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Sri Lanka joins the Open Government Partnership

SLjoinsOGPartnership-JusticeMinister

Sri Lanka endorsed the Open Government Declaration committing “to foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government,” thereby becoming the newest participating country of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Sri Lanka is the only South Asian participating country in the OGP and joins other countries in the Asian region such as Indonesia, Mongolia, Philippines and Republic of Korea. 

 

The Open Government Partnership is a multilateral initiative by the United States launched in 2011 to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens.  From its initial 8 countries - Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States – the OGP has now grown to 69 participating countries, encompassing countries of both the developed and developing world. OGP aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a Steering Committee, which includes representatives of governments and civil society organizations.

 

Welcoming Sri Lanka as a new member of the OGP, Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who headed the Sri Lankan delegation to the OGP Global Summit currently being held in Mexico City, was accorded the honour of being the first plenary speaker at the inauguration presided over by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. 

 

Addressing the plenary Minister Rajapakshe said that "the Government  of Sri Lanka has decided to join the OGP, extending recently initiated good governance practices towards an open government and that "the Open Government Declaration that Sri Lanka has just endorsed is very much in line with our government’s vision for Sri Lanka.”

 

He said, “as Sri Lanka joins the OGP, we recognize that the threshold required to be a truly open government has been raised. This makes us even more determined to walk this path together with participating states of the OGP and civil society members, learning from your experiences, and obtaining expertise whenever necessary to build our own capacities, to reach the required benchmarks.  And as our government has already demonstrated, we keep our promises.”

 

The first step towards full OGP participation is meeting the OGP eligibility criteria. In order to be eligible to participate in OGP, governments must demonstrate a minimum level of commitment to open government principles in four key areas of Fiscal Transparency, Access to Information, Income and Asset Disclosures, and Citizen Engagement. Sri Lanka became eligible to join earlier this year, having met the required criteria and scoring 14 of a total of 16 points.

 

The delegation to the OGP summit also included Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Harsha de Silva, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US Prasad Kariyawasam and officials of the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C. and the Ministry of Justice. 

 

The full statement of Minister Rajapakshe is appended below. 

 

Ministry of Foreign Affairs 

Colombo

 

29 October 2015 

 

 

Statement by Hon. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Minister of Justice on 

Sri Lanka joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP), 

OGP Global Summit, October 28th, 2015, Mexico City 

 

 

His Excellency Enrique Peña Nieto

Members of the OGP Steering Committee, 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

At the outset, I offer my profound gratitude to President Peña Nieto and the Mexican government for its gracious welcome and hospitality accorded to us in this historic city of Mexico. I also congratulate Mexico, as the outgoing lead chair of the Open Government Partnership for its efficient stewardship of this forum and look forward to working with co-chairs South Africa and France in the coming year. 

 

We are honoured that Sri Lanka has been welcomed as a participating country of this unique forum which aims at making governments transparent, accountable and more responsive to its citizens. The government I happily represent today was elected to office at the beginning of this year on a platform of reforms for transforming Sri Lanka into a modern democratic nation that truly respects public will and upholds accountability.  

 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, this year, at two successive elections, the people of Sri Lanka peacefully voted for changing the course of the country that had been besieged by authoritarian rule for almost a decade.  Public discontent with governance and the lack of transparency and accountability propelled a people’s movement for reform proving that, under right conditions, it is possible for people to make or break governments, peacefully.  Our people have proven that citizens will and should be at the heart of the destiny of any country.  Importantly, the events this year reaffirm the resilience of our democracy and make it apparent that it is the people that demand an ‘open government’ for my country.

 

Recognizing this innate desire of the people, the Government of Sri Lanka has now decided to join the OGP, extending recently initiated good governance practices towards an open government.  In fact, the Open Government Declaration that Sri Lanka has just endorsed is very much in line with our government’s vision for Sri Lanka. 

 

We recognize the challenge of making this vision a practical reality on the ground. We reckon that the bureaucracy and the society at large must imbibe and adopt the transformation and own the reforms.   We nevertheless believe that we are already on the right path and the government and the people are already making the paradigm shift needed in direction and substance.  

 

For instance, through the 19th amendment to the Constitution in April, Right to Information was made a fundamental right in our Constitution, along with path-breaking constitutional changes that have diluted the powers of the executive and given more power to the legislature, making governance more transparent and accountable to the people.  We also expect the Right to Information Act to be adopted by the Parliament soon. 

 

Fighting corruption and strengthening the rule of law is another important element in the government’s agenda. Given the heights to which corruption had soared in the past several years, one of the first steps of the government upon taking office was to give new life to the existing institutions with an anti-corruption mandate and to form several new bodies charged with fighting corruption. In this respect, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Serious Acts of Fraud, Corruption, and Abuse of Power (PRECIFAC) has begun regular hearings dedicated to rooting out the sources of corruption. We have freed law enforcement authorities and the judiciary from political meddling in order to ensure that decisions by these institutions are fair and transparent. Under our administration we have also resumed the publishing of monthly fiscal data which was discontinued under the previous administration. We are also considering promulgating a code of ethics for parliamentarians and a code of ethics for all public sector officials to ensure that these individuals carry out services to the public more efficiently and transparently. 

 

Sri Lanka already has a vocal civil society, but the government reckons that public consultation in the decision-making processes must be the norm rather than the exception, so that we give greater depth and credibility to our decisions.  I must highlight in the regard the Constitutional Council, of which I am a member, which was reinstated this year under the 19thamendment to the Constitution. The Constitutional Council appoints members to ten independent commissions including on elections, public service, police, audit, bribery and corruption, and has three civil society representatives sitting as members. This is in stark contrast to the previous Parliamentary Council which had no civil society representation and appointments were made at the discretion of the President. 

 

The government has also created an environment for the media to operate freely without any intimidation as a key priority of the government. 

 

Coming out of an armed conflict that lasted for nearly 30 years, Sri Lanka is in the process of rebuilding the country on a two-pronged approach: development together with reconciliation. This will ensure that while we rebuild destroyed infrastructure and rehabilitate war-ravaged areas of the country, the hearts and minds of victims will not remain scarred. To this end, the government, as explained recently at the Human Rights Council, in consultation with all stakeholders, will set up mechanisms to address truth-seeking, justice, reparations and non-recurrence in pursuit of reconciliation.  The expected outcome would be a Truth Commission, a Missing Persons Office, a judicial mechanism with Special Counsel, an Office of Reparations as well as administrative and judicial reforms that will address grievances of all communities. The government looks forward to establishing these mechanisms in line with the principles of transparency, accountability and civic participation. 

 

The Government fully understands the importance of harnessing the power of new technologies for more effective government.  And we are pleased that several steps in this direction have already been taken. Launching an island-wide programme to provide free wifi access in public places and partnering with Google to  provide island-wide 3G internet access through the innovative Google Loon technology will, no doubt, create conditions for a better informed society, making government administration even more transparent and accessible.

 

As we join the OGP, we recognize that the threshold required to be a truly open government has been raised. This makes us even more determined to walk this path together with participating states of the OGP and civil society members, learning from your experiences, and obtaining expertise whenever necessary to build our own capacities, to reach the required benchmarks.  And as our government has already demonstrated, we keep our promises.

 

Thank you

***

 

 

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