Oversight & Progress
Francisco A. Laguna & Melanie Enciso
This week, we conclude our series on the Obama Administration’s Open Government Partnership (“OGP”). Today, we discuss the OGP’s enforcement and oversight mechanisms and the progress made by the member states.
Once members of the OGP, participating countries promise to provide National Action Plans (“NAP”) that promote and detail their commitments to open governance. Although countries must release annual self-assessment reports, currently, there is no single official authoritative body with enforcement power to ensure that these countries are taking the necessary steps to abide by their commitments.
Despite the lack of an authoritative organization, the Independent Reporting Mechanism (“IRM”) has been in operation since 2013. The IRM is an independent body guided by, but not directly answerable to, the OGP’s Steering Committee. An International Experts Panel (“IEP”) directly oversees the IRM and is made up of several senior advisors and five technical advisors. The advisors play a vital role in setting the vision for the IRM and promoting its findings. The technical advisors are experts in transparency, participation and accountability, whose role is to guide the development and implementation of the IRM research method and ensure a high quality of reports.
The IRM ensures the accountability and quality of each OGP country’s two-year NAP by reviewing the plan independently of the government or civil oversight. The resulting IRM report analyzes the country’s progress of commitment completion and offers recommendations for a country’s subsequent action plan. According to an independent consultant hired by the IRM, several countries have indicated that the IRM and its reports are an effective tool in assisting governments with the design and content of their respective NAPs.
Results of the OGP
The effects of the OGP are hard to measure in that each country’s progress is dependent on its level of commitment to the OGP (here, an official authoritative body might be beneficial), the successful cooperation of the government and its civil society partners, and a country’s status (i.e., 1st world vs. 2nd world vs. 3rd world countries). Some countries’ progress can be read below.
The first OGP meeting occurred in September 2011. Later that year, the Obama Administration launched the first U.S. Open Government NAP. The first NAP contained 26 commitments whose goal was to increase public integrity, enhance the public’s access to information, improve the management of public resources, and give the public a more active voice in the U.S. Government’s policymaking process. Even now, the government continues to make progress in all 26 areas, with 24 of the initial commitments already completed. A positive example of the improvements made since the first NAP is the launch of We the People. We the People is a White House petitions platform that provides a direct line and allows Americans to voice their concerns to the Administration via online petitions.
With the continued success of the first NAP, the Administration developed a second Open Government NAP in 2013. In developing the second NAP, the Federal Government requested input from a broad range of civil society organizations, the general public, academia and the private sector in order to build a more transparent and participatory government.
British Prime Minster David Cameron pledged that the United Kingdom’s leadership of the OGP would “drive a transparency revolution in every corner of the world.” In a relatively short time, the UK has positioned itself as one of the world leaders in open data and transparency. Its web portal, data.gov.uk, is the most comprehensive data resource in the world, with over 10,000 datasets.
Since the publication of the UK’s first National Action Plan in September 2011, the UK has forged ahead with both their domestic and international transparency agendas. In September 2013, the IRM published its review of the UK NAP, noting that the government was successful in implementing many of its initial 41 commitments. However, in its self-assessment, the UK government acknowledged that it did not extensively consult civil society in the creation of its first NAP.
With the formation of their second NAP in October 2013, in collaboration with civil society, the government is searching to make commitments that meet a broader definition of open government.
Despite the positive effects of the OGP and the apparent success of both the United States and the United Kingdom’s NAPs, many countries are hindered from achieving open governance due to corruption.
For example, in Mexico, over the past year there have been many political and social confrontations that have tested the relationship between the Mexican government and civil society. In the eyes of many Mexican citizens, the legitimacy of the government has faltered due to security based scandals and corruption. According to an OGP Civil Society Support Officer for Mexico, the Mexican National Action Plan will likely remain incomplete when the two-year period comes to an end this summer.
Generally, in countries with pervasive corruption, research shows that most state authorities are reluctant to advance commitments due to legal constraints, institutional uncertainties, and political agendas. In some countries, such as Azerbaijan, low-level executive authorities are incognizant that their country is a part of the OGP. As a result, most of the local executive authorities do not know of the commitments taken by the central executive committees and only have a low-level understanding of their respective implementation responsibilities.
Administrative barriers further limit access to resources and prevent civil service organizations from establishing their presence and denying their input in the creation of the NAPs. Thus, civil society roles keep decreasing every year while the government’s influence only increases. In response to this, for the past 18 months, with the objective of equipping national civil societies in OGP countries with a tool that pushes for stronger government engagement and more ambitious plans, the OGP Civil Society Engagement Team has been creating and accessing an advocacy tool that enables civil society to evaluate their country’s National Action Plan.
In November 2013, the OGP Annual Summit was held in London in which over 1,000 delegates from over 60 countries attended. This summit presented an incredible opportunity for the open government movement to strengthen and gain momentum. In reflecting on what is working and what is not, all participating countries returned equipped to pursue an ambitious reform agenda. Summit participants shared their experiences and endeavored to provide real examples of how openness can improve public services, drive economic growth, reduce poverty and corruption, and restore public faith in government in their quest for an open government.
Since its launch in 2011, the OGP and its principles have been a guiding factor in creating concrete action plans by governments and their civil society organizations. However, the OGP still has a long road ahead before its practices have generated tangible results in improving the everyday lives of citizens around the world. Considering the changes and advancements in open governance, this year’s summit will most likely further strengthen the open governance movement, and perhaps, also address the concerns for more authoritative enforcement.
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