Almost two years ago, I had come across an article about one of the radical ways to change the government of Nepal by making the government actually deliver through its actions, and how likely this was to work for the economy. Over the time, I have read similar articles, and have often reflected on them about whether the hopeful writers talking about development actually see it happening or not, and whether it is only for the sake of penning it down. In a webinar organized by Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL) related to good governance in the Tech Bootcamp 2020, I came across the same topic that I had read about two years ago- Open Government Partnership (OGP).
Learning about OGP
OGP is a multilateral global initiative, formally launched in 2011 by eight Heads of State from Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States, and nine civil society leaders at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.
Since its launch, it has supported seventy countries, both developed and developing, to enforce plans, policies and practices that help support and execute government openness. In an urge to be more open and endorse open government declaration, countries basically commit to increasing the availability of information about governmental activities, supporting civic participation, implementing highest standards of professional integrity throughout their administration and increasing access to new technologies for openness and accountability. Adhering to these commitments is a way of undertaking the principles of OGP.
Learning from OGP
The discourses regarding OGP have begun since a long time, and efforts to support open government have been initiated in Nepal as well. There are municipalities such as Nilkantha Municipality (निलकण्ठ नगरपालिका) which publicly displays its budget on its webpage as well as its plans and programs through a visual layout of the municipality’s map.
However, as a country that has moved into federalization and is keen on accelerating efforts to achieve the success of the 2030 agenda, we have fallen short of more of such examples. The opportunity that decentralization brings in the form of increased interaction between civil society and its local government has not been materialized.
When Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were announced, goal 16 stated an aim to ‘build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’ which was a clear indication of the need for a more open and responsive government. It is understandable that a country like ours which has fallen victim to a norm of secrecy is finding it hard to provide its civil society the information needed to improve development programs, track them and contribute towards it, but is the norm a good enough reason to fall short of the potential that this practice carries?
In OGP’s assessment, Nepal has performed well in the key areas (fiscal transparency, access to information, disclosures related to elected or senior public officials and citizen engagement) and has obtained 81% against a minimum requirement of 75% indicating its eligibility to be a member of the OGP. However, despite meeting the eligibility criteria, the government of Nepal would need to further endorse the Open Government Declaration by agreeing to pursue the membership (in the form of a formal permission of the Office of the Prime Minister) and submitting a letter of intent to the OGP, prepare a national action plan through a multi-stakeholder dialogue mechanism and finally, commit to OGP’s independent reporting on its progress.
In this regard, the government of Nepal has attended OGP summits in Mexico in 2015 and Paris in 2016. Further, initiatives such as discussion programs, presentations and workshops have been conducted to deepen the knowledge on OGP, yet very few people are aware of how it works.
Observations and Reflections
Amidst all the information flooding the internet on OGP in Nepal, I am constantly reminded of this quote which I believe holds the most truth- Yo samaya rajtantra ko hoina, ganatantra ko ho (यो समय राजतन्त्रको होइन, गणतन्त्रको हो।). The days of sending a message to the government through an official, and expecting change to take place no longer works today. If the statistics suggest that there is a cartel in the industry that is ripping off households by certain amounts, it cannot be broken down by a mere policy change. If we are exposed to news regarding the corruption in the government offices or private businesses of our nation, then removing those corrupts from their respective seats will not ensure transparency.
These are different times we live in; our society has gradually learned that if we empower the citizens to demand transparency, then an enabling environment can be created where citizens demand effective government and the government, in turn, delivers. If we educate and empower the citizens to question the amount of fees that they pay for their child’s education or the share of their income tax that goes for road development on which they transport to and fro, then they will undoubtedly start questioning and demand accountability from the government. OGP is not just a fancy term that needs to be supported by high-level reports and field works; instead it is a practice that requires an institutional change.
As I mentioned earlier, there might be questions among readers when they come across articles like these, such as if this is just for the sake of writing.
Today, by following up on the article I had read two years ago, I am internalizing and reflecting on the issues that are most important to me as a citizen. There is a dire need to learn how essential it is to demand a progressive nation and how that can happen- empowering individuals.
Every issue is of economic concern as it can stymie our country’s progress. Unraveling OGP, one of such issues, lead me to learn more about it and from it and has enabled me to question my government. This is why, OGP is important and this is how it is going to unfold.
Nasala Maharjan (Research Fellow at Nepal Economic Forum)