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Openness and Transparency – Pillars for Democracy, Trust and Progress

By Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General

Openness and transparency are key ingredients to build accountability and trust, which are necessary for the functioning of democracies and market economies. Openness is one of the key values that guide the OECD vision for a stronger, cleaner, fairer world. This is why the OECD welcomes the launch of the Open Government Partnership today and the efforts led by Presidents Obama and Rousseff to promote government transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens and maximise the potential of new technologies to strengthen accountability and foster participation in public affairs.

For 50 years, Openness has been a cornerstone of our mission to develop the best public policies in order to improve people’s lives by promoting open markets and inclusive wealth. In fulfilling this mission we focused on “better policies for better lives” based on empirical evidence for such policies. Evidence is a product of correct and precise information. Our guiding working method is to share evidence-based knowledge, information and policy advice with governmental and non-governmental stakeholders, as well as with the public to prepare the ground for informed public policy decisions.

Specific examples of knowledge sharing include, among others, the Global Forum for Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Matters, the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, but also our country reviews as an example of peer learning.

The OECD has been at the forefront of efforts to promote and protect the free flow of information. We believe this to be a fundamental human right. We also encourage efforts to protect personal data, the freedom of expression, and other rights. We have underpinned this with leading work on Open and Innovative Government. An “open” government is transparent, accessible to anyone, anytime, anywhere; and responsive to new ideas and demands. Governments and international organisations have to lead by example, aligning disclosure and dissemination procedures with modern information management practices. We are working to meet this imperative in four dimensions:

  • First, the OECD has developed a range of instruments to help governments ensure that openness translates into concrete improvements in key activities of government. Instruments such as the Principles for Integrity in Public Procurement, the Best Practices for Budget Transparency, the Principles for Transparency and Integrity in Lobbying and the Guidelines for Managing Conflict of Interest in the Public Service — not only help mitigate corruption risks but also improve efficiency and ultimately contribute to public trust. Guidance on support to building and using Public Financial Management systems in developing countries emphasises transparency in budget processes, and our guidance on using national procurement systems also emphasises building transparent systems in developing countries. We also compare public sector performance in health, education and many other policy areas across countries. Our work on the PISA for example, has had significant impact on education policy making by developing cross-country comparable indicators on education performance for the first time. This promotes accountability, discussion and participation of citizens.
  • Second, e-Government, Internet-based technologies and applications will be crucial components for open, transparent and accessible governments. Therefore OECD Ministers adopted the Seoul Declaration at their meeting on the Future of the Internet Economy which highlighted the importance of an open Internet to help bolster the free flow of information, freedom of expression and protection of individual liberties. We also emphasized the need for governments to ensure that public sector information is made widely available. OECD governments have adopted a Recommendation on Public Sector Information which provides policy guidelines designed to improve access and increase use of public sector information through greater transparency, enhanced competition and more competitive pricing.
  • Third, in the area of development co-operation, regular reviews of development partner (donor) countries ensure transparency with regard to their aid policies and practices as well as compliance with their commitments. Aid statistics that can be accessed and used by all provide information on what type of aid development partners provide, to whom and for what purpose.
  • Fourth, on Anti-Corruption matters, we work with our members to promote greater transparency as a means to fight corruption. Currently we are working with partner developing countries to set up web-based reporting systems on corruption at country level. For example, our just released progress report on OECD members’ performance with respect to their commitments on Stolen Asset Recovery shows clearly how much funding has been repatriated, how much has been frozen and highlights areas for improvement in this effort. We have also produced guidelines to help governments fight bid-rigging and other types of collusion.

We see our work as a public good and are committed to making information open and accessible. This is consistent with our mission and part of our mandate. We believe that an organisation like ours has a democratic duty to provide citizens with the information that allows them to understand the day’s main issues. For us, openness also means that citizens should be able to use that information to shape policy.

To put this commitment into practice, we work with multiple civil society actors, with business and trade unions (through BIAC and TUAC, who have an institutionalized advisory role to the OECD), public stakeholders (including in legislative branches), the global media and citizens in member and partner countries. We work to maximise the impact and dissemination of OECD knowledge by translating complex content into easily accessible products. We use new interactive and innovative instruments such as Your Better Life Index ( to engage with citizens on issues of central concern to their lives, and empower them to feedback their opinions to their governments.

The OECD wholeheartedly supports efforts to increase openness and transparency through the free flow of information and the sharing of knowledge.

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