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OGP Western Balkans Dialogue helps build a ‘stronger region’ (+video)

Image1The regional cooperation on display at the first “Western Balkans Dialogue” is an essential component of efforts to build a stronger and more secure region, according to David Muniz, Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Tirana.

“The (Open Goverment) Partnership is now is a global community of government reformers, civil society leaders, and business innovators, working together to advance good governance and to implement ambitious open government reforms,” Muniz said, speaking at “Open Government, Engaged Citizens: A Learn and Show Initiative to Make Open Government Partnership Work” in Tirana, Albania, September 10.

“Your presence here today, at the Balkans OGP Dialogue, highlights both the importance of this partnership and recognizes this region’s progress towards eventual membership in Euro-Atlantic structures.”

The two-day event, organized by the Institute for Democracy and Mediation (IDM), attracted hundreds of international participants to focus on effective initiatives to further open government in the region.

The gathering was part of Advocacy for Open Government, an EU-funded PASOS project to encourage governments in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia to become more transparent. OGP is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

“We know that countries with open governments will become more secure, peaceful, and prosperous. This why we were one of the founding members of the Partnership and have taken steps to make our own government more transparent, effective, and accountable as a result,” Muniz told the participants.

“We hope that through dialogue such as this one you will collaborate to create initiatives that further open government in countries throughout the region. Regional cooperation, especially through OGP, is essential for progress toward a stronger and more successful Balkan region.”

Muniz made his remarks during a series of welcome speeches that opened the conference. Other speakers included Nicola Bertolini, Head of Sector for Civil Society and Social and Territorial Cooperation. DG NEAR, European Commission; and Milena Harito, Minister of Innovation and Public Administration/Albanian National OGP Coordinator.

The speeches were followed by a series of panel discussions and workshops on such topics as corruption, public procurement, delivery of public services, open data, state capture, creating safer communites, and open parliaments.

Paul Maassen, Director for Civil Society Engagement at the Open Government Partnership, told the gathering that one way to help insure the success of the OPG is for individual countries to focus on particular aspects of transparency to set an example for other countries in the region. He said one important challenge was getting government officials to change the way they think about information.

“Involving citizens, and really listening to citizens, is what is really difficult for governments, and where peer learning would really help,” he said. “I think we need more people that speak the language of open government so skillfully and so passionately that they convince others to speak the same language.”

Representatives from PASOS members that are partners in Advocacy for Open Government appeared on a panel to offer updates on how the project is progressing in their countries.

IDM, which hosted the conference in cooperation with the Albanian government’s Office of the OGP National Coordinator/Minister of Innovation and Public Administration, intends the event to become a regularly scheduled forum.

Below are videos of the event’s opening and closing plenaries: