Announced by Vice President Pence two years ago, the Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative includes more than $1 billion in programs that promote civil society, rule of law, and transparent and accountable governance across the region.
The support of the United States for good governance is integral to our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and to U.S. foreign policy and national security generally. Weak institutions, corruption, opaque business environments, and poor human rights conditions, drive away private-sector investment and enable foreign malign influence in too many societies. Indo-Pacific nations and regional institutions identify transparency as fundamental to the realization of our shared Indo-Pacific vision, including in ASEAN’s Outlook on the Indo-Pacific.
The Transparency Initiative encompasses over 200 programs developed by a range of U.S. government agencies focused on anti-corruption and fiscal transparency, democracy assistance, youth and emerging leader development, media and internet freedom, and protecting fundamental freedoms and human rights.
Anti-Corruption and Fiscal Transparency:
- State Department anti-corruption efforts include the work of the Global Anti-Corruption Consortium (GACC), a groundbreaking initiative that brings together investigative journalists and advocacy groups to expose corruption, drive reform, and facilitate action by governments and international organizations. The United States and Australia are founding members of the GACC and have contributed diplomatic and financial support to the multi-donor initiative since its launch in 2016.
- In September, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) hosted the second annual U.S.-Taiwan Consultations on Democratic Governance in the Indo-Pacific Region in Taipei, which was led by the Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) and focused on advancing good governance, human rights, anti-corruption, women’s economic empowerment, and the Women, Peace and Security strategy in the region. The Consultations were followed in October by a Civil Society Capstone Event attended by AIT, DRL, local Taiwan civil society representatives, and international NGOs. During the capstone event, NGO representatives made important announcements regarding the opening offices in Taipei and democratic governance workshops that will be conducted over the coming year.
- In Maldives, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s U.S. Support for Economic Growth in Asia (US-SEGA) activity has strengthened public financial management through improved budget formulation and public investment management. US-SEGA supported the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of National Planning and Infrastructure, and others in their transition to program-based budgeting (PBB) and increased their capacity for planning and assessing infrastructure projects. By implementing a PBB framework, the Government of Maldives (GOM) agencies now systematically develop and present budgets that reflect annual and long-term GOM goals and priorities, including for public investment management.
- Nepal is in the midst of an historic transition to a federal structure, requiring new systems and business processes at the local government level. Among them, the country’s Public Financial Management System, an online budget planning, accounting, and reporting system used at the federal level, is crucial for local governments to be able to expend public funds effectively, efficiently, and transparently. In 2019, USAID trained 753 local governments on how to use the online system. To date, 711 local governments have used this system for revenue estimation, 697 have used it for budgeting and accounting, and 510 have used it for expenditure accounting and reporting.
- In the Philippines, USAID’s Facilitating Public Investment (FPI) and E-PESO activities increase accountability in public finance and budget by improving the government’s financial management systems. FPI’s promotion of automated tax filing and public sector budgeting improved the effectiveness of tax administration, and USAID-supported procurement reforms through FPI brought transparency to 20 percent of the Philippines’ $16 billion annual budget. E-PESO’s expansion of automated payments strengthened oversight of 80 percent of the government’s internal revenue by promoting interoperability across e-payment transaction accounts.
- USAID supported the Government of Sri Lanka’s May 2019 launch of an e-government procurement (e-GP) platform, helping the government transition from a paper-based procurement process to a fully automated one. The e-GP platform increases capacity for good governance practices in Sri Lanka’s procurement process. Such efforts will improve the country’s public sector governance systems. The first use of the new platform by the Government of Sri Lanka was in March 2020 when it undertook four large procurements for the Health Ministry in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.
- With funding from U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Justice is providing technical assistance to Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission to improve its ability to investigate and prosecute procurement fraud.
- USAID is helping advance the ASEAN Single Window for trade facilitation, an ASEAN Economic Community mechanism for speeding clearance procedures and reducing costs for traders. Initial negotiations with ASEAN on an agreement to simplify the electronic exchange of trade documents and data between ASEAN and the U.S. Automated Commercial Environment mark the next phase of this long-term collaborative effort. Linking the ASEAN Single Window and Automated Commercial Environment will reduce trade while increasing US-ASEAN total trade of $272 billion in 2018 (five percent of total U.S. trade) to a much greater value.
