Why EITI-OGP Synergy Matters for Georgia

Author: Giorgi Kldiashvili, Executive Director of the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) and CSO Steering Committee Member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP)

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Despite being one of the key economic areas for Georgia, extractive industries generally lack sufficient levels of transparency and accountability. The recently published 2019 OGP Global Report demonstrates that improved transparency leads to better economic results, including increased foreign direct investment inflows and better credit ratings. It also contributes to political stability, freedom of association, independent media, and government engagement with citizens which leads to long-term improvements in health, education and economic growth.

As a multi-stakeholder initiative that aims to secure commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), welcomes government initiatives that seek to improve transparency of natural resource revenues in their country action plans, including the adoption of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). As a global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources, EITI ensures transparency and accountability in the governance of a country’s natural resources. It is an effective tool that requires its member countries to publish information on key aspects of their natural resource management in a timely and accurate manner.

Both OGP and EITI aim to improve governance and build trust by opening up data and creating opportunities for citizen participation. OGP encourages its member countries to join the EITI and both platforms have committed to deepening their partnership and joint commitments towards the transparency of extractives. With these common objectives, the synergy between the OGP and the EITI continues to grow. Stakeholders in countries that are members of both OGP and EITI can draw from the findings of the EITI Validations when formulating OGP action plans.

At the same time, OGP commitments can support implementation of EITI principles. OGP members like Germany, Ukraine, Indonesia, Liberia, Armenia, Philippines, and the UK have implemented hundreds of commitments in natural resources yielding to interesting results.

The Philippines improved access to extractive data for civil society members and became the first country to achieve satisfactory results according to the EITI standards. Indonesia (another EITI and OGP member country) is a net importer of oil and saw a rapid increase in the mining sector and is fully committed to the principles of EITI. Meanwhile, Liberia is implementing an OGP commitment on open contracting that aims to support the responsible management of natural resources.

Photo Credit: Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)

Civil society groups in Georgia have been advocating for Georgia’s accession to EITI in the framework of OGP. Even in 2013, the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) recommended the Government of Georgia to include joining EITI as an OGPcommitment. EITI can play a crucial role in furthering open government goals in the country. Georgia, which has yet to join EITI, can use the OGP action plans to make commitments to gradually increase transparency in the extractive sector.

That can include, for example:

– Contract and revenue transparency and beneficial ownership disclosures

– Collaboration with OGP and the EITI to identify and share best practice in implementing public beneficial ownership registries and other policy areas like transparency around state-owned enterprises

– Alignment with other civil society organization advocacy targets with the EITI and OGP processes

Georgia is rich in natural resources and also has high dependence on foreign investments. If the country wants to increase its attractiveness to investors in the extractive sector, it needs to join EITI. Through OGP, countries in the region, like Ukraine and Armenia, have enhanced their efforts on extractives and beneficial ownership transparency. More transparency may lead to more trust and direct investments in the sector, which will benefit the country economically and technologically. The EITI is a network of specialists in the extractive industries that can be used to enhance licensing practices, record keeping, and improvement of tax collection systems. Besides the evident economic benefits of joining EITI, it is important to bear in mind that the Georgian public has the right to know what one of the most important economic sectors could yield and how that wealth is distributed.

Georgia already has experience with cross-sector collaboration, namely through initiatives such as OGP. Institutional mechanisms for CSO-business or CSO-government cooperation are not new. Therefore, Georgia has the potential to become a member of EITI and prove that the country remains loyal to the OGP principles of transparency, accountability, and good governance.

The article was originally published on the OGP Blog: www.opengovpartnership.org

Accessing Archives in a Post-Soviet World: The Georgian Experience

Author: Giorgi Kldiashvili, Executive Director of the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) and CSO Steering Committee Member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP)

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Commitments to bring about positive changes in archival landscape have been made by nearly 20 countries in their action plans for the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Commitments ranged from ensuring unhindered citizen access to public information and archival documents, adopting or amending relevant archival laws, declassifying archival materials, and digitizing paper-based documents to make them publicly available online.

