UNDP South Africa has been invited to be part of an expert group meeting that will discuss on the policy, legal and technical requirements for Open Government in South Africa on 5 – 6 June.
Here are the remarks we drafted that will be delivered by UNDP’s Country Director
On behalf of UNDP let me start by expressing our sincere thanks for the invitation to be part of this important Expert Group Meeting to review guidelines on policy, legal and technical requirement for Open Government in Africa.
We live in a world that is undergoing an unprecedented transition, and Africa is no exception. The triple challenges of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, so persistent in many countries around the world including here in South Africa, are seriously impacting the ability of citizens to cope with daily life, thereby stretching their patience and tolerance levels for delivery of basic services by their governments. Popular uprisings in many countries, propelled in many cases by the rapid diffusion of new technologies and social networks, are stark reminders that governments are under increased pressure and scrutiny to respond better and deliver faster on their promises to their citizens.
To address these and other challenges, UNDP has committed itself, globally, to help countries achieve the simultaneous eradication of poverty, and significant reduction of inequalities and exclusion through its new Strategic Plan 2014-2017. Two of the 7 outcomes elaborated in this plan deserve specific reference given the focus of this meeting, namely:
To work with Governments and other partners to ensure that:
- Citizen expectations for voice, development, the rule of law and accountability are met by stronger systems of democratic governance;
- Countries have strengthened institutions to progressively deliver universal access to basic services.
UNDP is the largest multi-lateral organization providing democratic Governance services. In 2013 alone, the organization spent almost $1.1 billion in this area of work supporting 132 countries with close to 1,800 governance projects.
UNDP is therefore well aware of the intricate interconnection between open government and human development. It is on the basis of this understanding that UNDP has committed its governance focus over the next four years on helping governments to:
Develop policies and capacities to foster more accountable, effective and open governance systems;
- Increase integrity of public institutions;
- Support a vibrant, responsible and capable civil society to reinforce these changes and contribute more broadly to development; and
- Work with governments to deliver benefits to citizens and increase their confidence and trust in public institutions.
UNDP has been closely following OGP since its formal launching in New York on September 2011. Since the finalization of the OGP framework for multi-lateral engagement, UNDP has formally joined the initiative and has been increasing its engagement with partner governments through our network of Country Offices where we have already provided a varied range of support to national OGP processes with Montenegro being a particular case in point but also in Tanzania, Tunisia, and Sierra Leone in Africa as well as several other countries in other regions including Albania, Chile, Mongolia, Colombia, El Salvador, and Macedonia.
Last year, UNDP Administrator, Ms. Helen Clark requested UNDP Country Offices that are members of the OGP to work with governments to operationalize the Open Government agenda at the national level.
In 2013, UNDP completed a rapid analysis of first generation OG national action plans in developing countries. The analysis revealed the following observations:
- Between 85% and 90% of the priority areas contained in such plans overlapped with UNDP’s democratic governance portfolios we were undertaking in these countries
- In general, OGP action plans seemed quite ambitious and have set up very short timelines usually two years or less. While this might be more realistic in industrialized nations, this is probably not the case in many developing countries, especially LDCs and LICs
The critical gap of OG in most developing countries is the lack of institutional capacity to be able to include stakeholders in decision-making and co-creation processes. Although new technologies can be very helpful here, most governments still do not have the capacity to capture, analyze and respond to citizen’s demands. This is risky for governments as they appear unresponsive, even more now than before, a fact the fuels anti-government sentiment.
When it comes to policy and legislation, it is important to highlight that OG should not be seen as a totally new initiative. On the contrary, it should be an innovative catalyst that can help address ongoing developing challenges and priorities. Here, opening the door to stakeholders to provide governments with feedback can help to localize gaps and allocate public resources more effectively.
Finally, it is important to have multiple and differentiated OGP tracks rather than lumping all countries, industrialized and developing, together. Not surprisingly, uptake by many African nations has been less than expected.
Building on these lessons and our comparative advantages, UNDP will continue to contribute to Open Government processes by focusing on the following areas:
- Advocating for the creation of a Developing Country Track (DCT) within the OGP context. Developing countries face multiple and unique challenges and obstacles in designing and implementing OGP at the national level. These range from basic access and connectivity issues to weak civil society, and lack of real political will and commitment from national governments to create a more open public sphere. An OGP Developing Country Track will focus on these issues, enhance current OGP processes and guidelines to factor them in and foster South-South cooperation so that they can learn from each other.
- Supporting developing countries in the design of national action plans on a truly multi-stakeholder basis. As an impartial and trusted development partner, UNDP has a proven track record of bringing different (and sometimes even competing) sectors and stakeholders together to achieve concrete results.
- Matching National Action Plan priorities with UNDP democratic governance programme portfolios.
- Assisting in monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment of national action plans and processes. In this connection, attempts to connect the Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) to the Independent Review Mechanism of the OGP should also be considered.
- Joining and contributing to the various OGP working groups being created at the moment. OGP working groups on Parliaments and Open Data were launched by OGP last year at the London Summit. UNDP has joined these and other relevant groups that fall within the area of democratic governance.
In closing, let me underscore the importance of the deliberations of this expert group meeting on the policy, legal and technical requirements for Open Government which undoubtedly will greatly contribute to our evolving collaboration between UNDP South Africa and the Government of South Africa represented by the Department of Public Services and Administration where discussions have started to see how UNDP can support the implementation of the country’s new national OG action plan. We hope to resume this dialogue in the near future.
We wish this meeting every success and look forward to engaging further with our partners in South Africa and beyond.