- The Secretary of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI), through the Women Entrepreneur’s Finance Initiative (We-Fi), part of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (W-GDP) initiative, harnesses the public and private sectors to promote systematic change and open new doors for women entrepreneurs across the developing world. We-Fi supports women entrepreneurs by scaling up access to finance, markets, networks, mentors, and information, as well as improving the enabling environment. We-Fi includes work in Bangladesh, Fiji, India Philippines, Papua New Guinea, and Vietnam.
- The United States and Australia are funding a multi-pronged effort to support democratic elections in Burma. Activities include providing technical assistance to the election commission to expand voter outreach efforts and enable the commission to safeguard the integrity of the process. The programs equip political parties, women, and youth candidates with an improved understanding of election procedures and regulations and enable Burma’s emerging leaders, including women, young adult candidates, and future political leaders, to attend Leadership Training Schools in Burma’s states and regions. Activities will also support international election observers and post-election dispute resolution. Also, with the emergence of COVID-19, and especially given surges in caseloads in September and October before the November elections, USAID provided funds for 170,000 hand sanitizers for polling stations and one million masks for poll workers, and worked with the government on expanding the number of polling places in order to facilitate socially distanced options for voting.
- In the Pacific Islands, USAID is assisting the Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands through the Strengthening Democratic Governance initiative. Working through its partners in Bougainville, USAID provided technical assistance to the Electoral Commission during the August 2020 election period, promoting inclusivity and the safe conduct of elections during a pandemic. It also supported the Bougainville Women’s Federation as it mobilized women to participate in the election and provided election oversight. USAID is also assisting the Solomon Islands Election Commission as it implements strategic reforms while overseeing elections at multiple levels of government. USAID will support programs to promote women and youth participation in local government and strategic planning at the ward and provincial levels.
- Under the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, the Department of State supports transparency and hydrological data sharing with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) by the PRC. In October, the United States, in partnership with the East-West Center in Washington, D.C., organized the virtual Indo-Pacific Conference on Strengthening Governance of Transboundary Rivers. The conference convened policymakers, academics, members of civil society, and other transboundary river stakeholders from across the Indo-Pacific region to share best practices related to the sustainable development and cooperative management of transboundary rivers. Assistant Secretary Stilwell underscored the United States’ commitment to the Mekong region, as evidenced by the $3.5 billion the United States provided in the region since 2009, as well as our enduring support to the MRC and transparent regional river governance. Assistant Secretary Stilwell also raised U.S. concerns over China’s unilateral manipulation of Mekong River flows and the need for comprehensive, year-round water data sharing through the MRC.
Youth and Emerging Leader Development:
- The U.S. Department of State and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, via their Pacific Women program, fund the PNG Women’s Business Resource Center (PNGWBRC) in Papua New Guinea (PNG), which is run by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE). The PNGWBRC has empowered more than 1,000 local women through education and networking on supply chains, financial literacy and other entrepreneurship, leadership, and civil engagement topics. Through the relationships and networks formed via the PNGWBRC, CIPE launched the first PNG Women’s Business Agenda (WBA) in February 2020 to provide public platforms for emerging PNG women business owners and leaders, and to channel advocacy for regulatory, legislative, and institutional strengthening and reforms to support women’s economic empowerment. This coalition of PNG women working on the PNGWBA has been named the Business Advocacy Network (BAN).
- USAID’s Niti Simbad activity in Nepal bolstered the political engagement of women and marginalized groups by assisting them in understanding their rights, roles, and responsibilities, and supporting them to effectively fill leadership roles. Policy fora supported by Niti Simbad worked with over 1,000 individuals to increase awareness of political rights and ensure stronger enforcement of existing nondiscrimination laws and policies. In addition, USAID’s CS:MAP activity developed platforms in 57 local governments where marginalized groups and civil society organizations advocate for their interests directly with political leaders. Niti Simbad also engaged more than 420,000 marginalized people through civic and voter education activities.
