A New Global Initiative

By

Sandro Rochikashvili

Sandro Rochikashvili is an analyst at the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI). He studies at the Princeton University and plans to get a degree in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

At the offset of the XXI century, when rising levels of technology give a whole meaning to the word “democracy”, the Open Government Partnership took the position of the leading project that will deliver more transparent, open and accountable governments throughout the world. With the increasing number of people who have access to the Internet, publishing public data online has become the most efficient way to deliver information to those who might want to see it.

The initiative for a more open government was started by the President of United States Barack Obama as a way to demonstrate his readiness “to create unprecedented level of government transparency”. In his 23rd September 2010 address to the United Nations General Assembly Obama called for “specific commitments to promote transparency” and invited other government leaders to join him in his effort to increase the level of openness of democratic governments, fight corruption and increase civil engagement.

After Obama’s November 2010 visit to India, where the framework of an international partnership to promote openness and transparency was drafted, the U.S. invited Brazil to be its co-chair of the new effort of developing freedom of information. The project became known as the Open Government Partnership.

The formal launch of the initiative occurred on September 20, 2011, in New York. The eight founding members (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States) endorsed the high level Open Government Declaration and presented their respective action plans. The representatives of the founding countries also welcomed the commitment of 38 new members, including Georgia.  President Mikheil Saakashvili personally attended the meeting and expressed the readiness of Georgia to join OGP as a “regional leader”.

The OGP represents an important initiative for the further development of freedom of information, greater transparency and accountability in all of its member states. It is especially important for Georgia, with its government trying to demonstrate its commitment to democratic values to the West now and again. Meeting the commitments of the OGP is a very important step towards the goal of eventually joining NATO, an intention that the Georgian government has expressed many times.

Open Government Partnership is overseen by a steering committee that consists of the representatives of a number of stakeholders, nine of which are the representatives of different civil society groups and eight are the representatives of the founding members.

17 and 18 April 2012 marked the first annual meeting of the OGP members in Brasilia, Brazil, with delegates from 53 countries present.  Attending countries presented their action plans and took specific commitments for promoting transparency, fighting corruption, supporting civil engagement and making the governments more responsive and accountable. Georgia, among others, presented its action plan and formally became a member of the initiative.

Eight CSOs in Georgia formed a forum that will gather monthly to discuss the progress of the government in meeting its action plan. In May 2012 amendments were made in the General Administrative Code of Georgia concerning proactive disclosure of information that introduced new terms, obligations, and most importantly gave more importance to the usage of electronic resources for the purposes of publishing information.

A number of members have already made considerable effort towards meeting the goals of creating a more transparent, accountable and responsive government. The government of United Kingdom, for instance, created the web portal data.gov.uk that is currently one of the biggest data bases in the world with over 40,000 data files and more being added consistently. In its action plan for the OGP Georgia outlined the intention to create a web portal data.gov.ge that will contain public information interesting to the general public, including information about state finances and budgets.

The Georgian government has also made several changes in order to increase the level of public engagement in state and local affairs. The Tbilisi City Hall created a web-page for petitions www.chemitbilisi.com, where citizens can place their petitions with their ideas to improve the city. On a larger scale, the action plan introduced the idea of creating Ichange.ge, a web portal that will enable citizens to express concerns and raise problems that need attention, propose new ideas, discuss existing issues and submit petitions that will be obligatory for discussion if they gather a certain amount of signatures that will vary according to the importance of the issue. Both data.gov.ge and Ichange.ge are planned to go into action in 2013.

Ease of access of public information is one of the cornerstones of OGP. To this end, the Georgian government introduced several innovations. Aside from creating online databases, new structures have been created that will considerably improve the quality of services provided by different public institutions while at the same time making the access to these services considerably easier, faster and much more efficient. One such project was the creation of so-called Justice Houses that will provide all of the services related to documentation, registration of businesses or real estate, archive materials, etc., all in the same building. Further projects directed at improving public service are planned to be implemented in the near future.

Such projects simplify the process of obtaining public information considerably for citizens, which in turn promotes higher level of public engagement in government affairs.

In July 2012, the OGP Steering Committee introduced the Independent Reporting Mechanism being developed by the Steering Committee and Support Unit in partnership with independent experts. The purpose of the IRM is to issue annual independent assessment reports for the member governments. It will be overseen by an 8-member international expert panel. The IRM is an effective mechanism for assessing the progress of individual countries in progressing towards their goals and commitments as members of the OGP.

OGP currently has 58 members from all over the world, most of which have already delivered their commitments. It remains yet to be seen how effective the initiative will be in making the member governments truly more transparent, open and responsive, but so far the progress has been considerable.

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