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The Tragic Consequences of Secret Contracts

Theodora Middleton - April 14, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

The following post is by Seember Nyager, CEO of the Public and Private Development Centre in Nigeria, one of our campaign partners in the Stop Secret Contracts campaign

procurement montior

Every day, through secret contracts being carried out within public institutions, there is confirmation that the interest of the public is not served. A few days ago, young Nigerians in Abuja were arrested for protesting against the reckless conduct of the recruitment exercise at the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) that led to the death of 19 applicants.

Although the protesters were later released, the irony still stings that whilst no one has been held for the resulting deaths from the reckless recruitment conduct, the young voices protesting against this grave misconduct are being silenced by security forces. Most heart-breaking is the reality that the deadly outcomes of the recruitment exercise could have been avoided with more conscientious planning, through an adherence to due process and diligence in the selection of consultants to carry out the exercise.

A report released by Premium times indicates that the recruitment exercise was conducted exclusively by the Minister of Interior who hand-picked the consultant that carried out the recruitment exercise at the NIS. The non-responsiveness of the Ministry in providing civic organizations including BudgIT and PPDC with requested details of the process through which the consultant was selected gives credence to the reports of due process being flouted.

The non-competitive process through which the consultant was selected is in sharp breach of the Public procurement law and its results have undermined the concept of value for money in the award of contracts for public services. Although a recruitment website was built and deployed by the hired consultant, the information gathered by the website does not seem to have informed the plan for the conduct of the recruitment exercise across the country which left Nigerians dead in its wake. Whilst the legality of the revenue generated from over 710,000 applicants is questioned, it is appalling that these resources were not used to ensure a better organized recruitment exercise.

This is not the first time that public institutions in Nigeria have displayed reckless conduct in the supposed administration of public services to the detriment of Nigerians. The recklessness with which the Ministry of Aviation took a loan to buy highly inflated vehicles, the difficulty faced by BudgIT and PPDC in tracking the exact amount of SURE-P funds spent, the 20 billion Dollars unaccounted for by the NNPC are a few of the cases where Nation building and development is undermined by public institutions.

In the instance of the NIS recruitment conducted three weeks ago, some of the consequences have been immediate and fatal, yet there is foot dragging in apportioning liability and correcting the injustice that has been dealt to Nigerians. On the same issue, public resources have been speedily deployed to silence protesters.

procurement monitor2

It is time that our laws which require due process and diligence are fully enforced. Peaceful protests should no longer be clamped down because Nigerians are justified for being outraged by any form of institutional recklessness. The Nigerian Immigration Service recruitment exercise painfully illustrates that the outcomes of secret contracts could be deadly and such behaviour cannot be allowed to continue. We must stop institutional recklessness, we must stop secret contracts.

Ms. Seember Nyager coordinates procurement monitoring in Nigeria. Follow Nigerian Procurement Monitors at @Nig_procmonitor.

Why secret contracts matter in aid transparency

Nicole Valentinuzzi - April 11, 2014 in Campaigning, Stop Secret Contracts

The following guest post is by Nicole Valentinuzzi, from our Stop Secret Contracts campaign partner Publish What You Fund.

A new campaign to Stop Secret Contracts, supported by the Open Knowledge Foundation, Sunlight Foundation and many other international NGOs, aims to make sure that all public contracts are made available in order to stop corruption before it starts.

As transparency campaigners ourselves, Publish What You Fund is pleased to be a supporter of this new campaign. We felt it was important to lend our voice to the call for transparency as an approach that underpins all government activity.

We campaign for more and better information about aid, because we believe that by opening development flows, we can increase the effectiveness and accountability of aid. We also believe that governments have a duty to act transparently, as they are ultimately responsible to their citizens.

This includes publishing all public contracts that governments put out for tender, from school books to sanitation systems. These publicly tendered contracts are estimated to top nearly US$ 9.5 trillion each year globally, yet many are agreed behind closed doors.

These secret contracts often lead to corruption, fraud and unaccountable outsourcing. If the basic facts about a contract aren’t made publicly available – for how much and to whom to deliver what – then it is not possible to make sure that corruption and abuses don’t happen.

But what do secret contracts have to do with aid transparency, which is what we campaign for at Publish What You Fund? Well, consider the recent finding by the campaign that each year Africa loses nearly a quarter of its GDP to corruption…then consider what that money could have been spent on instead – things like schools, hospitals and roads.

