The first annual conference of the Open Government Partnership, an international group set up in New York by the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, Norway, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, the Philippines, and South Africa in September, 2011, will open in Brazil on April 17, 2012. Over the past six months, the partnership has widened to include around 40 new members, and the ambitious current plan is that the event will be attended by approximately 400 envoys – high-level governmental officials and business communities’ delegates – from 53 countries. At the conference, the Partnership candidates will exhibit national programs which should be constant with the objectives listed in the group’s declaration: to increase the availability of information about governmental activities, to civic participation, to implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout national administrations, and to increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability .
Nominally, the Open Government Partnership came into being as a joint US-Brazilian initiative, but the truth that it was invented in Washington and is now pushily offered by the U.S. worldwide is not deeply hidden. The eagerness with which countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine rushed to blend in – and the pressure to join exerted on Russia – invite serious questions. Does it necessarily take a membership in the Open Government Partnership to let the citizens of a country grasp how taxpayers’ money is spent and is it right that Kyiv, Moscow or Baku are unable to “implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout national administrations” unless Washington lends them a hand?
No doubt, in all epochs corruption and untamed lobbing used to be the side effects of democracy, and it is completely natural that the advent of the Internet led people to demand on-line government accountability and maximal quantities of the pertinent information posted on the web. Still, there has to be an explanation why the problem recently jumped to the top of Washington’s list of priorities. At least a few reasons are on the surface.
It should be borne in mind that President Obama won the race to the White House as a vociferous critic of the former Administration, which was widely seen in the U.S. as responsible for shocking incompetence, corruption, and unfair military campaigns unleashed to gain control over the natural resources across the world and to enrich the U.S. military-industrial complex. Reacting to the expectations of the constituency, on the first day of his presidency Obama signed the Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies  stressing that the new Administration “was committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government” and would “work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration”. In a couple of months, Obama introduced the post of a Chief Technology Officer charged with the mission of “using applied technology to help create jobs, reduce the costs of health care and help keep the nation secure” . The latter aspect deserves particular attention. Aneesh Chopra, the tech guru till March, 2012, did a decent job equipping the sites of government agencies with efficient search engines and otherwise facilitating the interactions between citizens and the government, but the signs of public appreciation for the efforts were almost completely missing. At the moment, concerns like the lack of new jobs and affordable medical care tend to overshadow the theme of government openness in the minds of most Americans. Customarily, the U.S. Administration compensates for the sluggishness of progress in domestic affairs by making things look as if the whole world admires the U.S. internal policies and can’t wait to follow the lead. This, in part, may be the motivation behind Obama’s floating the Open Government initiative in his 2010 UN General Assembly talk and casting it, with the assistance from a crew of hastily picked trustees, into a full-scale international partnership. The world’s problem however, is that – “to keep the nation secure” – the U.S. Administration simply can’t but put a potentially reasonable idea to work to undermine other countries. Acquiring leverage over other nations’ administrations is known to be the key element of the U.S. soft power strategy.
Anyone who bothers to read the accompanying documents in addition to the Open Government Partnership’s declaration gets an impression that the whole project is in many regards similar to a useful piece of software infected with a virus meant to hack the computer on which it is installed. The countries which join the partnership and subscribe to what might be perceived as completely rational commitments to fight corruption and to empower the civil society vis-a-vis the bureaucracy unwittingly end up being controlled or heavily influenced by the organizations with the reputations of U.S. “soft power” instruments. The organizations have on multiple occasions been spotted behind transitions like color revolutions or the Arab Spring, which imminently trigger bloodshed and strengthen the U.S. grip on the natural resources of the countries transformed.
It is anything but a coincidence that Samantha Power and Alec Ross are the main ideologists of the Open Government Partnership. The former is a Special Assistant to President Barack Obama and also runs the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights as Senior Director of Multilateral Affairs on the Staff of the National Security Council. In the U.S., Mrs. Power’s ardent advocacy of humanitarian interventions supposed to stop alleged genocides – in the former Yugoslavia, Kosovo, and Iraq – earned her the title of “a humanitarian hawk”. She took a role of the same nature in the case of Libya, causing U.S. experts to attribute to her influence Obama’s eventual decision to use force against the country looted by Western corporations and to back the Islamists who currently enjoy full triumph over its crumbling statehood .
Mrs. Power projected in a 2002 interview that the XXI century would be an era of failed states and countries suffering from poor governance, admitting that, therefore, she favored James Bond-type politicians acting as nation-builders . It largely explains the U.S. interest in nation-builders that Washington serially pushes countries off the brink and then dispatches the James Bond-type characters to handle the resulting armed conflicts.
