How the G-20 Can Help the Open Government Partnership

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As many colleagues and friends know, I'm not a huge fan of traditional multilateral organizations given their historic high-effort, low-return ratio. Having worked in and around some for a number of years, I grew weary of the rhetoric not always (or ever?) matching the reality of their impact.

But I'm setting my cynical self aside for a moment to pitch a basic idea for how the G-20 can help the nascent Open Government Partnership — by encouraging non-OGP G-20 member states to join OGP. I think this is a low-effort, high-return idea. 

The G-20 has an anti-corruption working group. The working group meets every so often to discuss issues of the day and issue communiques. On a good day, it can help to build consensus towards anti-corruption norms while also providing political cover for certain reforms in member countries.

In the past few years the working group has focused largely on a "traditional" gamut of anti-corruption issues: anti-money laundering, ratification and enforcement of the UN Convention Against Corruption, and stolen asset recovery programs. This is well and good but unlikely to have much real-life impact. (The stolen assets agenda in particular is an incredibly hard slog that is (arguably) permanently stuck in the mud without a real shot at ever returning meaningful sums to developing countries.)

Rather than take on another Sisyphean agenda, my idea is simpler and achievable: have the G-20 call on its member states that are not already part of the Open Government Partnership to join it.  In a delicious quirk of fate, OGP member state Russia (along with Canada) is the current co-chair of the G-20 working group and could put OGP holdouts such as France, Germany, and Japan in the awkward position of explaining why they haven't mustered the political will to join OGP, an initiative with an incredibly low bar for entry and light touch monitoring. My sense is that the Russian government has plenty of interest in burnishing its "open government" and OGP credentials, and pushing the G-20 to endorse OGP membership could be a smart tactical move for reformers inside the Kremlin. 

Is OGP a panacea? Absolutely not. But it's having impact at the country level in some countries more quickly than traditional efforts, including the G-20. With a modest investment of political capital, the G-20 could make a solid contribution in the short-term to advancing the open government agenda in key countries. The linkage wouldn't be new to the G-20; as the working group wrote in its 2012 Monitoring Report:

"We note the potential link of work of the Open Government Partnership to many  aspects of the prevention of corruption in the public sector and we will explore areas of overlap."

— Nathaniel Heller

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