- The Department of State’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) promotes civic engagement and emerging leader development. YSEALI Regional Workshops in 2021 will focus on human capital and healthcare, citizen journalism, good governance and civil society, and digital governance and digital economy. In September 2020, Secretary of State Pompeo announced the expansion of YSEALI through the YSEALI Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) in Ho Chi Minh City. The YSEALI Academy at FUV will train the next generation of Southeast Asian leaders in technology and innovation, public policy, and entrepreneurship. Based on the success of YSEALI, the Department of State is expanding the Young Pacific Leaders program, including leadership training and grants for emerging leaders to implement projects related to education, economic development, resource management, and good governance.
- In Timor Leste, S/GWI’s W-GDP project “Women and Girls Empowered Realizing Inclusive and Sustainable Economies” (WE RISE) works with microfinance institutions and civil society organizations to address barriers to women’s economic empowerment, including gender-based violence (GBV). It will strengthen the capacity of microfinance institutions to provide support to women entrepreneurs, enhance the capacity of organizations to provide quality business training and GBV services, and create linkages between the organizations for improved referrals and partnerships.
- S/GWI’s global program “Supporting Her Empowerment – Girls’ Resilience, Enterprise and Technology” (SHE’s GREAT) will work in Indonesia, using a “Gender and My Community” curriculum along with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) camps to build economic empowerment skills and reduce girls’ vulnerability to gender-based violence. SHE’s GREAT provides girls in basic secondary education (approximately ages 13 – 15) leadership skills training and access to women mentors and networks. Students learn by reflection, research, community engagement, and teamwork.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing approximately $172 million in McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition programming through seven projects in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste. The objectives of the McGovern-Dole Program are to reduce hunger, increase literacy rates, and improve the quality of primary education by donating U.S. agricultural commodities, as well as financial and technical assistance, to support school feeding and maternal and child nutrition projects. Quality education creates an environment that fosters youth leadership and development.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing approximately $118 million in Food for Progress programming through five projects in Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka. These projects offer education for young farmers and entrepreneurs, hiring of youth extension workers that receive managerial and technical training, developing skills of youth in networking, product marketing, financial literacy, entrepreneurship and leadership, and developing women’s capacity to manage their farms professionally and profitably.
Media and Internet Freedom:
- The State Department’s Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs and the Global Engagement Center (GEC) are strengthening local journalism in the Pacific Islands through training and reporting tours. They are also providing media outlets in the Pacific Islands the ability to publish Associated Press and New York Times reporting free of charge, thus ensuring access to credible and independent news.
- The GEC is also supporting frontline local organizations throughout the Indo-Pacific to expose and counter COVID-19 related disinformation. Since April, the GEC has supported localized and innovative initiatives, totaling nearly $300,000, to counter COVID-19 disinformation in the region.
- In September, the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy jointly held the second Global Cooperation Training Framework workshop on media literacy, bringing together civil society, media, and other private enterprises to discuss different ways disinformation influences elections, the implementation of media literacy education in curriculums, and how government and civil society initiatives can enhance their efforts to combat disinformation, among other challenges.
- Department of State public diplomacy programs over the past year supported good governance and promoted freedom of the press and strong civil society organizations. These included, for example, workshops for journalists in Indonesia on data-driven and investigative journalism.
- USAID’s CS:MAP activity in Nepal supports independent media, informational integrity, and greater advocacy from civil society for an open and free press. CS:MAP has helped civil society organizations (CSOs) and journalists review laws and policies to protect the freedom of association and expression, and trained 87 journalists last year to improve informational integrity. It has also helped six CSOs to advance their advocacy efforts to prevent regressive bills and policies from becoming law, helping to ensure that Nepal does not backslide on rights of expression and freedom of association.
- In Cambodia, USAID is responding to the narrow space for civic education, outreach, dialogue, and lack of independent journalism by providing support to citizens, CSOs, and citizen journalists to develop and disseminate credible information about public service delivery in order to inform and encourage constructive public debate about transparency and accountability. USAID designed and launched four major activities in FY2020 to support independent media, make high-quality information more available and accessible, and use civic tech to promote accessibility of government information.
- In response to the global pandemic, the State Department stood up rapid response grants to address the second-order governance impacts of COVID-19. In Bangladesh, a grant supports journalists covering the pandemic, including combatting digital disinformation about the disease and mitigating health risks to media professionals reporting from the field. In Nepal, the Department supports a media campaign creating an open, inclusive, and people-powered pandemic response, providing the public the space to ask questions, voice concerns, receive validated information, and provide feedback on the local pandemic response.
Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms:
- The General Election Network for Disability Access (AGENDA), a creative partnership of disabled people’s organizations and election-focused civil society organizations in Southeast Asia, is engaging policymakers to implement the ASEAN Enabling Masterplan 2020: Mainstreaming the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Building on this masterplan, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights must now begin implementation and ensure regional and domestic policy-making is aligned with these commitments. Resources directed at this next critical advocacy challenge for regional disabled people’s organization (DPO) networks, particularly in light of additional challenges encountered by persons with disabilities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, will play a decisive role in what real benefits accrue for the region’s 90 million persons with disabilities. The AGENDA network, which has promoted equal access to rights since 2011, is playing a significant role advocating for implementation and enforcement of this plan with national governments with the support of Australia and the United States.
- The Global Equality Fund (GEF), a Department of State-led public-private partnership that supports innovative civil society programs, works to protect the rights of LGBTI persons in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world. The GEF’s global reach is significant, empowering groups and activists in more than 90 countries. Australia has contributed since 2016, including crucial funding in the Asia-Pacific region.
- Australia and Mongolia contribute diplomatic and financial support to the Department of State-led, multi-donor Lifeline Embattled Civil Society Organizations Assistance Fund. Launched in 2011, Lifeline provides emergency assistance to civil society organizations facing threats due to their human rights work and support to address broader threats to civic space and freedom of association and assembly. Lifeline has supported over 2,300 civil society organizations in 115 countries to date, including countries in the Indo-Pacific.
- USAID’s Workers Empowerment Program (WEP) in Bangladesh worked with the ready-made garments (RMG) and shrimp and fish processing sectors, both critical to employment in that country, to improve workers’ conditions. Most notably, a legal team from WEP coordinated with the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation to do fact-finding and research legal issues related to 43 workers’ being charged by the Azim factory management under the penal code following a labor dispute. The factory group eventually withdrew the cases and all 43 workers and union leaders were released. The WEP activity also helped form 13 new RMG trade unions along with lower-level training outputs. Another USAID human rights activity helped create jobs for transgendered people in an RMG factory, followed by diversity orientation for the factory work force.
- USAID’s Social Cohesion and Reconciliation (SCORE) project in Sri Lanka supported 80 events within its target communities, inviting various stakeholders of all ethnicities to advocate for solidarity among communities and dispelling ethno-religious misconceptions. SCORE worked with 116 groups such as Coexistence Societies, local government service providers, and community-based organizations and CSOs, enabling communities to engage constructively in the reconciliation process and strengthen community-driven initiatives and networks to promote social cohesion across divided communities.
- Human trafficking represents a threat to international peace and security. It undermines the rule of law, robs millions of their dignity and freedom, enriches transnational criminals and terrorists, and threatens public safety and national security everywhere. USAID’s regional program to counter human trafficking facilitated connections and data-sharing among 40 NGOs assisting victims, resulting in a map of 455 trafficking routes that is being refined in real time. This data is instrumental for enabling informed action by governmental, nongovernmental, and business stakeholders who are working to eliminate human trafficking and exploitation.
- In October, the United States announced an additional $200 million in humanitarian assistance for the Rohingya refugee response in 2020. Combined with the funding announced previously, the total U.S. contribution to this crisis in 2020 was more than $437 million, bringing the U.S. total contribution since August 2017 to nearly $1.2 billion in countries including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and India.
- In the Philippines, USAID’s Access to Justice and Support for the Rule of Law activity supported the conduct of consultations with CSOs and human rights advocates around the country through 15 roundtable discussions. Assistance took the form of 12 sub-grants to local CSOs working to increase public awareness of citizen’s legal rights and improve access to legal aid for underserved and vulnerable communities whose rights are least protected and whose ability to access a fair and predictable legal system to enforce their rights or obtain redress for grievances are most restricted. Training was conducted for 195 private defense lawyers who represent low-income and marginalized defendants.
The United States is committed to working with allies and partners across the Info-Pacific region to promote civil society, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and transparent and accountable governance – the building blocks of progress and the bulwarks of peace, security, prosperity, and independence.