Access to archival documents remains a contentious topic among many post-totalitarian countries, including those with Communist and Socialist pasts. De-Sovietization, transitioning to democracy, and rethinking the Soviet past has proceeded differently and at a varying pace in former Soviet republics.

These differences determined the state policies toward archives. In many countries, documents of the totalitarian era remain classified, and archives are often not accessible to scholars and historians. Others opened their archives only partially. Georgia, Ukraine and the Baltic States have adopted a new approach in the post-Soviet space by opening their Soviet archives and making them accessible to researchers. However, a lot still remains to be done.

One of the very first commitments in Georgia’s OGP action plan was to enhance the openness of state archives. In 2013, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) successfully advocated for the Ministry of Justice and the National Archives of Georgia to abolish the fee for receiving digital or hard copies of documents. In its 2014-15 OGP action plan the Government of Georgia committed to digitizing archival documents of the Soviet period at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and creating e-catalogues that allow online searching by name of persecuted persons in the former KGB Archive. Without having to physically go to the archival institution, citizens can now fill out an application form online and receive hard or digitized copies of archival documents.

OGP Steering Committee members, including Giorgi Kldiashvili, met at the National Archives of Georgia in 2018 for the 5th OGP Global Summit.

In 2017, supported by the Open Society Foundations, IDFI launched a project titled Enhancing Openness of State Archives in Former Soviet Republics. The goal of the project is to encourage the process of rethinking of Soviet and totalitarian past by fostering research and promoting the openness of state archives in post-Soviet and post-socialist countries. To achieve this goal, a network of scholars and archivists was created to carry out active national and international advocacy campaigns to achieve openness of archives. The methodology for evaluation of both the legislation and practice of openness of state archives was elaborated together with international partners and experts. A total of 20 state archives were assessed in 10 countries using this methodology, with the results being published on at – http://open-archives.org/. In 2019, the project was expanded to seven more countries of former Eastern Bloc. The project is planned to take larger international scale in the future and the Rating to become the global standard for evaluating the openness of state archives.

In 2018, IDFI initiated amendments to national legislation regulating archives in Georgia based on research conducted as part of the Open Archives project as well as recommendations from researchers working on Georgian archives. Considering the fact that the fees for making copies are inadequately high in the reading halls of the National Archive and the MIA Archive of Georgia, IDFI recommended to follow international practice and allow researchers to use their own cameras in reading halls. Another major problem is the concept of Personally Identifiable Information that gives archives the possibility to deny researcher access to documents created in the last 75 years.

Easy access to archival documents and online publication of catalogs can have substantial impact on the transition of post-totalitarian states. Together with the success story of Ukraine, Georgia’s example and the advocacy work done by IDFI on openness of former KGB files can be considered as one of the best practices achieved through OGP. Such efforts promote openness not only on matters of the past, but of the present as well.

The article was originally published on the OGP Blog: www.opengovpartnership.org

Tackling the Slow Progress of SDGs Implementation

Screen-Shot-2019-09-16-at-12.37.59-PM-1200x635.pngAuthor: Giorgi Kldiashvili, Executive Director of the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) and CSO Steering Committee Member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP)

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The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development sets ambitious goals and reaching them constitutes a considerable challenge globally. The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) held in July this year demonstrated that the progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is slow. The same is true for Georgia. The Sustainable Development Report 2019 emphasizes that more in-depth, fast, and robust steps are needed in order to achieve the social-economic transformation of states and enable the realization of the SDGs.

The SDGs cannot be reached by public institutions alone working in silos. It is necessary to include all relevant stakeholders in the process and share responsibilities.

Cooperation between civil society and government is the cornerstone of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). OGP members take the responsibility to be more open to citizen participation and include them in the decision-making process. OGP can be a vital partner to achieve the SDGs.