This is money that in many cases is intended to be spent on development. It should be published – through the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), for example – so that citizens can follow the money and hold governments accountable for how it is spent.

But corruption isn’t just a problem in Africa – the Stop Secret Contracts campaign estimates Europe loses an estimated €120 billion to corruption every year.

At Publish What You Fund, we tell the world’s biggest providers of development cooperation that they must publish their aid information to IATI because it is the only internationally-agreed, open data standard. Information published to IATI is available to a wide range of stakeholders for their own needs – whether people want to know about procurement, contracts, tenders or budgets. More than that, this is information that partner countries have asked for.

Governments use tax-payer money to award contracts to private companies in every sector, including development. We believe that any companies that receive public money must be subject to the same transparency requirements as governments when it comes to the goods and services they deliver.

Greater transparency and clearer understanding of the funds that are being disbursed by governments or corporates to deliver public services can only be helpful in building trust and supporting accountability to citizens. Whether it is open aid or open contracts, we need to get the information out of the hands of governments and into the hands of citizens.

Ultimately for us, the question remains how transparency will improve aid – and open contracts are another piece of the aid effectiveness puzzle. Giving citizens full and open access to public contracts is a crucial first step in increasing global transparency. Sign the petition now to call on world leaders to make this happen.

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Tackling the Resource Curse: Civil Society’s Fight for Better Access to Information and Open Contracting in Côte d’Ivoire

Katelyn Rogers - March 31, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Stop Secret Contracts

This is a guest blog from our campaign partner Integrity Action, adapted from its original posted on their website here. This is the first in a series of blog posts from partner organisations of our #SecretContracts campaign. If you have stories to share about the problems of secrecy in contracting, get in touch with contact@stopsecretcontracts.org

Tackling the Resource Curse: Civil Society’s Fight for Better Access to Information and Open Contracting in Côte d’Ivoire

To date, many natural resource rich countries are plagued by rampant corruption, repression and poverty. We seem to have become accustomed to reading about tiny oil-rich countries such Equatorial Guinea – surely one of the world’s best examples of the resource curse. A country where large oil reserves fund the lavish lifestyles of the elite while the majority of the population finds itself in the undesirable position of having their basic human and economic rights not met.

Yet the picture is not all ‘doom and gloom’. Shifting the focus to countries such as Côte d’Ivoire allows for a different picture to emerge. Here, civil society organisations (CSOs) such as Social Justice have been working hard to ensure that extractive sector revenues benefit all members of society.

So how did local CSOs in Côte d’Ivoire bring about this incremental step change? In Jacqueville and d’Angovia, they began by working with people of influence to lobby local government and corporates to ensure improved access to contracts. Upon receipt of the contractual information, they organised information meetings with the communities and helped citizens develop strategies to better negotiate their entitlements, thereby ensuring that health care centres, maternity hospitals, schools and water towers were built.

Ensuring that communities have access to contractual information has been far from easy to achieve. Social Justice and other CSOs in Cote D’Ivoire have encountered frequent resistance from corporates as well as government officials, citing a lack of laws and regulations as reasons why open contracting has not become mainstream practice within the sector. Social Justice and other CSOs have tirelessly communicated the tangible benefits for local communities if open contracting was to be institutionalised and properly regulated. Moreover, they encouraged the formation of a resource centre tasked with working on access to information and freedom of information issues.

A significant step toward open contracting in Cote D’Ivoire is the recent adoption of an access to information law. Social Justice and other CSOs now rely heavily on the new law as well as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Standard adopted in May 2013 in their continuous demand for open contracting.

There is no doubt that it would be all to easy to remain skeptical, yet Social Justice’s work in Cote d’Ivoire shows that access to contractual information enables communities, impacted by extractive sector activities, to ensure that key stakeholders within the sector live up to their social and economic responsibilities.

The Stop Secret Contracts campaign is designed to push the issue of open contracting up the international policy agenda. Join the campaign by signing the petition and spreading the word at StopSecretContracts.org

Find out more about Social Justice here: https://www.facebook.com/socialjusticecotedivoire2

Photo: Monitors from Social Justice at the Logement de Maitre in Adjue, Jaqueville, funded by gas company Foxtrot

From Health in the UK to Education in Nigeria – Stop Secret Contracts

Theodora Middleton - March 24, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Government Data, Public Money, Stop Secret Contracts

Today it was announced that fraud and error in the UK National Health Service are leading to the loss of around £7 billion each year. This could pay for about 250,000 new nurses, and comes at a time when the service is struggling more than ever under the pressures of austerity.