In contrast to Mrs. Power, U.S. Secretary of State H. Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation Alec Ross, another outspoken apologist of humanitarian interventions and revolutions driven by social media in North Africa and the Middle East, gained international acclaim only a short time ago. In October, 2011, he spoke in Kyiv at a meeting with civil society representatives, which was organized by the U.S. ambassador, and expressed deep satisfaction that governments unable to figure out who had masterminded the Arab Spring were helpless against Facebook and Twitter.
Considering that Power and Ross are U.S. government employees, it makes no sense to blame them for in every way advancing the interests of Washington which traditionally believes in offensives as the best approach to “keeping the nation secure”. There is more logic, though, in examining carefully the roles the White House assigned to the NGOs within the Open Government Partnership. Profound conclusions can be drawn from the fact that Julie McCarthy was appointed by the group’s founders as the director of its support unit. At an early phase of her career, McCarthy served in the U.S. national security sphere as a research associate with the Institute for Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore. In the long run, the U.S. policy in the Asia Pacific region, along with that in the Middle East, grew into a permanent part of her occupation. Later on, McCarthy directed the Open Society Institute’s (OSI) Revenue Watch Program monitoring Iraq’s compliance with terms of the Oil-for-Food Programme until the country’s natural resources were seized by the U.S.. Then McCarthy became the Director of Soros’s Revenue Watch Institute (RWI), an organization with the stated objective of promoting “the effective, transparent and accountable management of oil, gas and mineral resources for the public good” . Since, as noted on the RWI site, the countries sitting on vast mineral riches also happen to be the ones “where poverty, corruption and armed conflict too often converge”, Soros’s institute is ready to promote in them “effective, transparent and accountable management”, leaving it unclear which countries stand to benefit from the assistance . Julie McCarthy further worked as the Adviser for the U.S. mission to the UN and a senior adviser to the Transparency and Accountability Initiative which combines funding from the US Department for International Development with that from the same G. Soros.
The list of civil society bodies involved with any US initiative has to be studied under X-rays as it transpires now and then that the conglomerate of projects, programs, and institutes boils down to a single “humanitarian” heavyweight – the omnipresent Soros Foundation. Predictably, the above applies absolutely to the Open Government Partnership. If, rather than just skim through its web site http://www.opengovpartnership.org/governance-staff-donors, you make a real effort to figure out the hierarchy of affiliations linking the participating institutes and NGOs, the centrality of G. Soros to the picture becomes impossible to overlook. The pattern is just as easily discerned in the list of the 35 civil society representatives whom the committee of the Brazil forum suggests as candidates to the support unit of the partnership  – it appears that all of the people are in various ways linked to Soros’s programs. Chances are that the participating countries will at the last moment become aware of the problem.
As usual, the devil is in the details. The declaration originally released by the partnership founders said that every government would be deciding independently what should be done and how, since the “goal is to foster innovation and spur progress, and not to define standards to be used as a precondition for cooperation or assistance or to rank countries”. However, the partnership’s trailing Minimum Eligibility Criteria carried a passage which read that “in order to participate in OGP, governments must exhibit a demonstrated commitment to open government in four key areas, as measured by objective indicators and validated by independent experts”  and, moreover, that all national governments would, on the basis of the “objective indicators”, be given points for the steps taken. The “key areas” are the taxation system’s transparency, the availability of information, the disclosure of assets and income information by senior officials and elected figures, and citizens’ participation in policy design and implementation. Nothing in the list sounds objectionable, and, in fact, that is what most societies have long been pressing for, but the right to arbitration exercised by “independent experts” armed with their own indicators evokes suspicion.
The main roadblock is not that countries would have to air internationally the stuff like budgetary data, procurement plans, etc. or that spills of potentially sensitive information can make government officials vulnerable to blackmail, which is what agents of every intelligence service in the world dream of. The Partnership’s documents, by the way, contain provisions for the protection of the identities of those who would contribute the information which the people in CIS countries, where the national law-enforcement agencies’ credibility levels are notoriously low, would surely be supplying. The worst of all, governments in partner-countries risk becoming dependent on the “civil society representatives” delegated by Soros’s people to the Partnership board and thus authorized to supervise their respective countries. The records of the Freedom House, Amnesty International, OSCE, etc. leave no illusions as to the agendas of the “independent experts” and the “objective indicators” they rely on.
Consequently, the governments opting for the Open Government Partnership automatically agree to the hacking of control over their countries and to the arrangement under which they would have to compete for points handed out by outside referees. It renders further comments superfluous that the points are, as a general rule, dispensed in line with Washington’s preferences.