The above mentioned was also officially stated in the Joint Declaration on Open Government for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the members of the OGP Steering Committee in New York, September 2015. Moreover, in February this year the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the OGP made a joint commitment to advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through open government initiatives and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Based on the MoU both organizations will collaborate to leverage OGP action plans as a mechanism to advocate for domestic reforms that enhance efforts to achieve the SDGs.

The case of Georgia is a good example of how OGP supports the implementation of the SDGs. Georgia’s latest OGP action plan includes a commitment to develop an effective system of public monitoring of the SDGs implementation process. Namely, according to the commitment of the Government Administration of Georgia, a new website (SDG Tracker) will be developed and implemented in order to enable effective and transparent monitoring of the SDGs.

The purpose of the SDG Tracker is to centralize  comprehensive information on the SDGs nationalization  and localization processes. Using the front-end of the website, users will be able to receive information online on the progress achieved within each goal and the activities carried out by the public agencies for meeting the SDGs, while the back-end of the system will be designed for internal management of the SDGs nationalization and localization process.

Based on the cooperation between the government entities and the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), the SDG Tracker was created with the  support of UNDP and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). The website will be fully functional by the end of the year.

Today,  when the progress of SDGs implementation is slow on a global scale, it is crucial to fully realize the importance of already existing platforms such as OGP. Countries should take more initiatives to reflect specific challenges linked with SDGs in their OGP action plans. At the same time, national authorities should internalize the role of civil society organizations in the implementation process of the SDGs and ensure close cooperation with them based on multi-sectoral initiatives.

The article was originally published on the OGP Blog: www.opengovpartnership.org

Following IDFI’s Recommendation Parliament of Georgia has Developed the Electronic Platform of Citizen Participation in Legislative Work

On October 15, Parliament of Georgia held the presentation on placing the e-signatures on legislative initiatives and petitions. 

The implementation of this novelty comes from the recommendation of the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), initiated in the first action plan of the Open Parliament Georgia Action Plan 2015-2016, commitment 1.2, which considered submission of legislative proposals and initiatives to the Parliament of Georgia electronically, implementing its support mechanism through the official website of the Parliament of Georgia.

Even though the implementation of the commitment was considered in 2015-2016 years, it was not fulfilled, only its modified version turned into the Open Parliament Georgia Action Plan 2017 – commitment 1.1. (Elaboration of E-petition System) and commitment 1.3. (Submission of Legislative Proposals and Legislative Initiativesto the Parliament of Georgia electronically; Implementation of a Citizen Feedback Mechanism through the Parliament website).

From April 2018, in accordance to the amendments initiated in the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia, citizens of Georgia have the legal opportunity to collect e-signatures for supporting the draft law or address chairman of the Parliament of Georgia with the electronic petitions concerning a state or general problem. At the same time, citizens of Georgia have an opportunity to publish the draft constitutional law of Georgia on the Parliament website, to collect signatures of its supporters using the website. The process of collecting signatures electronically does not preclude collection of signatures in the written form, even though introducing modern technologies will help to increase the involvement of citizens in parliamentary activities.

 

“Not less than 200 000 voters” initiative

Supporters’ signatures can be collected by filling out specially designed written forms as well as electronically to submit a draft constitutional law of Georgia as part of the initiative “not less than 200 000 voters”.

Web-page of the Parliament of Georgia defines the submission of such procedures in details. Currently, there is one draft constitutional law registered on the Parliament website, as one can see the process of collecting signatures has already been completed.

 

 

“Not less than 25 000” initiative

Website of the Parliament of Georgia, provides the possibility of collecting supporters’ signatures electronically to submit a draft law. According to the International practice collecting e-signatures is a simplified and accessible form to support a draft law.

