Outline of Presentation at USAID Strengthening Advocacy & Civic Engagement (SACE) Project 2.0 Mindset Series in Abuja on 24th January, 2017
Nigeria has been faced with the challenge of effectively utilising its resources to support equitable economic growth, effective service delivery and social cohesion. One of the major driving forces for the development blockade is lack of openness, transparency and accountability in governance. Therefore, if Government and citizens embrace open government principles in a tailored stakeholder engagement, then the blockades will be dealt with and reform will take place that will lead ultimately to effective policy, effective budget and effective implementation. The move by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration to join the Open Government Partnership is therefore a commendable one.
OPEN GOVERNMENT PARTNERSHIP
The Open Government Partnership was launched on 20th September, 2011 to provide an international platform for domestic reformers to make their governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.
The partnership is governed by four key principles:
Transparency: Information on government activities and decisions is open, comprehensive, timely and freely available to the public, and meets basic open data standards.
Accountability: Rules, regulations, and mechanisms are in place that call upon government actors to justify their actions, act upon criticisms or requirements made of them and accept responsibility for failure to perform.
Citizen Participation: Governments seek to mobilize citizens to engage in public debate, provide input, and make contributions that lead to more responsive and effective governance.
Technology and Innovation: Governments embrace the importance of new technologies in driving innovation, providing citizens with open access to technology, and increasing their capacity to use technology.
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched by eight founding governments of Brazil, Indonesia, Philippines, Mexico, Norway, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States when they formally adopted the Open Government Declaration and announced their national action plans. Since the formal launching, the number of countries that have joined the partnership has grown to more than 70 representing more than a third of the world’s population.
For any country to join the partnership, it must meet the eligibility criteria, embrace open government declaration and develop a national action plan with concrete open government reform commitments developed with public consultation and commitment to independent reporting on progress. The minimum eligibility criteria is that the government must exhibit a demonstrated commitment to open government in four key areas, as measured by objective indicators and validated by independent experts. The four areas are fiscal transparency; access to information; income and asset disclosure and citizen engagement. In terms of fiscal transparency, there should be timely publication of essential budget documents. There should be an access to information law that guarantees the public’s right to information. In addition, there should be rules that require public disclosure of income and assets for elected and senior public officials. Finally, there should be basic protections for civil liberties and an openness to citizen engagement and participation in policymaking and governance.
Every government that joins the partnership is expected to prepare a national action plan. The national action plan is expected to be created by government and Civil Society by identifying commitments that are most important to the context of the country. The preparation of the national action plan should be through a multi-stakeholder process, with active engagement of citizens and the civil society. National Action Plans are at the very heart of OGP. It is therefore important that the national action plans are ambitious, effective and relevant to open government. All governments who subscribe to Open Government Partnership are expected to prepare an annual self-assessment report every year.
The Open Government Partnership is overseen by an international steering committee of nine governments and nine leading civil society representatives. The OGP support unit connects countries with the resources they need to develop innovative and effective open government initiatives.
OGP has also positioned itself as one of the main implementing partners of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
NIGERIA AND OPEN GOVERNMENT PARTNERSHIP
The Buhari administration is committed to three top priorities of security, economy and fighting corruption. In its effort at fighting corruption, President Muhammadu Buhari made a commitment at the London Anti-Corruption Summit on 12th May, 2016 in three overarching areas:
Beneficial Ownership Transparency: Nigeria commits to establish a public central register of company beneficial ownership information; a database of registered companies, charities and trustees and bilateral arrangement for access to beneficial ownership information.
Preventing the facilitation of corruption: Nigeria commits to deploying public-private information sharing that will help to detect, prevent and disrupt money laundering linked to corruption.
Public Procurement and Fiscal Transparency: Nigeria commits to the full implementation of Open Contracting Data standard.
Extractive Industry (Oil and Solid Mineral): Nigeria commits transparency and accountability in the oil and gas sector in line with its ongoing work as required under EITI.
Tax Transparency: Nigeria commits to sign up to the Common reporting standard initiative and join the Addis Tax Initiative as well as review penalties against the enablers of tax evasion.
Punish the corrupt and support the victims who have suffered from corruption
Prevent corrupt bidders from wining contracts by establishing accessible central databases of companies with final convictions and sharing information on corrupt bidders.
Asset recovery, asset return and transparent management of returned assets.
Payments to affected states and victims of corruption.
Drive out the culture of corruption wherever it exists
Foster integrity in international sports by joining the International Sport Integrity Partnership.
Promote integrity on our institutions by launching a practitioner partnership on institutional integrity, co-ordinated by OECD in extractives, health, education, public service and anti-corruption institutions.
