(By Krishna Sapkota)
Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a new high-profile global initiative that aims at securing concrete commitments from governments to promote openness, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. These commitments respond to four values: transparency, accountability, civic engagement and innovation. It envisages government and civil society working hand-in-hand to build trust and synergies to promote these values. It is a cultural change towards new relationship between governments and citizens and its policies embrace the use of modern information communication technologies and data as resources and tools to create more meaningful interactions between citizens and government.
The global movement is equally important for a country like Nepal where an elevated level of interaction between citizens and government is warranted to build trust in sustaining peace and pursuing the agenda for change. As the country embarks on a journey to institutionalize new political set up marked with new experiment of federal structure from a unitary state, Nepal can reap high benefits from the global initiative in realizing change and creating new approaches to address governance challenges.
Nepal’s specific context is very relevant to become a part of the global movement as it has just introduced a new constitution followed by more than a decade of civil unrest and governance breakdown. With this, the country has systematically endeavored to practice its own forms of federal democratic governance. The constitutionally-guaranteed Right to Information (RTI) enabled with constitutional, legal and institutional set-ups, growing campaigns for information requests, networking and capacity strengthening of demand side and supply side along with journalists has been established as a popular citizenry tool.
The Open Data movement spurred by government and donors releases of aid data and CSO-led initiatives such as Open Nepal; presence of civil society experienced in advocating for openness, improving technical capacity with emerging techies community and somehow increasing government support and low ranking on many social and economic indicators; prevalence of high-level of social inequalities; strong social hierarchies and corruption, provide opportunity for the country to join the OGP.
“OGP offers innovation to improve new forms of civic participation in democratic governance. It will be useful for us while developing structures and mechanisms of governance at sub-national level”, said Nepal Government’s Chief Secretary Dr Som Lal Subedi who recently participated in the third OGP Global Summit in Mexico. He added the sharing of best practices in promoting citizens participation in national and sub-national level through technological innovations would work in our context while implementing the new constitution.
Although Nepal is eligible for joining the OGP as we meet the specified criteria of fiscal transparency, access to information, asset disclosure and citizen engagement, we are not yet a member of the OGP. Nepal should take proactive effort to be the part of global movement as it provides broader context for openness and streamlines transparency accountability initiatives taking place so far, while ensuring that commitments made for transparency and accountability are enshrined as part of the Nepali government’s responsibility to its citizens. It also offers opportunity for Government and CSOs to put systematic and collaborative efforts for building culture of openness and demands high-level political commitment and technological interventions for governance reforms.
“Open government is inherent part of modern life. The recognition of civic space in governance is the sole theme of open government partnership which accords high value in addressing growing pursuit of good governance mostly in developing country like ours”, noted Taranath Dahal, who also attended the OGP Global Summit representing civil society organizations of Nepal. He underlined the need for devising massive sensitization for CSOs and government and developing systematic efforts to push the OGP agenda in Nepal.
As open government is listening and responsive government towards building trust and culture for openness, it will open up many opportunities in engaging public in governance affairs in Nepal. The initiative offers the best package of transparency, accountability, people’s participation and technological innovations so it is good timing for Nepal to embrace OGP in realizing its long journey to the sustainability of strong democratic governance. The strong trust between the state and citizens is a stepping stone towards that end.