The Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) second end-of-term report for South Africa shows that, while the country made a start on its stated commitments, it did not complete any of them.

The progress report covers the period from 2013 to 2015, and was prepared by the independent reporting mechanism (IRM), an independent body which is overseen by a panel of international experts. The IRM aims to deliver a credible, non-partisan description of the process behind the implementation of a country’s commitments.

The OGP was launched in 2011 to provide an international platform that enables domestic reformers to make their governments more open, accountable, responsive to citizens, and corruption-free. Since then, the OGP has grown from the eight founding countries of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, the UK and the US, to 75 countries. In all of these countries, government and civil society work together, guided by action plans, to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms.

South Africa’s OGP process is being led by the Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA).

Out of seven commitments laid down in the second action plan, South Africa completed none, nor did it achieve any milestones. This means that after the completion of two action plan cycles, South Africa has fulfilled one commitment out of 15 made – that of establishing the anti-corruption hotline and forum. However, it only achieved this because the hotline already existed, having been established in 2004 before the commitment was drawn up, and so did not give the government any real work to do.

The second end-of-term report notes that three projects made substantial progress near the end of the term – these were the Accountability/Consequences Management Framework, the Environmental Management Information Portal, and the Service Rights and Responsibilities Campaign.

Only two of the seven commitments made any impact on the openness of government, and such impact was marginal at that, according to the report. This means that there was some change, but it was minor in terms of its impact on the level of openness.

Download the second end-of-term report for more detail on progress of implementation of commitments.

Civil society still on the outside

One of the main shortcomings identified was that the government had not yet introduced a formal mechanism for the participation of civil society organisations. This is the first requirement of the OGP process – in fact, it is one of the cornerstones of the programme, according to OGP.

The report names Afesis-corplan, a civil society organisation (CSO), as saying in an interview that the DPSA agreed to the establishment of such a mechanism, after CSOs called for it. However, the department did not implement it.

Afesis-corplan expressed disappointment that there was no process of aligning the efforts of government with that of CSOs in areas that overlap, and there was no assessment of the outcomes of the second action plan with CSOs.

Meanwhile, the Open Democracy Advice Centre suggests coordination between DPSA and CSOs in relation to general OGP awareness and planning as well as to facilitate implementation of specific commitments. Recommendations include establishing a permanent dialogue mechanism, establishing a community of government practitioners to implement each OGP commitment with the DPSA as lead agency, and allocating a specific budget to fund OGP commitments.

SA’s third action plan launched

South Africa launched its third national action plan on 6 May 2016. This plan features more novel commitments, but equally importantly, it represents an opportunity for government to bolster implementation. The establishment of a permanent consultation mechanism with CSOs could help achieve better results in that regard.

The third plan (NAP3) applies to the period 2015-2017, and it contains a commitment of great significance for Corruption Watch and Transparency International, who have been campaigning for greater transparency in beneficial ownership through the Unmask the Corrupt campaign. The action plan promises to address this issue.

Corporate entities such as companies, trusts, partnerships and others, are often misused by criminals for money laundering, bribery and corruption, tax fraud, terrorist financing and other illegal dealings. Making the disclosure of beneficial ownership – the person who ultimately benefits from a company’s business dealings – compulsory will increase transparency around this problem and will cut down on corruption and illicit financial flows.

The commitments for the third action plan

  • Strengthen citizen-based monitoring in order to enhance accountability and performance, giving government departments the resources to strengthen the voice of citizens in monitoring service delivery.
  • Open budgeting, with enhanced civil society involvement in the budget process, to improve the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights, and enable citizens to track public expenditure.
  • Back to Basics Programme, which aims to promote public confidence in local government by developing a tool kit for citizen engagement for local government and conducting annual citizen satisfaction surveys. The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs has this task.
  • Develop an integrated and publicly accessible portal of environmental management information, supplying spatial data on biodiversity, ecosystems, water, agriculture, protected areas, conservation areas, air quality priority areas, important bird areas and other environmental data to identify and map environmentally sensitive areas at a national level. The Department of Environmental Affairs will lead this process.
  • Institutionalisation of community advice offices as part of the wider justice network, and ensuring that the sector has the skills to lead advocacy and communications initiatives critical for long-term sector sustainability.
  • Development of a pilot open data portal for South Africa, which would make data already published by government available to the public in an accessible format. This falls under the Department of Public Service and Administration.
  • Roll out the open government awareness raising campaign, which will address the low level of awareness among citizens of the OGP and South Africa’s obligations under it. This falls to the Government Communications and Information Services.
  • Implement South Africa’s action plan on the G20 High Level Principles on beneficial ownership transparency and implement a register of legal persons and arrangements which is available to the public in open data formats, in order to protect the integrity and transparency of the global financial and public procurement systems. This task will be led by the Department of Public Service and Administration as well as the Treasury.

Participants in commitment eight, from the government side, include the Financial Intelligence Centre, South African Revenue Service, National Treasury, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, National Prosecuting Authority, and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission. Civil society organisations, the private sector and working groups such as the G20 Anti-corruption Working Group and the Financial Action Task Force will also play a critical role.

“South Africa commits to take concrete action and to share in writing, by means of developing, publishing and reporting, regular progress on a country implementation plan regarding the various steps to be taken to implement these principles and improve the effectiveness of their legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks with respect to beneficial ownership transparency,” states NAP3.