On a rainy Friday morning during the first week of this month, a young woman got on the stage of the auditorium in Queen Elizabeth Conference Center in Central London to talk about open government. Even though it was windy and dark outside, Vivienne Suerte-Cortez was smiling and full of energy on the stage. Suerte-Cortez is an accountability and transparency expert from the Philippines. Dressed in her gray jacket, she started to talk about Citizen Participatory Audit (CPA), a project in the Philippines that encourages citizens to participate in the audit process for government projects and explores how to ensure efficient use of public resources by the government. She stood in front of the stage that read "Open Government Partnership Summit," a gathering to celebrate the success of the programs and projects that are opening up governments around the world. Suerte-Cortez was one of the seven "Bright Spot Finalists" at the summit -- all of them talked about what they have done in their countries to make their government more accountable and open. Bright Spot Finalists are a group of young people who are pioneering open government movement worldwide.
As I was listening to Suerte-Cortez speak about how she worked to open up her government, I couldn't help but think about my own country, Nepal. In 2011, I went to a government office in Nepal to pay land taxes on behalf of my family. After looking at my papers, the officer with a potbelly said they were not filled out properly. Surprised, I asked him what was wrong. He stood up and asked me to follow him. Outside his office, he politely offered help to fill out my "papers properly" if I gave him some cash.
I refused and threatened to contact his manager. Unexpectedly, he said that if I brought my updated papers the next day, he could process my application. Cases like this happen every day in Nepal. My landlocked country just overcame civil war and is one of the poorest on the planet. It is also, unfortunately, one of the most corrupt countries. This year Transparency International ranked Nepal 139th out of 176 in its Corruption Index report. As a traditionally feudal society, we are working to establish a stable democracy. The idea of transparency is new but gaining traction in the populace. The World Bank recently supported the launch of the Open Nepal initiative. Making sure government records are accessible and comprehensible can be a key to combating corruption.
Young people like Suerte-Cortez are going to be one of the main drivers of open governments globally. At the end of the Open Government Summit in London, Suerte-Cortez's project won the Bright Spot award for engaging citizens to hold their leaders accountable.
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