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Obama lauds efforts in Indian villages to empower citizens

September 21, 2011 14:46 IST

United States President Barack Obama lauded efforts being made in villages across India to empower citizens and promote transparency in governance at a global forum in New York, which incidentally India has decided not to join.

The forum on 'Open Government Partnership' is a US and Brazil-led eight nation initiative aimed at supporting national efforts to promote transparency, fight corruption, strengthen accountability and empower citizens.

Despite being invited, India has not joined the initiative, which has been embraced by about 40 other nations as well as civil society. Obama said the partnership is working to transform how governments serve their citizens in the 21st century, an era where "new generations across the Middle East and North Africa assert the old truth that government exists for the benefit of their people".

"Countries from Mexico to Turkey to Liberia have passed laws guaranteeing citizens the right to information. From Tanzania to Indonesia -- and as I saw first hand during my visit to India -- rural villages are organising and making their voices heard, and getting the public services that they need," he said.

Obama said that civil society groups in countries like Chile, Kenya and the Philippines are giving citizens new tools to report corruption.

"This is exactly the kind of partnership that we need now, as emerging democracies from Latin America to Africa to Asia are all showing how innovations in open government can help make countries more prosperous and more just...and as young people everywhere, from teeming cities to remote villages, are logging on, and texting, and tweeting and demanding government that is just as fast, just as smart, just as accountable," the US President said.

Earlier, a senior US administration official said while India met the criteria and was very much invited to be part of the partnership; it has as of this point chosen not to join. However, the Indian civil society is represented in the steering committee, the official said.

The initiative has its roots in a challenge Obama gave to nations at last year's UN General Assembly to return a year later with specific commitments to promote transparency, fight graft, energise civic engagement and leverage new technologies.

Besides the US and Brazil, countries which are part of the eight-member group are Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, Norway, the Philippines and Britain.

"Today, we're joined by nations and organisations from around the world that are answering this challenge. This, I believe, is how progress will be achieved in the 21st century-- meeting global challenges through global cooperation, across all levels of society."

Obama said the eight founding nations of the partnership have agreed to an 'Open Government Declaration,' under which they pledge to be more transparent at every-level since more information on government activity should be open, timely and freely available to the people.

"We pledge to engage more of our citizens in decision-making -- because it makes government more effective and responsive. We pledge to implement the highest standards of integrity -- because those in power must serve the people, not themselves. And we pledge to increase access to technology-- because in this digital century, access to information is a right that is universal," he said.

In putting these principles into practice, every country that joins this partnership would work with civil society groups to develop an action plan of specific commitments.

On its part the US is launching an online tool called "We the People" to allow Americans to directly petition the White House. Obama said the US is willing to share this technology with any government so that its citizens also have the same resource to question their government.

The US will also work to reform and expand protections for whistle-blowers who expose government waste, fraud and abuse.

"We're continuing our leadership of the global effort against corruption, by building on legislation that now requires oil, gas and mining companies to disclose the payments that foreign governments demand of them," the President said.

Yoshita Singh in New York
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