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Korea offers hope of encouraging civic participation and protecting civil liberties: OGP Secretary General

CEO of Open Government Partnership Sanjay Pradhan speaks with The Korea Herald on Saturday at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul. (OGP Global Summit Task Force)
CEO of Open Government Partnership Sanjay Pradhan speaks with The Korea Herald on Saturday at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul. (OGP Global Summit Task Force)
At a time when civil liberties are under attack in countries around the world, South Korea offers hope in demonstrating a different approach of encouraging civic participation and protecting civil liberties, said Sanjay Pradhan, chief executive of the Open Government Partnership during an interview with The Korea Herald on Saturday at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul.

According to Pradhan, Gwanghwamun Square is an inspirational example because after candlelit protests brought down the previous government, the new Moon Jae-in administration invited the people back to Gwanghwamun to propose policies that respond to their needs.

“Open government and vibrant democracy is in the DNA of Koreans,” Pradhan stressed.

Pradhan, who also previously served as vice president of the World Bank Institute, visited Seoul to attend the Open Government Partnership conference, one of the programs of the Korean government’s Innovation Expo for discussing the value of open government activities ahead of the OGP Global Summit to be hosted by Korea in December.

OGP is an organization of reformers inside and outside of government working to transform how governments serve their people.

Pradhan referred to President Moon Jae-in’s recent participation in climate action at the World Leaders Summit for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, saying that a commission from Korea with strong civic participation contributed in addressing the climate and appreciated Moon administration to engage civil society for climate action.

Pradhan expressed hope to build a stronger partnership with the Korean government, related organizations and civil societies in Korea working on climate change.

Discussing how open government approaches can help to renew democracy and better tackle the multiple crises the world is facing now, Pradhan said Korea joined the OGP in 2011 and demonstrated global leadership in three notable areas -- open procurement contracts, pandemic response and protection of civil liberties and civic participation -- through five national action plans with 64 reform commitments over the years.

“Korea’s digitization and transparency of electronic procurement system called Korea Online E-Procurement System, or Koneps, has saved the public sector $1.4 billion and businesses $6.6 billion in costs. The time to process bids dropped from 30 hours to just two,” he said.

Pradhan highlighted how Korea has managed its way through the pandemic remarkably well by international standards.

According to Pradhan, Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand, had transparent disclosure of risks built trust with citizens who took remedial actions, saving lives, however, in Iran, US and China, initial political denial delayed disclosure of risks, and costing lives.

“Korea has kept caseloads manageable without a lockdown, successfully held national elections that saw a historic rate of participation and even exported protective equipment and experiences to other countries around the world,” Pradhan said, indicating Korea as a good model.

He said as co-chair of the Open Government Partnership, Korea issued a call of action for all OGP members to advance, scale up reforms such as in fighting corruption and respond to challenges, and in response, half of all commitments in this year’s action plans have responded to Korea’s call.

Korea will host the 2021 Open Government Partnership Global Summit from Dec. 15-17.

“As co-chair of 78-country partnership, Korea’s leadership is so fitting because it’s a global leader in open government and a vibrant democracy is of existential importance to the country, in stark contrast to the closed, autocratic government of its neighbor in the North.” Pradhan said, asked about the significance of Korea hosting the summit.

Stressing the timing of the summit amid confronting a crisis of democracy today, Pradhan pointed out that domestically, citizen trust in governments has fallen to an all-time low as people perceive their governments to be unresponsive to their needs or corrupt and captured by special interests.

He said the last 15 years have seen the rise of authoritarian and populist leaders globally in Hungary, Turkey, Tanzania, Russia and beyond, attacking democratic institutions.
Sanjay Pradhan discusses the status of civil liberty, the ability of citizens to freely speak, associate and assemble and the ability of journalists and activists to function in the world today on Saturday at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul. (OGP Global Summit Task Force)
Sanjay Pradhan discusses the status of civil liberty, the ability of citizens to freely speak, associate and assemble and the ability of journalists and activists to function in the world today on Saturday at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul. (OGP Global Summit Task Force)
According to Pradhan, 70 countries are currently planning to open contracts because of pressure to advance reforms at the country level with four frontiers: transparency, citizen’s participation, openness of government to the marginalized and leveraging digital technology and civil liberty.

He said that digital tech and civil liberty are under attack due to disinformation and threats to individual privacy online recently, and OGP countries are taking action to not only leverage technology, but to also combat disinformation, like regulating online political ads in the Netherland and Canada.

Pradhan also discussed the status of civil liberty, the ability of citizens to freely speak, associate and assemble and the ability of journalists and activists to function in the world today.

“Journalists and activists are under attack in many parts of the world,” he highlighted, admitting the OGP has not done so well in this area and that civil liberties in OGP countries have declined.

“Korea here can play an important role because Korea is a vibrant democracy, Gwanghwamun Square’s candlelight movement are very good examples, Korea has put this on agenda, it’s an area OGP countries have to do much,” Pradhan suggested.

By Sanjay Kumar (sanjaykumar@heraldcorp.com)
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