One of the main ways that money is lost is overcharging and underdelivery by contractors. Outsourcing of health provision to unaccountable contractors is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, and it provides fertile ground for fraud and corruption. And the public has no effective means of redress when things go wrong.

In Nigeria, civil society groups are being denied access to crucial contracts being drawn up to bring about educational reforms. Nigeria has been found to be the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, and educational reform is undoubtedly needed.

But information about the contracts involved is being masked by “commercial sensitivity.” The lack of transparency stifles participation, reducing the likelihood of genuine innovation. An inclusive education system which meets the needs of all Nigerians will not be achieved when the process is shrouded in secrecy.

Across the world, contracting is the aspect of government which is most open to abuse. Governments hide behind claims of commercial sensitivity or national security to avoid exposing their contracts to public scrutiny.

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This month we launched our Stop Secret Contracts campaign, calling on world leaders to open up the procurements process. At the most basic level, the contracting data must be made available to the public. This includes:

  1. The full text of contracts;
  2. Key documents such as pre-studies, bid documents, performance evaluations, guarantees, and auditing reports;
  3. Information about contract formation, such as planning process, procurement method, and evaluation criteria;
  4. Information about performance and completion, such as delivery schedules, status of implementation, payments and risk assessments.

But we also want to see stronger commitments towards participation and accountability, as laid out in the Open Government Guide. As contractors play a growing role in the delivery of public services everywhere, we must ensure that we do not lose democratic control over vital aspects of our societies.

We need YOU to help us spread the word. We need you to sign the petition so that this issue is taken seriously by the G20 and OGP. Organisations who are working on this crucial problem need to be able to show that many voices are united behind them.

Once you’ve signed, there’s more you can do to help. You could write a blog post – like our Bangladesh and Sweden Local Groups have done. You could follow @StopSecretContracts, and retweet interesting and relevant things using #SecretContracts. You could join the Open Contracting Partnership’s community of practice to get more involved with policy conversations. You could start contributing to the C20 Conversations, the civil society engagement process around this year’s G20 in Australia – especially in the governance group. You could check out the list of supporting organisations: if any of them are local to you, why not get in touch and see if you can help them push forward?

There’s a whole load of resources available if you’d like to learn more about open contracting and why it matters. The Open Contracting Partnership have produced these Global Principles for Open Contracting, and the Sunlight Foundation has these complementary guidelines for open data in procurements. This report, Publish What You Buy makes the case for openness, and this entry in the Open Government Guide is a great starting point for understanding the issues and the kinds of political commitments we need to see.

From next Monday we will be publishing a series of blog posts from different organisations who are supporting the Stop Secret Contracts campaign. If you have stories to share about the problems of secrecy in contracting, get in touch with contact@stopsecretcontracts.org

Britain ‘shines light of transparency’ on secret lobbying. Just kidding.

Jonathan Gray - January 28, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Government Data, Policy, Transparency

The following article is cross-posted from OpenDemocracy.

David Cameron’s lobbying bill exposes the hollowness of his muscular claims about cracking down on crony capitalism. Britain’s democracy remains under corporate capture.

influenceindustry Image: Government wants to register Lobbying Agencies alone (Alliance for Lobbying Transparency)

Today the government’s proposed Lobbying Bill will go into parliamentary ping-pong between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. If this Bill passes without significant amendments it will do nothing to stop secret corporate lobbying, making a mockery of the coalition’s open government aspirations.

Every year an estimated £2 billion is spent attempting to influence decisions in Westminster, an amount that is topped only by spending in Washington and Brussels. Even more than its counterparts across the channel and across the pond, London’s lobbying industry has been able to operate in the dark, free from scrutiny and interference: unregulated, unrecorded and unimpeded.

Four years ago next month, just before the 2010 general election, David Cameron announced his intention, if elected, to tackle the “unhealthy influence” of “secret corporate lobbying”. He pledged to “sort out” what he called “crony capitalism”, to shine the “light of transparency” on lobbying, and to force our political system to “come clean about who is buying power and influence”.

The theme of his speech was “rebuilding trust in politics”. He attacked then Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s “secretive, power-hoarding, controlling” government, and its handling of the 2009 parliamentary expenses scandal.

Transparency has since become a major theme of the coalition government under Cameron, who has claimed repeatedly that he wants to “fix our broken politics” and make the UK “the most open and transparent government in the world”.

Fast forward to the government’s proposed lobbying bill, tabled for discussion in parliament today. The second part of the bill has been widely criticised for gagging charities during election periods. The first part, which outlines plans for the lobbying registry, has received less public attention.

Far from shining a light on the activities of the influence industry, the proposed registry would exclude the vast majority of commercial lobbyists, covering as little as 5 per cent of all lobbying activity. Among the excluded, all ‘in-house’ lobbyists — those based at major corporations, banks, consultancies, law firms, accountancy firms. Even the registered lobbyists would not be required to give the public information about what they are asking for, who they are meeting with, or how much they are spending.

How do the government’s proposals compare with a real statutory register of lobbyists? Here’s an illustration from The Alliance for Lobbying Transparency:

registerproposals

Unless it is scrapped and rewritten or major amendments are made – both exceedingly unlikely – the lobbying bill will make a mockery of the UK’s open government purported aspirations. It will leave the British public none the wiser as to how big money and big business are distorting the fabric of public political discourse and decision-making, and to what end. It will do nothing to shed light on how powerful corporate interests are exerting their influence to shape what is politically possible and politically likely – from inaction on climate change and corporate tax avoidance, to fracking, energy prices and the privatisation of public services.

Even a decent registry of lobbyists would give us just a faint sketch of the impact of corporate lobbying on our democracy. The fight for transparency is just a first step that must not distract us from the bigger and more important fight to push back against the malign, distorting, anti-democratic influence of big money and big business on politics.

The passage of the proposed lobbying bill into law would represent a manifest failure of the current government to take even the most elementary of steps to live up to its pre-election promises to tackle secret corporate influence. It will no doubt be remembered as an historic missed opportunity and an astonishing defeat at the first hurdle – making the UK’s claims to global leadership in government openness and accountability look like a joke.

The Open Knowledge Foundation and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency have launched a petition asking the UK government to scrap and rewrite the lobbying bill. You can sign here. It is endorsed by Access Info, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Watch, Greenpeace, Integrity Action, Involve, the Open Rights Group, Spinwatch, the Sunlight Foundation, Unlock Democracy, War on Want and the World Development Movement.

The Open Knowledge Foundation urges the UK Government to stop secret corporate lobbying

Jonathan Gray - December 13, 2013 in Business, Campaigning, Featured, Legal, Open Government Data, Policy

The Open Knowledge Foundation has joined the members of the UK OGP civil society network in signing an open letter which calls on the Government to put an end to secret corporate lobbying.

In its current form the government’s proposed lobbying bill (which is currently going through parliament) will let the vast majority of corporate lobbyists off the hook from being obliged to say who they’re meeting, what decisions they are seeking to influence and how much they are spending. Here are our five reasons why we think this needs to change. If you agree with us, then please sign and share the petition!.

The letter urges Ministers to redraft the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill in order to enable proper public scrutiny of lobbying activity in the UK. Please share this letter (copied below) widely and sign the petition to call on the Government to put a stop to secret lobbying.

The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP
The Rt Hon Andrew Lansley MP
Cabinet Office
70 Whitehall
London
SW1A 2AS

Cc: Deputy Prime Minister
12 December 2013

Dear Mr Maude and Mr Lansley,

Response to Mr Maude’s letter of 1 November 2013 to the UK OGP civil society network re the Government’s commitment to lobbying transparency

As campaigners for greater openness in decision making, we applauded the Coalition commitment in May 2010 to ‘regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency’. However, we are extremely concerned that the current plans, in Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill, will fail to deliver the transparency promised. The proposed register is not fit-for-purpose. In the short time the Government has allowed for debate on the bill, it has been heavily criticised by the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee and Members of Parliament, as well as representatives of the consultancy industry and a wide range of civil society groups.

