The Open Government Partnership 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.

The South African government currently co-chairs the OGP steering committee, with France.

OGP countries are guided by a series of two-year country action plans (CAPs), which centre on commitments that push their governments to transcend existing activities, by building on current efforts, taking new steps to complete ongoing reforms, or initiating action in new areas. The country plans must advance one or more of the OGP principles of transparency, accountability, participation, and technology and innovation. South Africa’s Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) has led the national 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.

During the period of the second CAP South Africa managed to successfully develop the OGP Portal and, thanks to collaboration between the OGP, DPSA and business and civil society, develop the national open data portal, currently in the pilot stage.

South Africa’s third CAP has recently been finalised, and is now public. The plan applies to the period 2015-2017, so it comes into being halfway through the term. Nevertheless, 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 vehicles such as companies, trusts, partnerships and others, contribute to the global economy and conduct a wide variety of legitimate commercial and entrepreneurial activities. However, they are also misused by criminals for money laundering, bribery and corruption, insider dealings, tax fraud, terrorist financing and other illegal activities.

During its meeting in Brisbane in November 2014, the G20 adopted a set of principles aimed at fighting money laundering and forcing companies to come clean about their beneficial ownership. In a joint statement the power group committed to improving the transparency of the public and private sectors, and cleaning up the beneficial ownership situation, by implementing the G20 High-Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency. However, a report released a year later by Transparency International showed that little or no action had been taken.

Details of the plan

South Africa’s third OGP country action plan was developed after input was sought and obtained from government departments, communities, civil society, and citizens, through surveys, public participation, workshops, and consultative dialogue. This ensured that all stakeholders involved in the programme were active drivers of the process and owners of its end-product.

“It is imperative that citizens participate in this process of holding government accountable,” the CAP notes. Public participation, monitoring, and accountability are key mechanisms that ensure that commitments to improving public service, public integrity and accountability, and corporate accountability are included and escalated, as they reflect the realities of and feedback from communities in South Africa.

The commitments are closely linked to issues that were raised during the public consultations, stakeholder engagements and izimbizo across the provinces. For example, the lack of education and health infrastructure in some provincial districts was cited as a challenge in human settlements planning. This can be addressed with the development and utilisation of land use data in the planning and implementation phases, and the same information will contribute to addressing some of the environmental challenges identified during consultations.

The commitments

  1. 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.
  2. Open budgeting, with enhanced civil society involvement in the budget process, to improve the progressive realisation of socioeconomic rights, and enable citizens to track public expenditure.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. Department of Environmental Affairs
  5. 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.
  6. Development of pilot open data portal for South Africa, which would make data already published by government availed to the public in an accessible format. This falls under the Department of Public Service and Administration.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 (FATF) 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 the CAP.

Open Government Partnership Grand Challenges
1.       Improving public services– measures that address the full spectrum of citizen services including health, education, criminal justice, water, telecommunications and any other relevant service areas, by fostering public service improvement or private sector innovation
2.       Increasing public integrity – measures that address corruption and public ethics, access to information, campaign finance reform, media and civil society freedom.
3.       More effectively managing public resources –measures that address budgets, procurement, natural resources and foreign assistance.
4.       Creating safer communities – measures that address public safety, the security sector, disaster and crisis response and environmental threats.
5.       Increasing corporate accountability– measures that address corporate responsibility on issues such as the environment, anti –corruption, consumer protection and community engagement.