According to the United Nations Development Program, every year around the world, $1 trillion is paid in bribes while an estimated $2.6 trillion are stolen annually through corruption – a sum equivalent to more than five per cent of the global GDP. In developing countries, funds lost to corruption are estimated at ten times the amount of official development assistance. Is it even possible for citizens to work with government leaders to change this?
Our local partners believe it is possible. In 70 countries, citizens and government leaders would say, “Yes!” And of our local partners in several countries, they too are optimistic about how they can change the future. They are hard at work with their government to implement Open Government Partnership commitments.
Corruption, Transparency & The Voice of Latin American Civil Society at #OGPArgentina
Our local partners from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala recently attended the #OGPArgentina, the Open Government Partnership of the Americas Regional Meeting. The meeting attracted hundreds of civil society organizations, government officials, and activists committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. Throughout the two-day event, stakeholders from 18 countries across the Americas worked together to highlight the commitments and action steps regional governments have taken to promote integrity in governance and citizen participation as a means to fight corruption and strengthen trust between civil society and their elected representatives.
It was a particularly important event for Counterpart International’s Participación Cívica project and our civil society partners, who have worked for the last five years to fight corruption and promote open government in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Participación Cívica project staff from Guatemala attended the conference in collaboration with their civil society partners from Fundesa Guatemala and CIIDH (the International Center for Human Rights Research).
Carlos Fernandez, a leading member of CIIDH, presented on the “Without Civic Space There is No Open Government” panel on the second day of the event. He focused on the importance of civil society organizations and citizens in promoting anti-corruption efforts and government accountability in the region. This is particularly important in Guatemala he said as the country still ranks as highly corrupt according to Transparency International’s 2016 Corruptions Index Report.
Later at the event, Participación Cívica staff and Guatemalan CSOs spoke to the Guatemalan Ministry of Public Finance, the Ministry of Education and the Comptroller General’s Office about the government’s OGP commitments and the action steps they have taken, particularly to improve citizen’s access to public information and to be more transparent on national budget expenses.
“With each country sharing their own action plans, it gives all of our efforts a sense of relevancy. It shows us that the OGP process is working to strengthen democracy, respect for the rule of law and the rights of citizens in our region,” explained Otto Navarro, the Senior Transparency Specialist for Participación Cívica.
Civil Society Presses President Morales to Strengthen Anti-Corruption Efforts
Some ten days after the event, on December 6th, Participación Cívica participated in the High Level Round Table on Open Government in Guatemala City. More than 20 civil society organizations attended seeking to speak to President Jimmy Morales, Congressional President Óscar Stuardo Chinchilla, the Ambassador of the Organization of American States, the Ambassador of the United States, and various other Guatemalan ministries about the advances made on last year’s Open Government Partnership commitments.
“Our Open Government Partnership efforts strengthen not only Guatemalan citizen participation but also our democracy,” explained President Jimmy Morales. In the spirit of that statement, As President Morales was sitting with ministers and ambassadors including the US Ambassador to Guatemala and the Director of USAID Guatemala, local civil society leaders took their chance.
Rafael Poitevin, the representative of Guatecivica, a local civil society organization that works to strengthen democracy in Guatemala through citizen participation, pressed the President directly to create an official Open Government Department in Guatemala. He said that by institutionalizing their commitments, President Morales could ensure Guatemalans that the initiative was being taken seriously and that recent reforms would not be lost because of future elections.
While the President made no immediate commitment to do this, the event demonstrated that citizens are taking anti-corruption and transparency efforts seriously. They want an Open Government Partnership. And they are more than willing to speak out and work with their government to make sure those changes come.
Corruption is a serious crime. Study after study has shown that it undermines social and economic development and stagnates progress in all of the societies it touches. No country, region or community is immune. So on International Anti-Corruption Day, we commend our partners in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and all the citizens and government leaders who believe that by working together they can end corruption and build more vibrant futures for all citizens.
Participación Cívica is a project funded by USAID and implemented by Counterpart International.
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