We urge you to redraft Part 1 of the Bill to:

  • broaden the definition of lobbyist to include all third party consultants and in-house lobbyists, whether corporate, union or charity;
  • extend the definition to include lobbying of mid-ranking civil servants and special advisors; and
  • introduce fuller disclosure requirements to include the target, topic and estimated cost of lobbying activity.

Central to our concerns is the narrow definition of lobbyist. As drafted, the Bill excludes at least eighty per cent of the industry, notably in-house lobbyists. It will also exclude most key consultant lobbyists through a significant loophole: those who in the course of their lobbying do not make contact with Ministers and Permanent Secretaries will not be required to register. This, as lobbyists and the lobbied well know, is the majority of lobbying activity. The justification for such a narrow definition does not stand up to scrutiny. The Government has defined the problem as a lack of transparency about who an agency is representing when it meets with a Minister. Official meeting lists reveal that this would apply to only a handful of meetings. As many in Parliament have pointed out, if this is a genuine problem, it would be better solved with improved disclosure from Ministers.

Of equal concern to us is the lack of any meaningful information on lobbying activity to be included in the proposed register. It would require lobbyists merely to register their clients, but reveal nothing of their interaction with government (i.e. whom they are lobbying, and what they are seeking to influence). This information is essential if the government is to realise its laudable aim through the register of ‘increasing public accountability and public trust in the UK system of government and improving the efficiency of government policy outcomes’. Fuller disclosure would also bring the UK in line with international standards.

The fundamental purpose of introducing a register of lobbyists is to allow the public to examine and understand the activities of lobbyists, to improve government accountability and ultimately to rebuild public trust. It is imperative to have in mind the widely held public perception of how decisions are taken by government, a view summed up by David Cameron as ‘a cosy club at the top making decisions in its own interest’. This lack of trust must be of serious concern to Government. Proper disclosure rules for lobbyists would go a long way to dispel this perception. The reality of lobbying in the UK, which would be revealed in a robust register of lobbyists, would be far more mundane than is popularly imagined. A refusal to introduce genuine transparency, however, would only reinforce the perception that public scrutiny is something politicians would rather avoid.

The shortcomings of the current Bill are all the more surprising considering the leadership you have shown through the Open Government Partnership and your vocal support for greater transparency. The current proposals threaten to undermine not only your ambition to be ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’, but also detract from the OGP initiative. Civil society groups long ago identified a robust register as a key priority for the Partnership, yet we encountered a surprising reluctance from some Cabinet Office officials to engage with us during the development of the proposals. The result is a register that is wholly inadequate.

The Coalition rightly identified ‘secret’ lobbying as an issue of public concern, one which ‘goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics’. ‘We can’t go on like this,’ said David Cameron. We urge you to now fulfil your commitment with a proper register which will allow public scrutiny of lobbying activity in the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Alexandra Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy
Dr Andy Williamson FRSA, Founder, FutureDigital & Chair, Ivo.org
Anne Thurston, Director, International Records Management Trust
Anthony Zacharzewski, democracy campaigner
Gavin Hayman, Director of Campaigns, Global Witness
Graham Gordon, Head of Public Policy, CAFOD
Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy, The Open Knowledge Foundation
Maurice Frankel, Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information
Miles Litvinoff, Coordinator, Publish What You Pay UK
Simon Burall, Director, Involve
Tamasin Cave, Director, Spinwatch
Thomas Hughes, Executive Director, ARTICLE 19

The Open Knowledge Foundation opposes copyright term extensions in TPP negotiations

Jonathan Gray - December 10, 2013 in Campaigning, Policy

The Open Knowledge Foundation has joined a group of civil society organisations and activists from around the world in an open letter opposing proposals to increase the duration of copyright as part of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations.

This follows on from another recent letter asking for greater openness around the TPP negotiations, which have been widely criticised for their lack of transparency or democratic accountability.

An excerpt from the letter is reproduced below.

Dear TPP negotiators,

In a December 7-10 meeting in Singapore you will be asked to endorse a binding obligation to grant copyright protection for 70 years after the death of an author. We urge you to reject the life + 70 year term for copyright.

There is no benefit to society of extending copyright beyond the 50 years mandated by the WTO. While some TPP countries, like the United States, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Singapore or Australia, already have life + 70 (or longer) copyright terms, there is growing recognition that such terms were a mistake, and should be shortened, or modified by requiring formalities for the extended periods.

