia. The session was moderated by renowned energy expert Daniel Yergin, Vice-Chairman, IHS, and bestselling author of The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World.
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Yesterday, I was reminded of what it means to be young again: eager faces, fresh idealism, and boundless energy animated the IFC auditorium as more than 300 young leaders from government, civil society, development, and academia packed the IFC auditorium for the World Bank Group’s Youth Summit on “The Need for Open and Responsive Governments.”
I had the pleasure of moderating the first plenary session of the summit – a lively discussion exploring how we can give youth a voice in the open government process and ensure that public services address their needs.
The panelists were Ahmad Alhendawi, UN Envoy for Youth; Edith Jibunoh, World Bank Group Civil Society Advisor; Nigel Chapman, President and CEO of Plan International; and Frank Vogl, Co-Founder of Transparency International.
Back in 2004, Extractive Industries Review noted that “the overall framework of governance within which Extractives Industries (EI) development takes place will be a major determinant of its contribution to sustainable poverty reduction.” The expert panel called for World Bank Group to do more on governance and transparency of the sector.
From September 17-19 the World Bank’s Governance Partnership Facility (GPF) and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) hosted donors, researchers and consultants in London to look back at the GPF’s experience, and forward at ‘new directions’ in governance. The ‘governance crowd’ broadly agrees that their work, to be valuable and valued, must be connected to politically informed programmes, better services, and ultimately development outcomes. This consensus now even extends to the bastion of public financial management.
In practice, this connexion involves understanding political factors that drive institutional change and development, and using these understandings to improve development assistance: ‘thinking and working politically’. There are now many tools for political economy analysis, and there is a growing literature on what politically informed development programming can achieve, including a recent World Bank volume, and case studies from ODI, the Asia Foundation, and the Developmental Leadership Programme.
Today, we face a fundamental question: How can we ensure that development is done as effectively and inclusively as possible? Openness is the answer.
Openness captures the very essence of international development in the 21st century.
At its core, openness is the idea that citizens and governments can work together to achieve better results for all.
Open government - increased disclosure of information and enhanced citizen participation in government decision-making is a powerful way to address the complex governance and development challenges we have faced for so long.