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Mo Ibrahim in conversation with Sanjay Pradhan, CEO, Open Government Partnership (OGP)

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

At the 2018 Ibrahim Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, Mo held a conversation with Sanjay Pradhan, CEO of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Here we highlight some key parts of the discussion.

Sanjay Pradhan introduced the OGP, a partnership between governments, civil society and citizen groups. In OGP these actors come together and co-create and implement concrete actions to make governments more open, transparent, participatory and responsive – able to deliver better services to citizens. OGP combines the commitment and integrity of reformers in government with the passion and energy of civil society and citizens, and it is about closing the feedback loop between supply (reformers within government) and demand (engaged citizenry that oversees government).

OGP is very much about the kind of social contract we’ve been discussing in the last two days. What it is fundamentally is a partnership between reformers in government; that we’ve been honouring in this discussion and civil society and citizen groups.

OGP was established in 2011 at the UNGA by eight heads of state (five Southern countries from the Global South, including South Africa, and three from the Global North, including the US), and nine civil society leaders. Today, 96 national and local governments (76 national, 20 local) and thousands of civil society organisations have joined OGP, with the focus being on the local level as it is there that government can have the greatest impact on the lives of citizens. In the last six years, over 3,000 commitments have been developed and implemented. Implementation of action plans is assessed through independent reporting mechanisms and by civil society. At present, OGP has 15 African national and local member governments. Some relevant initiatives in Africa have been opening up contracts in Kenya and Ghana, making company ownership transparent in South Africa, and disclosing data on gender-based violence in Sierra Leone.

[su_highlight]When there is a commitment to join OGP, it empowers governments and civil society to make change happen.[/su_highlight]

Sanjay Pradhan provided examples of the process for countries to join OGP. Every country that commits to join has to develop an action plan for two years. In October 2016 the Nigerian government and civil society came together to co-create a plan that was widely publicised, with about 300 Nigerian civil society organisations involved. This demonstrated that a credibly implemented action plan could make a difference. The action plan for Nigeria committed to open contracting for all government contracts to be disclosed using open data standards. This came about from a tripartite collaboration started by a young reformer working in government on the public procurement budget, who leveraged President Buhari’s commitment to build an internal consensus, in the face of significant resistance to reform. He then reached out to 40 Nigerian civil society organisations to oversee open contracts, as without monitoring there is no transparency. OGP is about partnership between reformers and civil society to make change happen.

Another example is Ukraine, where there is much talk of a captured state. A young set of reformers from government, a young tech worker/civil society leader, and representatives from the private sector came together and created ProZorro (meaning 'transparency' in Ukrainian), to disclose all contracts in open data standards, searchable by the public. The project then evolved into DoZorro, the second generation of ProZorro, to empower citizens to oversee the implementation of contracts and flag up suspicious ones. If there appears to be a violation, the government responds to these concerns. In terms of results, over 1 billion dollars were reportedly saved in two years. A survey of public sector entrepreneurs shows that 60% of private entrepreneurs reported either a partial or significant reduction of perceived corruption because of ProZorro and DoZorro, and a 50% increase in the number of unique bidders to public contracting processes.

According to Sanjay Pradhan, thirty countries have so far embraced open contract, including six in Africa. The way forward now is implementation. For example, in Africa in the state of Kaduna, Nigeria, a government audit found that a hospital, promised to the citizens, funded and contracted, only existed on paper. A courageous government reformer (the Commissioner of Budget and Planning) put together a set of paid government staff, equipped with smartphones, to take geocoded photos of the status of projects and locations. The initial mapping revealed that there were 3,000 projects in Kaduna state alone, and not enough capacity to monitor these. The idea then came to hand over the initiative to citizens to monitor and oversee implementation.

[su_highlight]Why not turn to the citizens to be the eyes and ears of the government? [/su_highlight]

An app was created (Cityfeeds) to enable citizens to take a picture, upload it and for it to be seen instantly by the office of government and state legislature. The impact of this has been record levels of completion of public infrastructure projects (500 schools and 200 hospitals completed since the outset).

Mo Ibrahim underlined the importance of linking citizens and state to watch over these contracts.

In terms of African members of OGP, there are 11 national governments and four local governments. The intention is to accept countries with a relatively low bar and get them to improve progressively from a starting point of a minimum commitment to openness. There are five low-bar minimum requirements to join: fiscal transparency, access to information, asset disclosure, civic engagement, and civic space. Some countries are eligible to join right away (such as Senegal, Mozambique and Zambia), while others are a step away. For instance, President Ouattara announced in 2013 that Côte d’Ivoire wanted to join OGP but it needed to meet the fiscal transparency criteria. Now Côte d’Ivoire is leading the rest of the world in fiscal areas such as participatory budgeting commitment, empowering women to participate, and women setting budget priorities to meet the needs of local communities. In the case of Morocco, it joined OGP in April 2018 and Sierra Leone joined a few years ago after passing access to information legislation (now in its third action plan).

According to Sanjay Pradhan, open government offers Africa great opportunities. This year the AU made anti-corruption its main focus. OGP provides a grounded, action-oriented platform to translate high-level commitments into country-level action plans between government and civil society. At the London Anti-Corruption summit there were 43 countries that made such a commitment. Twenty of them followed through with OGP action plans, including a set of African countries that have committed to beneficial ownership transparency (South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Liberia).

In partnership with civil society, OGP is an implementation and accountability arm of these commitments. An independent reporting mechanism is in place with local researchers hired every two years to assess whether countries have honoured the terms of their action plans. Thus OGP can reinforce African mechanisms, such as APRM and turn long-term recommendations into one or two-year action plans.

The bulk of OGP’s work is funded domestically by member countries. Multilateral funding mechanisms exist for the secretariat and support unit, and are funded 30% by member countries, 30% by foundations and 30% by bilateral donors.

With authoritarianism on the rise, OGP is needed more than ever. The traditional champions of open government, the founding countries of OGP (US, UK, Brazil, Philippines, Mexico) are going through dramatic transitions. There is a need for a new global coalition as a counter force against the rise of authoritarianism and more African democracies are needed to join and strengthen this coalition.

A question from the floor raised the case of Tanzania, a founding member of OGP who subsequently withdrew. This was a national decision, in keeping with decisions to withdraw from other international bodies. The current environment in Tanzania is one of the suppression of civic space. However, OGP is still engaged in Tanzania, in particular in Kigoma, one of the local OGP pioneers.

According to one participant at the Forum, Tanzania’s interpretation was that OGP is a mechanism designed by the West, although it was noted that the majority of countries and leadership come from the South. A founder of OGP from civil society in Tanzania expressed the opinion that in a country such as Tanzania only one person is in charge of power and no one else can have a voice. However, democracy should not just be controlled by leaders but also by the people, who need to organise, stand up for their rights and fight for the vision of governance they believe in. Often power is outsourced to leaders, especially elected leaders, but it is up to citizens to bring about bottom-up solutions for real change.

The public also proposed a universal anti-bribery code to ensure progress in the fight against corruption. However, it was noted that Africa needs to build its own models, in order to ensure beneficial ownership.

The traditional champions of democracy are not there anymore. We want to stitch together a new coalition of global leaders to promote transparency. We have to think of a new global coalition. That is why we need more African democracies to join.