SA Self Assessment: A commentary

The South African government has submitted its Self Assessment of the OGP Commitments, which can be downloaded here: OGP Final Self-Assessment Report. Now that we have finally been given details about actions taken, we can begin in earnest our monitoring of implementation of specified Commitments, which will be done through this website.

Alison Tilley, the Executive Director of ODAC, has however preliminarily reviewed the Assessment and found it ‘wanting’ in this commentary:

“We have received a copy of the South Africa Open Government Partnership Self assessment report, on Monday the 22nd of April. Given the limited time frame before the Steering Committee meeting, we will comment only on the most important issues.

Consultation process

We do not wish to canvass this issue again in detail. A full record of the on again, off again nature of this process is outlined in detail on here.

Our timeline on the consultation process records that on the 18 August 2011 ODAC and other partner organisations were forced to write an open letter, published in the newspapers, to the President to try and establish the progress on the Commitments and how public participation is being facilitated, after direct approaches to the President’s office failed. The Department of Public Services and Administration sends ODAC a copy of the Action Plan that was be lodged at the OGP summit in New York on the 9 September 2011, to which we responded.

We note that the government held meetings with the SANGOCO executive and an  ‘extensive two day workshop’ with the SANGOCO national office and representatives of the 9 provincial affiliate structures, which it felt adequately represented civil society.

We note the government claim that the National Planning Commission (NPC) process, resulting in the National Development Plan, was undertaken in June to August 2011, and formed part of their planning on OGP. We acknowledge that extensive consultation was undertaken by the NPC, but would suggest that this was a consultation on a different issue, not on the OGP.

We also note with concern that it took from September 2011 to December 2012 for cabinet to approve the plan.

The overall process with civil society around the OGP can best be summarized by a senior staff member of SANGOCO. His frustrations are captured in this email of the 7 November 2012:

As someone who is also frustrated with OGP I thought I must also raise my serious concern with the slow pace and cancellation of OGP meetings and I must also say this treatment to Civil Society sector is unacceptable and we reject such attempts.

I think it should noted and be recognized by all in sundry that indeed Civil Society are a critical stakeholder in the national and international landscape and refuses to be sidelined or suppressed in processes that has to look at shaping the development trajectory of our country. To this end, we must also inform those who think we don’t know that we are aware that the Deputy Ministry and her entourage are attending an International event convened by the Transparency International, and the Conference is on Anti Corruption and Good Governance in Brasalia. I was wondering how they will deal with the question if asked and to report on how Government pursues work with Civil Society Organisations if we keep on receiving such ill treatment from your Ministry. I’m interested how the response will be dealt with taking into account of our continued frustrations with this process.

We need to reiterate that this time around we would not entertain nor accept any further changes to this planned and important meeting. This meeting is long overdue and necessary so as to deliberate and comment on Government Open Government Partnerships strategies and other proposals and we have to form part of such processes.

Last but not least Government has to ensure they allocate budget to cover for travelling and other program’s expenses. There should be no excuse in the future of civil society participation in OGP processes especially in attending such crucial stakeholder meetings.

I will attend this meeting and would require transport to enable my attendance and hoping that you will treat this response with respect it deserves.

Kind Regards.

Further frustrated comment on the pattern of postponements of meetings was made by COSATU, the largest trade union structure in South Africa, in response to one of the postponements of meetings in November 2012 [message excluded].

We note that we attended the first roundtable meeting in Cape Town on the 12 April 2013, and welcome this meeting, together with the meeting in Durban, as an attempt to begin consultation with broader civil society. We look forward to the establishment of a joint civil society/government steering committee.

An interesting aspect of the report is the emphasis on the use of Community Development Workers as part of the consultation process, in three provinces. As public servants, they cannot be described as civil society. However, we applaud the efforts of the government to spread information on the OGP through these structures.

Implementation results

1) Develop a Citizen Participation guideline for Public Sector departments that would ensure that every public sector department across all spheres have a functional, resourced and capacitated citizen engagement unit which regularly and proactively engage with civil society.

The citizen participation guidelines having been developed is a welcome move forward. We look forward to the government sharing these guidelines with us.

