Concerns about Open Government Initiative
Civil society groups say the government is failing to include them in a process aimed at establishing greater openness in the country’s administration and have raised concern about the benefits of joining the Open Government Partnership.
The groups make the comments in a statement issued after a two-day workshop on the Open Government Partnership, in which President U Thein Sein has said Myanmar will seek membership this year.
The OGP is a movement started in New York in 2011 that describes itself as an “international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.”
It says that in all its 65 participating countries “government and civil society are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms”.
The statement issued after the workshop in Yangon on the OGP attended by nearly 200 representatives from 80 civil society organisations raised doubts about membership with initiatives such as the OGP.
“Civil society is increasingly concerned by the imposition of new international initiatives that are being led by the government,” said the statement, issued on January 22.
“These initiatives tend to represent the interests of the government and often overlook the complexities on the ground,” it said.
The statement added that although the CSOs believed membership of the OGP would be a positive development, Myanmar faced many issues – such as the 2008 Constitution, peace process, human security and judicial reform – that did not fit in with the OGP initiative.
The statement also criticised what the groups said was the government’s reluctance to engage with CSOs. It said democratic progress was being hindered by the government “oppressing” CSOs and activists.
“While CSOs have attempted to engage with the government through mechanisms such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, the government in return has not fulfilled its promises of equal partnership with civil society,” it said.
Workshop participants, including organisations such as Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability (MATA), Spectrum and Paungku, recommended that the government ensures the protection and promotion of the security and social welfare of the people, recognises the diversity and independence of CSOs and ensures that consultations are held with CSOs, ethnic armed groups and political forces regarding international initiatives such as EITI and OGP.
“CSO groups are trying to understand what the OGP involves, what the requirements are to join and what role CSOs can play,” said Ma Nwe Zin Win, the director of Pyi Gyi Khin, an NGO.
“We are not against the OGP, but we want to express our concerns about the current situation and are looking for an equal partnership with the government,” she said.
She added that some organisations involved in the EITI process have been disappointed by a lack of involvement.
The CSOs concerns were acknowledged by the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation and the British embassy in a statement released ahead of an international conference on open government in Nay Pyi Taw on January 29 and 30.
“A key objective of the conference will be to emphasise that the active involvement from CSOs in this process is absolutely necessary if Myanmar is to fulfil President U Thein Sein’s commitment to apply for OGP membership in 2016,” the statement said.