Submitted draft law of Georgia will be placed on the Parliament website,With the aim of collecting signatures electronically, where voters will be able to support the draft law of Georgia by putting a qualified electronic signature. Before signing, the voter indicates the phone number in the appropriate field electronically, afterwards, he / she puts the qualified electronic signature.

Qualified electronic signatures can only be executed if the deadline for collecting supporters’ signatures has not expired. Herewith, a voter can support a draft law only once.

 

Petition

Submitting a petition to the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia electronically is worth of noting, as the simplicity of the process will facilitate to increase the number of submissions as well as improving civil involvement in the parliamentary activities.

The petition is an electronic or written document signed by at least 300 persons concerning a state or general problem.

Both electronic and written petitions will be placed on the website of the Parliament of Georgia, except for a written petition that has been supported by at least 300 persons at the time of submission.

Any citizen will be able to support a petition electronically, within one months after publishing on the Parliament website, petition can be only supported once, indicating name and surname of the individuals.

 

The e-signature is carried out through the qualified electronic signature, which can be executed using an electronic ID. Signature requires an electronic ID card reader, as well as Universal Electronic Certificate Programs, and PIN codes of electronic ID.

 

 

Despite the fact that civic involvement in the parliamentary activities remains low, including  submit and support of a petition, a new electronic possibility will promote increasing the number of citizens involved in the parliamentary activities, it will also have a positive impact on parliamentary openness. It is necessary to continue working on refining and simplifying the electronic format of publication and review of petitions in the subsequent years.

From 2015, Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), with the support of EU and UNDP, is actively involved in the activities of parliamentary openness within the scopes of OGP. IDFI, as the member and Chair of the consultative group at the Open Governance Permanent Parliamentary Council actively participates in the elaboration and implementation process of the open parliament action plans (4 action plans).

Hearing on Civic Engagement Instruments & Practices in State Agencies as part of its Thematic Inquiry Group was Held

The Permanent Parliamentary Council on Open Governance held a hearing on Civic Engagement Instruments and Practices in State Agencies as part of its thematic inquiry group. Five representatives from civil society (who presented their written substantiated opinions within the scope of the thematic inquiry) had the opportunity to personally address the members of the thematic inquiry group, to talk about their experience, as well as the challenges the policy-making process faces.

The speakers included: representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Civil Society Institute (CSI), Transparency International Georgia (TI-Georgia), Green Alternative and Caucasus Environmental NGO Network (CENN).

The Chair of the Permanent Parliamentary Council on Open Governance, Irina Pruidze stated: “Our goal is to explore all the instruments and practices that are at our disposal for citizen engagement in state institutions, what are the drawbacks in this regard, what are the main challenges, and then we will come up with ultimate recommendations in order to improve the institutionalization of citizen engagement. We strive not to make this a fragmented, formal process, so that citizens actually take interest in taking part in decision-making, in the process of drafting policies and draft laws.”

“IDFI has been working on strengthening citizen participation for years. A set of standards to regulate the mechanisms of citizen participation in the decision-making process still does not exist in Georgia. For this reason, engagement in practice is fragmented, rather than systemic , and is based on political will. The Permanent Parliamentary Council on Open Governance considers this issue as vitally important. I am glad to have this opportunity to assist the Parliament of Georgia. I hope that the thematic inquiry will be a decisive step towards future adoption of a single document (law or bylaw), based on the best international practice, that will regulate citizen engagement at the early stage of policy-making process,“ – Executive Director of IDFI, Giorgi Kldiashvili.

The Permanent Parliamentary Council on Open Governance established a thematic inquiry group on Civic Engagement Instruments and Practices in State Agencies in spring, 2019. The first stage involved gathering written substantiated opinions from civil society and experts, followed by a verbal hearing of their opinions. The next stage of the thematic inquiry will involve a verbal hearing with Ministry representatives.

Following the completion of hearings, the Council will develop its recommendations and reports, aimed at improving citizen participation and include them in the decision-making process.

The inquiry group is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in cooperation with the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI).