Hivos International

"Transparency means nothing without active citizens and independent media"

On 28 November 2017, Edwin Huizing, executive director of Hivos, opened the Open Contracting Global Summit together with Gavin Hayman, director of the Open Contracting Partnership, María Zuleta, vice chair of the Open Contracting Partnership’s advisory board, and Hans Docter, director of Sustainable Economic Development at the Dutch foreign ministry. He welcomed the attendees with these words:

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, and everybody in between,

It is a great pleasure and an honour to welcome you all here in Amsterdam - a beautiful city that is built on entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as the downsides that came with this. At present, the city is as close to the world of finance as it is to “mailbox companies”. This shows we have work to do.

Hivos is an integral part of the community

When Hivos started two years ago with our Open Contracting programme as part of the “Dialogue and Dissent” Strategic Partnership – with and funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs – I never thought we would make so much progress so fast. It is a new topic for us, and I am very happy to see the many different relationships that we have built between public and private actors, and between governments and citizens. Hivos has truly become an integral part of this emerging Open Contracting Community.

This is about inequality and access to power

To me, this is not about data, technology or procurement processes. It is about inequality and access to power. It is about people, their rights and their initiatives. That is why Hivos has supported civil society worldwide for almost 50 years now. It is also why we also support the Open Governance Partnership, because governments should not only respond to citizens, but prioritise their rights and needs.

Recently, when the Paradise Papers were published, I saw once again how the rich and famous move in mysterious ways to bring their profits to fiscal no man’s lands like Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and, indeed, the Netherlands. It is not illegal – but it is immoral. It is unfair. That is precisely the problem and one of the reasons why Hivos cooperates with all of you here.

Transparency in itself means nothing

This example shows that transparency in itself means nothing. For positive change, we need active citizens and independent media. They should have their say in public policy, be able to follow the money trails, and hold governments and the private sector to account. This citizen agency is at the core of what we at Hivos call “People Unlimited”.

Key ingredients for success

To succeed, a change of attitude and mind set is required. Openness should be the normal expectation citizens have from their representatives. Key ingredients are: space for a vibrant civil society, a conducive legal framework (including freedom of information, freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, and protections for whistleblowers), and the ability for all citizens to contribute to and profit from public goods and services. Citizens who shape society are essential for a democracy to work well; they are essential, too, for eliminating corruption and restoring trust in governments.

Our demands and proposals

A coherent reform package for good governance and open government is therefore needed, including public access to company registers. This means transparency about the owners of companies, and publishing detailed information about the entire process of public contracting and about budget and spending data. This goes for all countries present, the Netherlands as much as any other. I call upon those in the lead in these efforts to keep running at the front. I call upon all others to join the frontrunners and cooperate with them while stepping up their own pace.

Because most of all, this is about political will. The will to make openness and trust the standard. That entails making a huge jump over a very high hurdle: going from a closed to an open society.

Thank you.