The primary harm from the life + 70 copyright term is the loss of access to countless books, newspapers, pamphlets, photographs, films, sound recordings and other works that are “owned” but largely not commercialized, forgotten, and lost. The extended terms are also costly to consumers and performers, while benefiting persons and corporate owners that had nothing to do with the creation of the work. Life + 70 is a mistake, and it will be an embarrassment to enshrine this mistake into the largest regional trade agreement ever negotiated.

Sincerely,

Organizations:

American Archivists (SAA)
American Library Association (ALA)
ARTICLE 19
Association for Progressive Communications
Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA)
CIPPIC, the Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic, University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law
Communia Association
Consumers International
Creative Commons
Creative Freedom Foundation
Derechos Digitales
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL)
Free Software Foundation (FSF)
Gene Ethics
International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA)
Internet Archive
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
Modern Poland Foundation
Movement for the Internet Active Users
New Media Rights
Open Knowledge Foundation
OpenMedia.org
Pirate Party Australia
Public Citizen
Public Knowledge (PK)
Wikimedia Foundation
Young Pirates of Europe

Sign our petition asking the UK government to stop secret corporate lobbying

Jonathan Gray - December 9, 2013 in Campaigning, Featured, Transparency

Today the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency are co-launching a petition endorsed by a group of transparency and civil society organisations, asking the UK government to rewrite the lobbying bill to give citizens a proper register of lobbyists in the UK

As we’ve written about before, the lobbying register proposed in the Lobbying Bill (which is currently going through parliament) only covers a small portion of the UK’s £2 billion influence industry. We think this needs to change and call on the government to rewrite the bill to address this. The full text of the petition is copied below, and you can sign up here.

If you’re interested in improving lobbying transparency in your country, you can also join our recently launched global lobbying transparency working group, co-convened with our friends at the Sunlight Foundation.

If you agree with us that citizens should be able to see who is trying to influence government decisions and to what end, please do sign and help us to share the petition to your friends and colleagues:

STOP SECRET CORPORATE LOBBYING

The government is poised to let corporate lobbyists off the hook: we have just weeks to stop them. Having been slammed for proposals that unfairly cracked down on charities, the government is now trying to pass a watered down ‘register of lobbyists’, which would do nothing to stop the malign influence of big corporations over our political system.

For a truly democratic result, all lobbyists must be obliged to say who they’re meeting, what decisions they are seeking to influence and how much they are spending. If the government is serious about rebuilding public trust, it must rewrite its proposals for a lobbying register now, and keep its promise to citizens.

Why is this important?

The UK has a £2 billion commercial lobbying industry – the third largest in the world – that is embedded in our political system. But the government’s current proposal would exclude the vast majority of commercial lobbyists and give the rest an easy ride. The new rules would apply to as little as 5% of all lobbying activity, and those they did affect would hardly have to provide any information at all.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg promised they would run the ‘the most open and transparent government in the world’ but they have yet to deliver on their promise to shine a light on secret corporate lobbying, which advances the interests of the few at the expense of the many. This is their last chance to propose a register that covers all lobbyists and includes meaningful information about their activities.

This petition is coordinated by the Open Knowledge Foundation and the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and endorsed by Access Info, the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, Corporate Europe Observatory, Corporate Watch, Greenpeace, Spinwatch, the Sunlight Foundation, Unlock Democracy and War on Want. If your organisation would like to endorse the petition, please send an email to jonathan.gray@okfn.org.

What needs to happen to enable citizens to Follow the Money around the world?

Jonathan Gray - November 22, 2013 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Public Money, Transparency

The following post is from Alan Hudson, Policy Director (Transparency & Accountability) at ONE and Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Ideas at the Open Knowledge Foundation.

A few weeks back, we launched a new global “Follow the Money” network of organisations pushing for the transparency needed to enable citizens to hold decision-makers to account for the use of public money. We hope that the network will help organisations working on this agenda to share information about what they’re doing, to develop a shared vision and principles around transparency and open data, and to spot opportunities to collaborate and gaps that need to be filled.

To share experience and inform the development of the network, we also organised a “Follow the Money” session at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London, particularly focusing on the needs of campaigners in developing countries.

Participants at “Follow the Money” session at the Open Government Partnership Summit 2013 in London.

