News 28th January 2013

National Action Plan priority: Moving forward the global agenda on openness and transparency

by Tim Hughes

Tim is coordinator of the UK Open Government Network.

Where: The Open Data Institute

When: 24 January 2013

Introduction

On 15 November, members of the Cabinet Office Transparency Team and the civil society network met to scope out the areas of the UK’s next open government National Action Plan. Four areas were identified based on the UK Government’s priorities and the civil society network’s vision for the Open Government Partnership:

  • Extending the principles of openness and transparency
  • Moving forward the global agenda on openness and transparency
  • Participation and open policy making
  • Anti-corruption

A document was drafted after the 15 November session, based on the civil society network vision, that sets out some examples of policies and issues that the civil society network would like to consider under each of the themes.

Over previous and coming weeks, sessions are being held on each of these areas in turn to begin discussions with relevant policy makers regarding the policies and commitments that could be included under each. A schedule of these meetings can be found on the Open Government Partnership UK website.

On Thursday (24 January), we held the fourth and final session in the series, on ‘Moving forward the global agenda on openness and transparency’. The following sets out the general areas of discussion, rather than providing a verbatim account.

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Attendees

Graham Gordon, Tearfund (Chair); Tim Hughes, Involve; Dana Wilkins, Global Witness; Anthea Seles, International Records Management Trust; Martin Tisne, Omidyar; Miles Litvinoff, Publish What You Pay UK (via Skype); Matthew Parker, Institution of Civil Engineers (via Skype); Claire Schouten, Integrity Action; Emily Gerrard, Development Research and Training (via Skype); Owen Barder, Centre for Global Development; Gavin Hayman, Global Witness; Alice Powell, Publish What You Pay International (via Skype); Carolyn Culey, Development Initiative (via Skype); John Hawkins, International Secretariat, Construction Sector Transparency Initiative; Anthony Coyle, HM Treasury; Margaret Boyle, HM Revenue and Customs; Sophia Oliver, Cabinet Office; Ilaria Miller, Cabinet Office.

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Working groups

Civil society network members are asked to review the linked spreadsheet and indicate on which commitments they would like to contribute, as well as identifying other relevant individuals and organisations and case studies.

Individuals who volunteered (or were nominated) to join working groups on the global agenda priority area at Thursday’s meeting are set out below.

The working groups will collaborate with relevant civil servants to develop the commitments into something that can be agreed to by government and civil society.

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Joining up

We discussed the importance of ensuring that there is a cohesive narrative across the plan and each of the priorities, in order to build a holistic picture of open government. The OGP provides the opportunity to do this. It’s therefore important for us to identify commitments that cut across the existing silos.

It was also highlighted that in order to gain political traction and buy-in from departments, there is a need to be ruthless with the core narrative. As discussed in previous meetings, it was commented that there is an angle for a narrative around the idea of open data plus.

It was highlighted that the Open Government Partnership presents a golden opportunity to work with open data in a way that drives accountability.

The three levels of actions (legislation, data and information flows, and implementation and use) identified by Tim Davies in a previous session were referred back to, suggesting that this provided a useful framework to work from.

It was suggested that a narrative working group should also be set up. Next week’s brown bag lunch will focus on the core narrative for the plan, and could lead to a separate working group being set up.

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Budget transparency

It was reported that the IMF last year said that the UK Government is a world leader in this area and it was suggested that it could not do much more than what it’s already doing. It was also highlighted that publishing government revenues raises particular issues regarding taxpayer privacy.

While it was agreed that the UK is not doing badly, it was suggested that it could do more to make the case internationally and that it could set a goal to come top of the Open Budget Index.

It was also suggested that much more could be done on the multi-stakeholder aspect of budget transparency (e.g. through the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency) and participation element of budgeting – where the average score in the 2012 Open Budget Survey – where this was considered for the first time – was very low (19 out of 100).

It was reported that the Government has committed to sending tax statements to all taxpayers in 2014 outlining how their tax is being spent.

It was questioned whether tax intake could be made transparent, which could help to put pressure on corporations to pay tax. It was suggested that testing the feasibility of this could be quite a dramatic commitment for the UK to include.

It was questioned whether a champion for budget participation could be identified in UK government to contribute to GIFT.

It was also suggested the UK might commit to implementing the BOOST tool, as well as encouraging other countries to adopt it, as is helps to tie things together.

Provisional budget transparency working group members

Graham Gordon (Tearfund), Clare Shouten (Integrity Action), Dana (Global Witness)

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Natural Resource Transparency

The Prime Minister, in a letter to other G8 Leaders, signaled that the UK would review its position on EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative). Work will currently be taking place to explore if the UK is to implement EITI how this can be done in a way that’s consistent with its European commitments and what the likely cost will be. We will have to wait for other government departments to review the UK position and see what Number 10 decides. It is currently not known when a decision is likely to be taken. It was suggested that we would need to wait to see how the G8 agenda develops.

