Transparency will help government perform better: Victoria Ayer
KUBER CHALISE
Monday, Jun 25, 2018
2071

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from national governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. Transparency and accountability are two essential democratic principles: an open government that rests on trust between civil society, the private sector, the public and elected officials and the government bureaucracy is the key to stability and prosperity. As of November 30, 2017, 92 countries are eligible to join OGP. Any government can join OGP at any time once it has demonstrated that it meets the minimum criteria of Fiscal Transparency, Access to Information, Public Officials Asset Disclosure and Citizen Engagement.
Victoria Ayer is the US Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Senior Anti-corruption and Good Governance Advisor. She is also an Open Government Partnership (OGP) Board member. She has almost two decades of experience advising and engaging with civil society and political leaders in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the Balkans, and Africa in their efforts to expand and strengthen democratic practices. Ayer talks about OGP, as well as other opportunities to enhance transparency and accountability in Nepal with Kuber Chalise and Bhim Gautam.

What is OGP?
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was formally launched on September 20, 2011, when the eight founding governments – Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States – endorsed the Open Government Declaration and announced their country action plans. It is a multi-stakeholder collaboration and overseen by a Steering Committee, including representatives of governments and civil society organizations. Since 2011, OGP has welcomed the commitments of 67 additional governments that joined the partnership. In total, over 70 OGP participating countries and 15 sub-national governments have made over 2,500 commitments to make their governments more open and accountable. The goal of OGP is to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In addition, the OGP provides peer-to-peer learning between countries that are attempting to implement similar reforms.

Where does Nepal figure in the map of OGP?
In the map of OGP, I think Nepal is extremely excellent partner, though it has not entered into the network. In OGP everyone is learning and everyone is learning from each other. Does OGP have meaning for Nepal? I think it has. Nepal has such a willingness, such a civil society, new local governments, mayors, national government; senior leaders, who are working excellently, though implementation is harder but improving. Having openness of budget, right to information act these are all hard in the world. It is very impressive that Nepal qualifies for OGP as many countries are, either lower middle income countries, or middle income countries, qualify. So, Nepal has made some great steps on key reforms to qualify for the OGP. Now how do we make that a part of culture of the government and more importantly, and that is where Nepal can learn from us as a globe. How do you help bring civil society activists, who have great demands and expectations, how do you help them come and help government solve the problems. Come up with solutions and not just shout from outside. I think, we shout collectively for us. How can we help your government understand and heard. How can we work together?

How have the acts and laws of OGP have been implemented in other countries as implementation is difficult and governments are smarter to bend the law?
When a country enters into partnership with OGP, they commit for transparency, responsible and accountable government. OGP is a multi stakeholder common forum, where government, civil society, businesses are involved. They all help you talk to civil society and help publishes the process to hold accountable. The government prepares a two year action plan and they do commit to implement it. These commitments need to be implemented. The governing body of OGP will help fix to the problems, we don't offer the solutions, but we offer a space to find out solutions. The principle of accountability holds that government officials, whether elected or appointed by those who have been elected, are responsible to citizens for their decisions and actions. To hold officials accountable, the principle of transparency requires that the decisions and actions of those in government be open to public scrutiny, because the public has a right to access government information and judge the performance of their elected leaders. Without both transparency and accountability, corruption and public mistrust will thrive, and a country’s prosperity, as well as it's, stability may be threatened.

Nepal has not been in OGP why?
Nepal has had a great deal of transition. So, it is on Nepal, when to join. But Nepal is eligible to join OGP. Many countries like South Korea have done it. In South Korea, government and civil society has worked together tremendously. The combined efforts of OGP in South Korea have brought the result also. Once you enter the OGP, we can cooperate in many things. People will be more informed about their government works. The openness has brought positive results in many countries. Hope Nepal will soon enter into OGP. It will help government make more responsible and accountable to the people. It will also help Nepal move forward more transparently with success.

How can a country be a successful country?
To become a successful country, it needs to have open mind. And you prepares action plan according to the openness and necessity of a country. The civil society will help government to perform according to the wish of the people. In many cases, it will help economic growth and development as well opening up the economy will help implementation in many cases. The intellectual class and private sector can give constructive suggestion to the government to push for the economic reform. OGP looks very seriously on many things and it will help reform. OGP gives a real frame of a country as it will help civil society to contribute effectively to the government. And you can put any picture into that frame.

Nepali civil society is neither well organized nor institutionalized. How can OGP help enhance capacity of civil society?
Along with government, an active civil society is a key to success of OGP. There are over a 1000 civil society, which are not OGP members as the governments are the members. But we encourage forming a forum including civil society in the member country. The civil society can help create open environment in any country. Since OGP is a multi stakeholder platform, in most of the countries the civil society has key role in preparing national action plan. But it also depends on how the civil society is formed; we always encourage them to hold regular election for leadership. But there are other ways too. The OGP can also bring innovative tools to Nepal to support constructive conversation between citizens and government around accountability and transparency.

How can OGP help government function well?
OGP helps strengthen the governments, and make them transparent and accountable to the people. The governments can, with the help of civil society, perform according to the choice of the people. We help both sides. We want governments to succeed. The civil society can provide the information like education, water, sanitation, health, and help government. The correct information will help government function effectively. Governments can succeed with the help of civil society and private sector. The concept of OGP can help governments succeed by improving their performance. It will also help to make the election process more transparent and accountable to the people. The more government informs its public about its programmes, the more people are informed, and chances of the government plans and policies being successful increases. But this is a regular process.

How can OGP help economic development and prosperity?
OGP helps in various development activities like SDGs. It helps achieve the SDGs by being more transparent. Various countries have various targets to meet under SDG, and OGP help them achieve these targets. When talking about economic development, the more transparent Finance Ministry is, the better the economic development. OGP also helps lessen the corruption as it lobbies for the transparency. OGP makes the people aware in corruption control. According to the World Bank report in 2005, there were tax leakage of around 40 percent, but it has gone down to 8 percent due to OGP. Since 2011, the countries which are members of OGP have improved their governance and helped push for economic transformation. It helps economic development and growth. The OGP will help Nepal to enhance capacity of individual and the government in Nepal as it helps promote transparency, and accountability. In Australia, from where I am, it has helped economic development by promoting openness. The government provides most of the information on website, which has helped create environment for the development. The involvement and activeness of civil society, their open interaction and dialogue has helped implement the development goals. The openness will also help attract the investment in a country.

How can OGP help private sector?
In many countries, there is corruption in private sectors also, which could be more than in the government sector. That's why the private sector also needs to be transparent. They have been giving donations, which needs to be transparent. Similarly, private sector is also a part of a country. So, they must be transparent and accountable. The real cooperation between the government and private sector helps any country to develop as the private sector helps government achieve the governments' targets, and development goals. The innovative ideas that private sector contributes largely to the economic growth and development. The academicians also contribute to the national goals and plans. That's why the private sector and academicians are key partners of the OGP. The more all the sectors are open, the more easily OGP's target is met. Openness also promotes doing business environment in any country.

Does that mean the autocratic governments do not like OGP?
The political system does not matter, if a government wants to develop its country, though transparency and accountability are two essential democratic principles. Right to information, openness in government activities is important in politics. The involvement of civil society is also attached with politics. Human rights and press freedom are also important for OGP. How does the government function is not important, the important thing is how open the government is. How free and active the citizens are is important. Many countries have become more transparent and open in recent years as it will serve any countries' interest. OGP is also an indicative of how all successful democracies function and underscores the important role of accountability, transparency, citizen engagement, and civil society monitoring.

Since Nepal is transitioning from a unitary state to a federal structure and devolving powers and authorities to the sub-national level, how can the local governments benefit from OGP?
Local governments should be more open to the citizen as it is more near to them. The national governments are members in OGP, the sub-national and local governments are automatically involved. But OGP has separate programmes for sub-national governments too. The OGP has to be taken to the local level to control corruption and promote accountability and transparency.

====================

Membership Eligibility

The first step toward full OGP participation is meeting the OGP eligibility criteria. To be eligible to participate in OGP, governments must demonstrate a minimum level of commitment to open government principles in four key areas:

  • Fiscal Transparency: The timely publication of essential budget documents is a basic building block of budget accountability and an open budget system.
  • Access to Information: An access to information law that guarantees the public’s right to information and access to government data is essential to the spirit and practice of open government.
  • Public Officials Asset Disclosure: Rules that require public disclosure of income and assets for elected and senior public officials are essential to anti-corruption and open, accountable government. It is also important to make the data publicly available so that citizens can monitor the disclosures.
  • Citizen Engagement: Open Government requires openness to citizen participation and engagement in policymaking and governance, including basic protections for civil liberties.  
To participate in OGP, countries must receive at least 75 percent of the total points available to them. This is validated by independent experts.