The Open Government Partnership (OGP) held its second global summit in Mexico from 27 to 29 October 2015 – the first took place in London in 2013. South Africa, which is a founding member of the OGP, attended the gathering.

Our new two-part series looks at South Africa’s participation in the OGP process – part one gives an overview of the initiative and South Africa’s role in it, and part two looks at the country’s action plans in more detail.

The OGP was launched in 2011 to provide an international platform that will enable domestic reformers to make their governments more open, accountable, responsive to citizens, and corruption-free. Since then, OGP has grown from the eight founding countries of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, the UK and the US, to 69 countries. In all of these countries, government and civil society are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms.

In South Africa, one of the organisations involved in the process is the Open Democracy Advice Centre (Odac), whose executive director Mukelani Dimba was appointed to the OGP steering committee in August 2014. The South African government currently co-chairs the steering committee, with France.

Odac, too, was at the Mexico summit and hosted a panel titled The OGP and Other Mechanisms: Competition or Partners?. The organisation has researched and compared OGP to three other review mechanisms: the African Peer Review Mechanism, the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Anti-Bribery Convention Review.

Visit the South African Institute of International Affairs to download a policy briefing document based on Odac’s research on the four peer-review processes.

“With civil society and business, we are called upon to work together to reduce conflict, protect the environment, adhere to the rule of law, and promote technology and innovation,” said deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, speaking at the Mexico summit. “We reaffirm our commitment to continue fostering and promoting the culture of open government that empowers its citizens and puts them at the centre of sustainable development.”

The summit included an award ceremony, with the theme this year of Improving Public Services through Open Government. Member countries were asked to showcase how open government initiatives have resulted in concrete improvements in the delivery of public services such as health care, education, water, roads, and public safety.

South Africa was not among the winners on the night. Top prize went to Uruguay, followed by Indonesia and the UK. Mexico, Tunisia, Croatia and Armenia also walked off with awards in the four OGP regions of the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia and Oceania.

Tunisia, one of two participants this year from Africa, was lauded for its Tunisia on-line e-procurement system, or TUNEPS.

South Africa was also not a winner in the 2013 inaugural awards programme.

Putting plans into action

OGP countries are guided by a series of two-year action plans, which centre on commitments that push their governments to go beyond existing activities, by building on current efforts, taking new steps to complete ongoing reforms, or initiating action in new areas.

In a statement issued to coincide with the summit, global anti-corruption movement Transparency International (TI) said that making governments transparent is only the first step towards delivering real change in people’s lives.

“Governments must commit to actions that reduce corruption and inequality, fulfil human rights commitments and ensure more effective and accountable public services, including as part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” said TI.

OGP commitments are less likely to be met in countries that struggle with high levels of corruption – this is why anti-corruption measures should be taken seriously by governments, and prioritised by them, TI noted.

The country action plans are periodically evaluated, while OGP’s independent reporting mechanism (IRM) carries out a biennial review of each participating country’s activities. The IRM research is done by an independent researcher under the guidance of the IRM team in Washington DC, as well as an international panel of experts, comprising five technical advisors.

The founding group of countries have all published action plans and participated in a first round of evaluation of the effectiveness of those plans.

Increasing public integrity, improving public services

South Africa’s Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) has led the OGP efforts, with involvement from the National Treasury and the Department of Environmental Affairs as well as civil society.

The country is implementing its second action plan and also has two self-assessments and one IRM report to its name. The overall grand challenge which South Africa plans to address through OGP is to increase public integrity, improve public services, create safer communities, effectively manage public resources and increase corporate accountability.

South Africa’s OGP action plan is therefore focusing on measures to:

  • strengthen corruption combating instruments and capacity to increase integrity management systems;
  • strengthen mechanisms for meaningful citizen engagement in service delivery improvement and policy development processes; and
  • hold public servants accountable to the public and the communities they serve through the development and implementation of an accountability management framework for public servants.

In 2013 the DPSA released its mid-term self-assessment report, which gave an account of progress made in implementing the first action plan. Later that same year, the IRM released its own report, which did not show South Africa in a flattering light.

“A number of South Africa’s commitments involved activities that did not stretch government practice beyond the baseline that existed prior to joining the OGP. This makes it difficult to review the progress of government in fulfilling those commitments,” the report noted.

Odac agreed with the findings of the report. “We feel that the report correctly reflects the situation on the ground. According to the report our government has not been able to initiate significant innovative activities aimed at driving transparency and service delivery,” said Alison Tilley, Odac’s head of advocacy. “We are obviously disappointed by this.”

South Africa released a second mid-term assessment in March 2015, and is putting together its third action plan. Up to 29 October, comments from the public, civil society organisations and interested parties were welcomed. While that date has come and gone, the draft may be accessed here. The information gathered will provide an input into developing the final SA action plan.

In part two we examine the action plans in more detail, as well as the reports which have been published.