Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for providing Transparency International with the opportunity to contribute, once again, to the work of the OAS Special Committee on Inter-American Summits Management as it prepares for the Third Summit of the Americas. We commend you and the members of the Committee for organizing this series of consultations with civil society.
"Connectivity in the Summit Agenda" is of particular interest to Transparency International. With over 70 chapters worldwide, including 19 here in the Americas, we appreciate the enormous value of connectivity. For example, the success of our advocacy efforts depends on our ability to receive and disseminate information broadly and quickly. In addition, our website provides a wealth of information, including extensive examples of best practices in transparency and integrity that are provided by and used by governments, the private sector, financial institutions, and other NGOs.
Perhaps most important, the web can be a useful tool by which to hold governments accountable. However, its potential to be such a powerful tool, promoting accountability and democratic institutions, will depend on whether there is the underlying political will throughout the region to use it for that purpose.
Today’s meeting implies that there is such a political will – at least in some quarters—to draw on and to draw in civil society. But, a broader look at the region and a deeper examination of the processes at this and other institutions raises concern about the extent of the public sector’s commitment to provide citizens with adequate information and opportunities for participation.
Connectivity will only live up to its promise if there is a change among those in the public sector who view civil society as, at worst, a threat or at best, a nuisance rather than as a valued partner.
Let me illustrate connectivity’s potential by referring to TI’s recommendations for the Summit, which we presented at the last consultation held by this committee.
At the June 2000 OAS General Assembly meeting, ministers adopted a resolution [AG/RES. 1723] calling for a recommendation by year-end on the most appropriate model drawing on experience in other fora. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Alice of Argentina, the OAS Working Group on Probity is already deeply engaged in discussions in order to fulfill that mandate.
Experience in other fora has demonstrated that the elements that are essential for effective mutual review mechanisms are also those that could benefit from the use of information technology. They are:
The OAS and the Legal Secretariat have already taken noteworthy steps on the first two elements, but the Working Group is still deliberating how they will handle the other two. If this mechanism is really to be effective, and the potential value of the Convention depends on it, then the members will have to agree to disseminate information and to secure citizen input. With that agreement, technology can provide a mechanism for achieving those objectives. It can also reduce the financial burden on countries concerned about resources by using technology, such as video conferencing and on-line submissions.
Meaningful opportunities for public participation and regular publication of information are indispensable to creating accountable public institutions, support trade and investment, and build public trust. Yet, TI chapters in the Americas report that there are considerable variations in the current status, with only limited information published in some countries, inadequate access to information in others, and, in most, few regular opportunities for public participation in decision-making. It is clear that this is an area where concrete steps are needed and where information technology can provide a useful mechanism.
This is clearly an area where information technology can also be a powerful tool for disseminating information. Several governments in the region have recognized its power and have already put substantial amounts of procurement information on-line. At a minimum, leaders should agree at the Summit to put online all procurement laws and regulations, specifications, tender opportunities, evaluation criteria, standards, and notices of awards as an FTAA Business Facilitation Measure for 2001.
Those governments that have already done so should share their experiences and indicate the extent of cost savings that have been generated. The IDB should assist with the funding and technical resources that may be necessary.
Before moving away from the FTAA arena, I would like to take this opportunity to mention the Committee of Government Representatives on the Participation of Civil Society. This is a clear example of what has not worked. In the last round, this committee did little to solicit input and so received little. It provided no opportunity for an exchange of views, merely passing along summaries of submissions to ministers. We hope that the FTAA committee will consider this committee’s public consultations and alter its procedures accordingly in the months leading up to the Summit.
These are a few of the areas where a information technology can help promote our mutual objectives of strengthening democracy, social development, and economic growth and integration. The Committee’s excellent background paper raises the fundamental challenges of access, content and resources. I hope that TI’s specific recommendations will be considered for inclusion in the Connectivity Agenda and that the technology available in 2000 will help bring to fruition the commitments Leaders made in 1994.