It was suggested the civil society should capture in is aspirations that the UK should adopt a role in supporting an enhanced EITI (likely to be agreed in EITI board meeting 22-24 May in Sydney). This would include busting silos (e.g. with budget reporting) and looking at how deals are done in the first place. It could take a lead on improving EITI’s interoperability and data standards, and potentially linking it to the Boost Platform.

It was commented that recording keeping is a key element – ensuring that the information on which data is based is accurately collected and recorded.

It was highlighted that there’s a need to ensure that international rules on reporting do not place a large burden on companies. It was suggested that there’s a need to be careful not to stigmatise developing countries by enforcing more and more reporting standards on companies there that do not also apply to developed countries. Need to not create an un-level playing field.

It was highlighted that agreeing data standards as part of the G8 process would need to start soon.

It was also suggested that something should be included on supporting civil society to engage with data and information and on transparency, which would include natural resources, budgets and land deals.

Provisional natural resource transparency working group members

Graham Gordon (Tearfund); Miles Litvinoff (Publish What You Pay UK), Alice Powell (PWYP International), Gavin Hayman (Global Witness)

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Tax transparency

Beneficial Ownership

Banks are already required to check whether a beneficial owner is a Politically Exposed Persons.

Global Witness has recently done a full cost-benefit analysis of a full registry and report that the outcome is strongly in favour.

It was reported that Beneficial Ownership is likely to be a subject that is discussed by the G8. Sophia Oliver (Cabinet Office) offered to provide an update on this once more is known.

Automatic Exchange of Information

It was commented that confidentiality issues are an overriding factor in the automatic exchange of information. The Commission for Customs and Excise Act 2005 prohibits HMRC from disclosing information that it has acquired and holds, though there are various get out clauses, including freely given consent, other legislation and various taxation agreements (that override legislation).

Therefore, it was proposed that an international treaty would be a solution.

It was reported that the US has some legislation (FATCA) that the UK is attempting to ride on the back of.

Tax

There was some concern expressed that domestic efforts to get companies to pay more tax may have the unintended consequence of multi national corporations shifting their tax liabilities away from developing countries, although a range of opinions were exchanged on this topic.

Provisional tax transparency working group members

Gavin Hayman (Global Witness); Owen Barder (CGD), Chris Taggart (Open Corporates)

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Aid transparency

It was reported that the commitment in the UK’s previous action plan for all government departments to publish according to IATI is on track and will be fulfilled.

It was commented that it was thought that some work is already underway between DfID and Tim Davies and Chris Taggart (neither present) from the network on this.

It was suggested that there’s a need for timetabled commitments from other government departments to follow DfID’s lead.

DfID now requires civil society organisations it funds to publish their data and is intending to extend this to private sector contractors.

It was suggested that there’s the possibility of using IATI as a wider transparency mechanism, for example extending to resource transparency and climate finance transparency.

It was suggested the DfID’s position has moved on somewhat from when the priorities were drafted. It has now committed to end to end transparency, which was said to be hugely ambitious and game changing. It was asserted that the UK should be proud of what it’s doing on this and push others to do the same.

Provisional aid transparency working group members

Rachel Rank (Publish What You Fund); Carolyn Culey and Andrew Palmer (Development initiatives), Dana (Global Witness), Emily Gerrard (Development Research and Training), Clare Schouten (Integrity Action), Tim Davies (Practical Participation), Chris Taggart (Count Culture)

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Open infrastructure

CoST

At an international level, DfID launched a pilot CoST (Construction Sector Transparency Initiative) programme in October with 8 countries. It received lots of interest from new countries that wanted to join, particularly emerging markets.

In his letter to G8 leaders, David Cameron referred to enhancing transparency through CoST.

However, it was commented that CoST has struggled to get CSO engagement.

At a national level, work has been underway with the Highways Agency and others to develop it.

There is a particular desire from the Treasury to collect high level data from infrastructure projects. CoST provides a template for this that outs key data in its overall context.

Open contracting

Open contracting is currently missing from the commitments. [Tim Hughes to review whether wording has been lost somewhere].

It was suggested that a good example would be for G8 to take lead on Open Contracting Initiative.

Provisional open infrastructure working group members

Clare Schouten (Integrity Action), John Hawkins (CoST), Matthew Parker (Institution of Civil Engineers)

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Next steps

The civil society network needs to form working groups around the commitments and work to clarify the commitments in order that Ilaria Miller (Cabinet Office) can identify the relevant officials to work on their development. At the meeting organisations indicated that they would be willing to take a lead in developing proposals and these are in the spreadsheet.

The network needs to review whether there are currently any commitments missing or if there are commitments we wish to rewrite.

Next Thursday (31 January), the brown bag lunch will focus on developing the narrative of the action plan.

A first draft of the interim action plan needs to be completed for 28 February.

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