Promote institutional integrity and partnership between the UK Auditor General’s office and Nigeria’s office of the Auditor General as well as between Nigeria’s anti-corruption institutions and the UK National Crime Agency.
Support innovations in the use of technology to fight corruption and
Support to international system .
After the submit, Nigeria through the office of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice submitted a letter of intent to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP). On 27th July, 2016, Nigeria was confirmed as a participating country by the OGP Secretariat.
NIGERIA OGP NATIONAL ACTION PLAN
Nigeria then started the process of producing a National Action Plan. The Ministry of Justice is co-ordinating activities to operationalise OGP in Nigeria. On 28th July, 2016, the Ministry of Justice organised a meeting stakeholders on the implementation of the outcome of the London Summit on Anti-corruption and the Open Government Partnership (OGP). At the meeting, among other things agencies and civil society organisations were identified to be on the OGP National Steering Committee. In October, 2016, an OGP retreat was held in Kaduna to start the process of drafting the National Action Plan.
The national action was co-created by government and civil society by identifying commitments that are most important to the context of Nigeria. The preparation of the national action plan was a multi-stakeholder process, with involvement of civil society. The National Action Plan was presented by Nigeria at the Paris OGP conference in December, 2016.
Nigeria OGP National Action Plan contains Fourteen commitments spread around four thematic areas:
1 Ensure more effective citizens’ participation across the entire budget cycle.
2 Full implementation of Open Contracting and adoption of Open Contracting Data Standards in the public sector.
3 Work together with all stakeholders to enhance transparency in the extractive sector through a concrete set of disclosures related to payments by companies and receipts by governments on all transactions across the sector’s value chain.
4 Adopt common reporting standards and the Addis Tax initiative aimed at improving the fairness, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness of the tax system.
5 Improve the ease of doing business and Nigeria’s ranking on the World Bank Doing Business Index.
6 Establish a Public register of Beneficial Owners of Companies,
7 Establish a platform for sharing information among Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), AntiCorruption Agencies (ACAs), National Security Adviser (NSA) and financial sector regulators to detect, prevent and disrupt corrupt practices.
8 Strengthen Nigeria’s asset recovery legislation including non-conviction based confiscation powers and the introduction of unexplained wealth orders.
9 Take appropriate actions to co-ordinate anti-corruption activities; improve integrity and transparency and accountability.
Access to Information
10 Improved compliance of public institutions with the Freedom of Information Act in respect of the annual reporting obligations by public institutions and level of responses to requests.
11 Improved compliance of public institutions with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with respect to the Proactive disclosure provisions and stipulating mandatory publication requirements.
12 Develop a Permanent Dialogue Mechanism on transparency, accountability and good governance between citizens and government to facilitate a culture of openness.
13 Government-civil society to jointly review existing legislations on transparency and accountability issues and make recommendations to the National Assembly.
14 Adopt a technology-based citizens’ feedback on projects and programs across transparency
EXPERIENCE OF OPEN GOVERNMENT PROGRAMMES FROM OTHER COUNTRIES
As noted above, the four key areas of Open Government are transparency (Open data); accountability (responsive government), citizen participation and the use of technology. Research and experience show that the programmes to achieve open government principles must be carefully planned and implemented otherwise the required results will not be achieved. First and foremost, it is important to focus on both tactical and strategic approaches. Tactical approaches are bounded, localised and information led while strategic approaches bolster enabling environment for collective action, scale up citizen engagement beyond the local arena and attempt to bolster governmental capacity to respond to voice. Secondly, open data should be made in a way that it is accessible to a good number of citizens who can use the information to make demand on the government. It has been pointed out that in some cases, the most likely immediate beneficiaries of open data are those with the most resources to make effective use of data. Thirdly, it is important to point out that the responsiveness of the government to the use of data by citizens is crucial to make open governance meaningful. Scholars are in agreement that Open Government Initiatives should ensure that there are more processes and relationships focused endeavours that aim to transform governance systems and behaviours by opening them up to a wider range of participants contesting and reconfiguring power dynamics. In this regard, the responsiveness of government depends to a large extent on willingness and capacity. Fourthly, citizen participation can make all the difference in Open Government Partnership.
Technology is key to driving Open Government Partnership especially because it can help a lot in eliminating discretion and prevent corruption. But the use of technology must be carefully selected, planned and monitored. Studies have shown that technology for transparency and accountability tools do not necessarily have to be sophisticated to succeed but they need to be designed intelligently and with eye towards local content. It must be noted that while technologies may offer new opportunities for citizens to interrogate government data and information and to mobilise to demand accountability, let it not be forgotten that technologies can also be used to suppress accountability demands and violate human rights. As a matter of fact, one study showed that the Mexican government, co-chair of the Open Government Partnership from 2013-2015 used technologies to undermine its citizens’ attempt to challenge and hold it accountable for its actions. The Citizens have to struggle against increasingly sophisticated techniques of control and repression that successfully exploit the very mechanisms that many consider to be emancipatory technologies. This is why in choosing technology to adopt, it is important to examine the appropriateness for the intended users in the intended contexts.
EXAMPLE OF ACTIONS BY OTHER COUNTRIES
As noted above, any country that joins the OGP is expected to produce action plans. There are examples of actions by other countries that Nigeria can learn from. For instance, Columbia’s action plan incorporated subnational level actions. Meanwhile, in 2015, the OGP Secretariat launched a subnational pilot programme designed to meet the objectives of fostering more diverse political leadership; holding governments accountable at local level; supporting subnational governments to become more open, accountable and responsive; promoting new and innovative open government technology and practice at subnational level; creating practical opportunities for subnational governments; supporting and empowering sunbational government reformers with technical expertise and inspiration and broadening and deepening participation of civil society in OGP. Finland committed to engaging Children and the elderly in the creation of public policies, making open government principles more democratic and inclusive. France committed to using data visualisations and applications to educate and raise awareness of climate challenges. Liberia’s plan outlined creative methods for transmitting information about budgets, open government and other issues through text messages, town criers, radio, interactive murals, and citizen journalism to ensure that critical information reaches every part of the country no matter the infrastructure challenges.
WHAT NIGERIA NEEDS TO DO
As noted above, the joining of OGP by the Nigerian government and co-creation of the National Action Plan by government and civil society are commendable. Nigerian government and citizens need to do everything possible to ensure effective implementation of the Nigeria OGP National Action Plan. In order to do this, the following are key:
Change in Orientation, approach and mindset: In order to implement the OGP principles and action plan in Nigeria, the Nigerian government and people must change their orientation, approach and mindset about governance and development. In the first one and a half years of the PMB administration, citizens and civil society did not participate actively in the governance process. Up till this moment, the President has no adviser on Civil Society. The government announced that there is a committee preparing medium term and long term development strategy but there is no civil society or private sector participation. The economic team has no civil society or private sector participation. The Police Service Commission has no civil society representation. The President has not held any meeting with civil society since he assumed office. All of these are against the principles of Open Government Partnership. The government need to quickly correct all of these as a member of Open Government Partnership. In addition, information on government activities is not proactively made available to citizens. The amount recovered from looters has been made public without information on who returned them. Some members of the administration appear to be hostile to criticism against the spirit of Open Government Partnership. There is no consistent policy and approach to utilise technology to eliminate discretion. In most countries of the world today, payment at airports and other public places is done with technology. Citizens and citizens group need to also change their mindset that OGP is not a government programme. It was co-created by government and civil society. There are two co-chairs from government and civil society. Two more co-chairs will join them from government and non-state actors. Citizens and citizens group must jointly plan, jointly implement and jointly evaluate the Nigeria OGP National Action Plan.
Operationalisation of the Plan: The co-ordination secretariat and civil society need to quickly work together to operationalise the plan. The plan is already fairly detailed with the lead Ministry, Department and Agency (MDA), responsible persons, other actors involved in implementation, specific activities/milestones, source of funding, performance indicators and expected outcome. There is the need for a detailed operating plan.
Capacity Building to implement the Plan: There is the need to build capacity and support the co-ordinating secretariat, relevant MDAs as well as citizens groups to implement the OGP National Action Plan effectively and efficiently.
Engagement with Citizens: Citizens engagement will be the difference marker for the success of OGP in Nigeria. Citizens and Citizens groups need to advocate and campaign for adherence to the principles of Open Government Partnership that the government has voluntarily signed. There is the need to develop a permanent dialogue mechanism on transparency, accountability and good governance between citizens and government to facilitate a culture of openness. Government and civil society need to jointly review existing legislations on transparency and accountability issues and make recommendations for change. The country needs to adopt a technology based citizens’ feedback on projects and programmes across transparency and accountability.
Nigeria has taken the commendable step of joining the Open Government Partnership. Nigeria’s OGP National Action Plan has been approved. There is the need to immediately start the process of implementation with active involvement of citizens and civil society organisations. This should not be another declaration without implementation. Government should begin to align the governing processes to the principles of accountability, technology and innovation, citizen participation and transparency as outlined on the Open Government Partnership. Government and citizens need to change their mindset and approach to governance and development. Capacity building to implement the National Action Plan is urgent. Engagement of citizens in the OGP process is key to effective and efficient implementation of OGP in Nigeria
Written by Otive Igbuzor, PhD, a Pharmacist, Human Rights Activist, Policy Analyst, Development Expert and Strategist. He holds a doctorate degree in Public Administration.
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