Freedom Forum organized a dialogue on ‘Open Response, Open Recovery in the ‘Wake of COVID-19 Crisis’ on 19 June 2020 at virtual platform (zoom), having government officials, state assembly members, civil society leaders and stakeholders and media
fraternity. Out of 42 participants, there were 10 females in the discussion event.

The main objective of the discussion was to prioritize the idea of government openness on response and recovery in regards to the time of COVID-19 crisis.

Situation highlight was made by Executive Chief at FF, Taranath Dahal, and the discussion was moderated by Project manager Sanjeeb Ghimire. Pointing out the response of the government and showing the perspective of the media on COVID-19 crisis, the journalists of different media stressed that the government never focused on the issues of public health and interest addressing the COVID-19.

At the same time, number of stories related to the corruption during COVID -19 address and purchase of health equipment and medicine are seen widely in the media. They also focused on the irresponsible and discriminatory act and behavior of concerned ministry while arranging press conference and disclosure of health related information. Along with this, the case of relief fund and materials was quite meagre; it was threatening to the vulnerable groups, they could not speak up, and the local government took advantage of this. This all sorts of activities from federal to local governments in the name of responding to COVID-19 crisis lacked transparency.

Similarly, talking about RTI, former Information Commissioner, Kiran Pokharel, said that to get rid of such pandemic, information could be the most important element. However, the government especially the Health Ministry in Nepal was providing partial and confusing information to the public. On the other hand the access to language is still a huge barrier.

Stressing the access to information Legal and Policy Advisor of FHI-360, Tanka Aryal, asserted that media need to follow the RTI for transparent and accountable information while covering the stories. Although the journalistic practice is also hindered during the lockdown which limited the citizen’s access to information and even some were arrested under Electronic Transaction Act, the information regarding security, quarantine facility, health services and the information of government response and recovery are very crucial at this time. So, government must follow the measure of openness.

Similarly, Ex-Chief Information Commissioner, Krishnahari Baskota, urged the public agencies to ensure a transparent and accountable environment for addressing such crisis. RTI is applicable to all tiers of government, he stressed. Different countries around the world are in crisis while responding to the pandemic of COVID-19 and so is it in case of Nepal. The challenges are the same and it is high time for the government to adopt the strategy of open response to the crisis with trusted mechanisms for transparency and accountability. It starts with full transparency of allocation and spending data including procurement transactions, reporting on extra-budgeting funds and establishing explicit links between policies and budgets.

Along with this, it seeks inputs and engages with public and CSOs to monitor the implementation of emergency funds and measures; strengthens oversight functions of parliament and supreme audit institutions and sustains improvements towards better accountability practices, according to Policy Advisor at Freedom Forum, Krishna Sapkota.

Concerning to the views of procurement policies, an ex-government official Naresh Dialogue on Open Response, Open Recovery Chapagain made it clear that procurement process of Nepal is not that much weak but in terms of policy matter, it is somehow vague and confusing. He stressed that the services and delivery through procurement policies are up to the mark. So we need to shift open contracting in the days, he added.

In reference to technology and open contracting, Executive Director at Young Innovation, Bibhusan Bista, shared descriptive as well as diverse information about different ministries’ websites. Ministry of Health, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Federal Affairs, and
General Administration along with Office of the Prime Minister all have different information platform and tab about COVID-19 but the
facts are different. Such mismanagement of information confuses the public, he said, pointing out the need for integrated government information to the public in such pandemic.

Concluding the dialogue, participants knew the value of the management of information, open contracting, access to information, transparency, and openness of government response to address such pandemic.