After introductions from ONE, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the World Bank’s Robert Hunja (who chaired the session), Seember Nyager from the Public and Private Development Centre in Nigeria spoke about the centre’s work on procurement monitoring. She said while there are laws and tools in place to enable citizens to monitor and report problems with public procurement, these are currently underused and further work is needed to build the capacity of civil society to use them. She said the “Follow the Money” network could help to integrate transparency efforts around revenues, procurement and monitoring.

Justin Arenstein from the African Media Initiative presented a range of projects where citizens and journalists have followed the money to flag corruption and the misuse of public funds – from Azerbaijan to Ghana. He argued that transparency work in this area should be demand driven, outcomes based and citizen-focused, and that transparency campaigners should make sure to team up with, support and build on the work of investigative journalists.

Rocio Moreno from the Global Movement for Budget Transparency, Accountability and Participation spoke about how to make international work impactful at national level, and how to connect and build on national level work to create global momentum. She argued that the “Follow the Money” network needs to focus on how it can support civil society actors at national level.

Martin Tisne from the Omidyar Network responded to the talks arguing that the “Follow the Money” was a good opportunity to enable better cooperation between fiscal transparency advocates and open data advocates. He contended that the volume of information about public money that we potentially have available to us means that campaigners can no longer pore over contracts one at a time, and we need new tools and techniques to follow the money effectively. Also more technical work on standards is needed to enable linking and comparability between different types of data, so that citizens can follow the money from revenue to results.

Oluseun Onigbinde from BudgIT in Nigeria concurred that “Follow the Money” efforts should be driven by the needs of citizens, and should serve to amplify the voices and concerns of citizens so that governments listen and respond to them. He also suggested that “Follow the Money” network should have an institutional focus – working to identify, highlight and spread public policies which enable citizens to follow the money.

We also discussed possible next steps for the “Follow the Money” network with several of its members, which included: principles to ensure open data is a key requirement in fiscal transparency campaigning; work on data standards and interoperability; mapping activities to explain the different ways that public money flows from revenues to results; further work to highlight fiscal transparency needs of public interest campaigners; national and international campaigning and policy work; and investigations and projects to enable citizens to follow the money in different areas.

Overall our sessions and meetings at the Open Government Partnership confirmed that there was strong support and demand for the “Follow the Money” network as a way for advocates to share updates about what they are doing, and to work together more effectively around common goals. We hope that it will contribute towards building a stronger and better connected global fiscal transparency movement. If you’d like to join us, please do head on over to followthemoney.net.

UK takes lead on ending company secrecy at Open Government Partnership Summit

Jonathan Gray - October 31, 2013 in Campaigning, News, Policy

We will be updating this post throughout the morning, as further details are announced. For press contact, call +44 (0)1223 422159 or email press@okfn.org.

This morning UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced the UK’s support for public registers of beneficial ownership, or who really owns companies, at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London.

In his speech he said:

I’m delighted to announce that not only is that register going to go ahead – but that it’s also going to be open to the public.

[...] there are so many wider benefits to making this information available to everyone.

It’s better for businesses here – who will be able to better identify who really owns the companies they’re trading with.

It’s better for developing countries – who will have easy access to all this data, without submitting endless requests for each line of enquiry.

And it’s better for us all to have an open system which everyone has access to – the more eyes that look at this information, the more accurate it will be.

This is a complete world first on transparency and I’m proud Britain is leading the way.

And today I call on the rest of the world to join us in this journey.

[...] together we can close the door on these shadowy, corrupt, illegal practices once and for all.

Currently true company ownership is secret and shell companies are often used to mask the identities of people engaged in a wide variety of illegal activities – from organised crime to corruption, tax evasion to terrorist financing.

The Open Knowledge Foundation is delighted to see the UK taking international leadership on this issue, and we hope the UK’s historic step will encourage other countries to follow suit.

Furthermore we hope that the UK will not only make beneficial ownership information public, but open and machine readable in accordance with the Open Data Charter launched at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland earlier this year.

Laura James, CEO of the Open Knowledge Foundation commented: “Making true company ownership public was the single biggest ask from civil society organisations engaging with the UK government around its National Action Plan, and one of the biggest sticking points in talks leading up to today’s summit. Hence we’re very pleased to see the UK taking the lead on this issue and cracking down on company secrecy.”

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