On December 26, 2013, a round table discussion regarding the Open Government Partnership (OGP) was held in the Sheraton Metekhi Palace Hotel. The discussion was organized by the United States International Development Agency (USAID) within the frameworks of the Good Governance in Georgia (G-3) program. The meeting was attended by the representatives of different ministries and public institutions, as well as the civil society. This is the fifth round table discussion between the Government and the civil society regarding Open Government Partnership. It should be noted that the whole process of the development and later implementation of the 2012-2013 action plan of Georgia was characterized by the engagement of the USAID and close cooperation with the civil society organizations led by the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI). (See the round table agenda)
The main topic of discussion was the development of the 2014-2015 action plan of Georgia for the Open Government Partnership. The member countries of OGP that officially joined the initiative in April 2012 have to present their renewed action plans in April 2014.
The first part of the event was dedicated to the presentation of the representative of the Ministry of Justice regarding the implementation and assessment of the 2012-2013 action plan of Georgia. Rusudan Mikhelidze, the Secretary of the Anti-Corruption Interdepartmental Coordination Council, discussed specific commitments from the first action plan in detail and talked about the extent to which each of these was implemented over the duration of Georgia’s membership in the Partnership.
According to the presentation, out of twelve commitments, three were fulfilled completely, three were mostly implemented, five were implemented only partially, and one is still in the process of being implemented. The latter was the commitment to integrate and analytical module in the Integrated Criminal Case Management System (ICCMS) and to create a map of criminal acts for a safer environment. The biggest success of Georgia during this period, of course, was the successful implementation of proactive disclosure of public information. Giorgi Kldiashvili, the Director of the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information, presented this innovation on the OGP annual summit in London as one of the projects shortlisted for the Bright Spots Prize. This was discussed by both Giorgi Kldiashvili and Rusudan Mikhelidze at the beginning of the round table, when they talked about the topics discussed during the London summit.
The second part of the round table was entirely devoted to the discussion and initial development of the action plan for the next two years. While Georgia has been largely successful in its implementation of the action plan, much more can be done with careful planning and by involving more governmental institutions.
The first issue raised by the participants was the transparency of the selection process of civil servants. The government website hr.gov.ge administered by the Civil Service Bureau offers information about vacancies for potential civil servants. The participants of the round table pointed out that the process by which candidates are selected needs significant improvements, specifically in the area of transparency, as right now the criteria for selection are not entirely clear and regular citizens don’t have many opportunities to observe the processes. One of the suggestions was to adopt a single entry test for all candidates, for example, though others noted that not all positions have the same requirements. One request was to publish the decisions of the evaluation commission. Publishing information regarding appeals and the decisions regarding them on the website was also suggested by the participants.
Public Service Halls have been perhaps the most important innovation in the area of public services. These institutions have made access to these very easy by gathering most of the available services in one space. The Public Service Halls also plan to incorporate more services and even bring services like insurance from the private sector. The representative of this institution also talked about plans for improving the process of getting feedback, first via telephone and then electronically, so that the citizens can express their opinions and complaints directly to the staff of Public Service Halls.
The participants of the discussion noted several concerns regarding the aforementioned plans, primarily the fact that this might create unfair competition with other private businesses. They also raised the question of the selection process of the company that would offer the service in the Public Service Hall. The representative of the Public Service Hall assured them that the selection would be transparent and would be done through a fair contest. Several other concerns were expressed, primarily the possibility that the workers of the insurance companies might be fired and replaced by the staff of the Public Service Halls. These issues need to be addressed before proceeding with the final plans.
One of the high points of the open governance development in Georgia was the creation of the so called Public Centers in some villages of Georgia. These institutions serve the same function us the Public Service Halls – offering different public services to the local population, all in one space. So far twelve pilot Centers have been built, and six more are planned for 2014. Apart from this, the local public libraries will be renovated with modern books and technology.
The representative of the Ministry of Justice talked primarily about the Freedom of Information legislation and the plans for it. As of today FoI is part of the General Administrative Code of Georgia, but NGOs have been calling for a separate FoI Act. Ministry of Justice is inclined to support this viewpoint, but final decision is yet to be made. Apart from this, the representative also spoke about the supervisory body that will regulate issues related to freedom of information.
The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development is looking in the direction of e-governance and plans to better inform the general public by maximally transferring to electronic system. The new website of the Ministry, privatization.ge, will contain a full list of state property, which will be accessed by any citizen.
The representative of the Notary Chamber of Georgia was the last speaker and talked primarily about the future plans for making the general public aware of the existence of this institution and the benefits it can provide. Among other things, the representative talked about online archives of documents that can be accessed by citizens, as well as arranging online consultations and organizing trainings for notaries. However, some participants noted that, while the plans are commendable, they might not be that relevant to the goals of the Open Government Partnership and thus should not be necessarily incorporated into the action plan.
At the end of the day, the participants listed some other ideas apart from the specific commitments of the institutions that can be incorporated in OGP. One of these was involving the Public Broadcaster in the process, which will help raise awareness of the process in the general public. Giorgi Kldiashvili, also stressed the importance of the openness of archives, noting that the topic of Soviet archives was of particular interest and this directly ties to the goals of transparency of the Open Government Partnership.
He also noted that many institutions that should be involved in OGP are not, specifically the Ministry of Finance. Since the implementation of the commitments stated in the action plan will largely be dependent on budget constraints, the involvement of this particular Ministry is of utmost importance for the success in 2014-2015 period of Open Government Partnership.
The issues raised during the discussion also included the concept for processing electronic data, which will be important for all e-government processes, and the creation of a legislative base for archiving electronic data.
Another idea was to pose questions regarding the improvements that can be made in social networks, so that the citizens can actually participate in the development of the action plan. Lastly, the participants mentioned that they needed to settle on the format of the action plan – should it be a normative act approved by the Parliament, or merely a guideline?
At the end of the day a project for the guidelines of the NGO forum of OGP-Georgia was presented, which will contribute towards the improvement of the coordination and monitoring mechanisms on the national level. It should be noted that, according to the regulations of the Partnership, the action plan should be developed in close cooperation with the civil society and the support of the general public through consultations, according to established principles and process guidelines.
The participants of the round table discussion agreed on another meeting on January 15th, 2014, to discuss the plans in more detail. At the end of January the Open Government Partnership will officially release the report on Georgia’s performance by an independent expert in the frameworks of the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM).