By Asoka Obeyesekere
Sri Lanka has recently become eligible for membership to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an international initiative committed to making government more “open, effective and accountable”. Such buzzwords have left many jaded in the past, so for Sri Lanka three key questions arise: Q1. What does OGP membership entail? Q2. Will it actually have an impact on Sri Lankan governance? Q3. Is the Sri Lankan government ready?
I will show that joining the OGP will provide Sri Lanka with a clear national policy plan and timeline. This impacts governance through the mandatory consultation of civil society in policy formulation and a system of compulsory independent reviews. I will also show that OGP membership marks a natural progression from the 100-day manifesto experience of early 2015.
What does OGP membership entail?
When a country becomes a signatory to the OGP it makes two key pledges. Firstly, it pledges to engage in systematic policy planning leading to a 2-year national action plan and timeline document. Secondly, it will have its progress against its national action plan reviewed by country experts appointed by an OGP independent review body.
Significantly, the national action plan must be created in consultation with civil society – with detailed guidelines on the consultative process. This action plan will set out all the policy commitments made by the government along with respective deadlines. Examples of commitments range from those on easing company registration processes in Indonesia to strengthening public official asset disclosure regulations in South Korea. The progress against all these commitments is independently reviewed, in addition to the government performing its own annual self-review. This provides a unique data driven review of government progress against its commitments, with review data sets being made available for public examination.
Will this actually have an impact on Sri Lankan governance?
The formal recognition of the need for government and civil society to work together in establishing a national action plan is a quantum leap from the Sri Lankan status quo. The creation of a single rigorous policy agenda, in the form of a national action plan, will also be a marked shift from the ad-hoc policy-making that has chequered the past.
There will be difficulties. Politicians and civil servants will need to become more willing to open the doors of government. Similarly civil society will need to understand the limits in shifting bureaucracies and the need for pragmatism, patience and flexibility.
Despite these reservations, the systematic planning, reporting and review provided through the OGP will provide an unprecedented template. This will not only encourage proactive government reporting, but also empower the media to track progress and hold government to account.
Is the Sri Lankan government ready?
Yes. The 100-day manifesto of President Sirisena led the way in demonstrating the impact of clearly defined deliverables coupled with deadlines. Importantly, value was not derived solely from implementation, but also from tracking progress on pledges (e.g. 100days.lk, Maithrimeter.lk), which fed into mainstream news media coverage.
The step up to OGP reporting standards is a further advancement, which can engage the public and media, whilst providing a key tangible delivery on the good governance mandate of President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe. The fact that senior political figures look favourably on joining the OGP, with steps potentially being taken at the OGP annual summit in Mexico City later this month, illustrates that they are already thinking ahead.
If Sri Lanka joins the OGP, it will be the first signatory from South Asia. As a global initiative, which started with only 8 countries in 2011 ranging from Indonesia to Brazil, it has now mushroomed to 66 countries within 4 years. This reflects the growing recognition by governments across the world that their actions are interwoven with the need for proactive public accountability. The fact that the Sri Lankan yahapalanya mandated government can become the 67th member should therefore be both encouraged and expected.
You can tweet the author Asoka Obeyesekere @asokao
This article is reproduced by Manthri.lk
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