2) Formalise partnerships with civil society organisations in all nine provinces to establish Service Delivery Improvement Forums (SDIFs) at local level to provide timely citizen report cards on service delivery levels at community level, especially in relation to primary health care, water, sanitation, environmental management and housing.

No SDIFs have been established. We encourage progress on this important commitment.

3) Enhance the capacity and capabilities of communities to access and claim their socio-economic rights through the roll-out of national public education campaigns, specifically a public outreach campaign on Know Your Service Rights and Responsibilities (KYSR&R) to inform citizens about their service rights, responsibilities, and legal mechanisms available to hold government accountable.

We welcome the ongoing distribution of booklets.

4) Enhance national integrity through institutional capacity-building of National Anti-Corruption Forum (NACF) and Anti-Corruption Hotline.

The Department appear to have reworked this commitment, as a commitment to train officials in anti corruption work, which they have done. However, there has been no capacity building of the NACF, which has in fact not met in some time. The last summit was in 2011, and as we are represented on the NACF, we can confidently say that no meetings have taken place in the last year. We cannot comment on the Anti Corruption Hotline.

5) Approve guidelines on sanctions for corruption related cases.

To our knowledge, no guidelines have been released.

6) Enhance the involvement of civil society at every stage of the budgetary process across all spheres of government to enhance the progressive realisation of socioeconomic rights and enable citizens to track public expenditure.

We recognize and comment the excellent ongoing work by the Department of Finance in this regard.

7) Explore the feasibility of establishing a single agency mandated by Government to develop a comprehensive and publicly accessible portal of environmental management information.

This Commitment has not been addressed. The issue of establishing a portal was referred to the Minister for the Environment, but no progress has been made. Progress on the Department of Water Affairs making the Blue Drop Reports available, which deal with water quality, and a Provincial initiative around environmental information, are not a portal of environmental information established by a single agency.”

Hold tight!

ODAC attended a very informative OGP roundtable on 16 April which has given us a detailed sense of ‘how far we are’ on the OGP commitments. South Africa will be tabling its self-assessment report, as well, on Friday to the OGP Steering Committee and when we have this we will be able to provide significant feedback, as well as an update to the indicators that we will be using moving forward to assess progress. We have also, however, just received notice of an OGP Focus Group Meeting to be held in Cape Town on 30 April 2013. We unfortunately as yet do not have details as to venue or rsvp requirements, but will send a comprehensive update on all these aspects soonest. Don’t forget the OGP VC happening today, though at the venues:

South Africa, Pretoria 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM 442 Rodericks Street

Lynnwood Road

Tshwane

Tel: +27 12 742 3100

South Africa, Cape Town 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM Varista CAPE TOWN, Claremont

110 Heritage House, 20 Dreyer Street,

Cape Town, Western Cape 7700

Tel: +27-21-671-4647

South Africa’s consultation false start

On 3 April 2013 ODAC saw a large  advertorial in the Business Day on the OGP by the DPSA: with a call to participate. However, the events had already passed – apparently an OGP roundtable had been in KZN on 20 March, Cape Town on 26 March, and Gauteng on 28 March – in spite of the fact no such events have been broadcast on the dedicated OGP civil society listserve hosted by the DPSA itself. However, we were eventually able to ascertain from the DPSA that the public call was an error – these have been indefinitely postponed till after the government attend the OGP meeting in London – though we were informed that the Deputy Minister did have an OGP Roundtable on 20 March in Durban with “about 150 representatives from Business, Press Club, traditional leadership and academia”. They also stated that on 28 March the Deputy Minister had a workshop in KZN with 100 CDWs and GCIS officials who then conducted a door-to-door campaign on OGP where they engaged about 10 000 households on the OGP action plan and progress on commitments. This is good news, but is also an example of the difficulty South Africa has been having in maintaining communications about the OGP – we need a dedicated OGP website, and a stricter utilisation of the Civil Society Listserve. Without regular communication, our attempts to monitor progress on the Commitments is made significantly difficult.

This did, however, mean that we were then informed of the  next planning meeting. As you may be aware of, the Open Government Partnership Africa Outreach will be hosted by Kenya on 29-30 May 2013. It has been agreed that South Africa hosts the planning meeting with Kenya and other critical stakeholders. There will therefore be a planning meeting on the 10th of April 2013 in Pretoria. The venue is still to be announced, but we will try and keep everyone informed as more information comes to light. However, again given the short timelines, the associated high costs mean that it is very difficult for civil society to participate so last minute and in the clear absence of any government financial support to facilitate participation.

Monitoring SA progress: environmental research

As an acknowledgment that monitoring of the South African OGP commitments must be multi-faceted, we have begun consolidating our research – and the research of our partner organisations – to provide evidence-based feedback on the actual state of transparency in South Africa. In order to consolidate this easily and simply, we have created a new page which can be viewed here on the Environmental Scan page.

A significant part of being involved in the open information community is trying to ensure the broad and open dissemination of research, and not just government data. This work can provide responsive insight into whether – through the implementation of the South African commitments – any real change is being effected in the transparency environment.

Liberia and OGP – a commentary by Alison Tilley

Liberia is not a wealthy country, but they have ambitious plans. Their Vision 2030, and Agenda for Transformation are often mentioned as the guiding documents for changing the lives of the 10 million Liberians, still engaged in reconstruction after the war. UN and international aid agencies still have many large offices in Monrovia, a testament to the interest and influence of the international community.

The Liberians are keen to make the most of the interest, and have acceded to many of the requests made of them to sign various charters and declarations.  Madame Sirleaf Johnson, the President, agreed to sign up to the Open Government Partnership in 2011, the self described ‘race to the top’ process encouraging openness and transparency. Now some time later, the pressure is on for Liberia to produce their action plan for the OGP, which plan was released while a group of civil society supporters of OGP were visiting Liberia.

Made up of the OGP civil society co ordinator, Paul Massen,  AFIC director, Gilbert Sendugwa, and  Peter Tumwine, and ODAC’s Alison Tilley, the delegation were very pleased to be present at the unveiling of the draft plan.

The draft OGP plan for Liberia has a number of really interesting and unique features. My pick of the commitments – firstly, it plans for whistleblowing laws to be passed, which may be the only OGP commitment around whistleblowing. Secondly, it promises to pass the Code of Conduct for Civil Servants – a constitutional requirement sine 1986.  Thirdly, it promises implementation of their Freedom of Information (FOI) Law, a recently passed Act, which has been recognized as a very well drafted law.

The FOI creates the first African Information Commissioner, which is a key part of implementing any FOIA law. I was very pleased to be able to visit Commissioner Freeman with our group, and ask him how it’s going, since he was confirmed in August.

It’s not going well.

The current Commissioner has no budget. And when I say no budget, I don’t mean no money for projects and outreach. I mean no money for rent, telephone, paper, pens – let alone lawyers, information systems, etc. No submission was made in the last budget round for money for his office, and that appears to have been that. A new round is beginning now – perhaps this will solve the problem?

There is already word out that the law is not working, and that requests have been refused. The Commissioner has four complaints, but to be honest, what is he to do with them, with no communications, no office, and one staff member?

The OGP commitments around FOIA are going to face a real hurdle in implementation until Commissioner Freeman gets a staff. He has a desk – lets build from there.

Next Africa OGP VC: 18 April 2013

A final date, and the details, for the next OGP Video-conference have been finalised – just prior to the government OGP meeting in London, at the end of the month. This conference, held in collaboration with the World Bank Institute and OGP Independent Civil Society Coordinator, is scheduled for April 18, 2013 at 3:00pm in East Africa, 12 noon in Accra and Monrovia, 2:00PM in Cape Town and Johannesburg, 8:00am in Washington and 1:00PM in Brussels.
At the last VC we started discussing the way government and civil society work together at national level. During this third VC we want to explore this engagement much more in-depth. Attached you will find a set of guiding questions to help you prepare. Understanding how the cooperation is organized, what the mandate is, who is involved, but also why that works or does not work, what advice you might have for other countries. So the focus is on concrete experiences and lessons for African civil society engagement with Governments around OGP. It will also enlist suggestions for discussion at the forthcoming Africa OGP Regional meeting scheduled for May 2013. You can confirm attendance by sending a mail to Peter here.
For information about the first and second VC please follow this link and this link.