OGN Papers 30th October 2012

OGN briefing: UK Civil Society Network Vision for the Open Government Partnership

Introduction

On 11 October 2012, the UK Civil Society Network for the Open Government Partnership (OGP) met to discuss civil society priorities for open government. The network is an open and informal collection of organisations working across the breadth of open government at a national and international level. This document summarises our key priorities for the OGP and what we think the UK government should focus on during its time as chair. It is based on the outcomes of 11 October’s open network meeting and subsequent collaboration online.

The OGP is now a year old and the UK has taken over as lead co-chair at a critical stage in its development. There is a significant opportunity for the UK to drive forward the open government agenda, building on the principles and commitments of the Open Government Declaration, including to:

  • promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable.
  • uphold the value of openness in our engagement with citizens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities
  • embrace principles of transparency and open government with a view toward achieving greater prosperity, well-being, and human dignity in our own countries and in an increasingly interconnected world.

The UK Government has published a vision for the UK’s period as co-chair of the Open Government Partnership. While we welcome the Government’s stated commitment as lead co-chair to “promote transparency all over the world”, we believe that the UK’s vision for the OGP is lacking in ambition both in breadth (the issue areas it covers) and depth (the action it commits to taking).

The priorities we set out below refer specifically to the added value we expect OGP to deliver above and beyond current governmental obligations and commitments on open government, for example on anti-corruption or the EU proposals on transparency rules for energy, mining and logging companies.

  • Priority 1: Articulate a broad vision of open government
  • Priority 2: Participation, policy making and service delivery
  • Priority 3: Right to Information and open data standards
  • Priority 4: Transparency
  • Priority 5:  Anti-Corruption – effective policies, strengthening the rule of law and increasing deterrents

Priority 1: Articulate a broad vision of open government

Open Government is about much more than open data. Civil society organisations have been working to highlight the many elements that make up open government, from access to information and citizen participation in policy making, to anti-corruption initiatives and work on corporate transparency and accountability.

We want to see:

  • The UK develop and articulate a broader vision for the OGP strategy encompassing all aspects of open government. This must include a move from principles to clear actions, lines of accountability and resources.

  • A revised and broad based UK National Action Plan that addresses all elements of the open government declaration, and which is built on broad based consultation and engagement with the whole open government community. A clear timeline for civil society engagement is needed.

  • The UK using its role as co-chair of the OGP to build upon existing local and global initiatives, from domestic work on localism and civil service reform, to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the G8 and the post-2015 agenda. The UK should place OGP asks into other international fora where it has a key role. The Government should reach out to like-minded governments to expand membership of the Open Government Partnership.

  • Coordination across government departments involved in key OGP issue. For example, there should be clear links made between departments that are engaged in transparency and anti-corruption issues, such as DfID, MoJ, and civil society engaged in the OGP process. Sector transparency boards, and the open data boards and user groups should also be engaged in the OGP process. Where there is overlap between departments or initiatives, it is important to identify where responsibility for development and implementation lies.

  • A recognition of the importance of local open government, and action that takes opportunities to engage with open government closer to individual citizens.

Priority 2: Participation, policy making and service delivery

Open government is a two-way dialogue. It builds on transparency and responsiveness. With increased access to government information and open data, civil society organisations, media, informal networks and individual citizens all have new and expanded roles to play in holding government to account and being part of policy dialogues. This requires resources and capacity building, both in the UK and internationally.

We want to see:

  • A stronger focus on participation alongside transparency as a core element of open government. Promoting diverse and inclusive opportunities for participation in scrutiny and policy making is key to secure the benefits of open government, not only for prosperity but also for deepening democracy and improving public services.

  • The UK develop and implement a clear consultation plan on future OGP priorities containing digital and non-digital methods, and recognising the diversity of stakeholders in open government, including national and local civil society organisations, media, informal networks, individual citizens, parliamentarians, councillors and elected officials.

  • The UK use the OGP as a forum for shared learning, showcasing effective online and offline participation methods from the UK, and learning from other governments on combining transparency and responsiveness in the development of policy and delivery of services.

  • The UK building on experiments on open policy making, online engagement and citizen feedback and working to ensure that opportunities to meaningfully shape policy are available to all citizens, recognising a diversity of ages, capacities, and access to technology.

Priority 3: Right to Information and open data standards

The public must be provided with easy access to accurate, high value information in a

format which can be easily read and understood, so as to ensure that key actors across the public, private and voluntary sectors can be held to account.

We want to see:

  • Loopholes closed that currently exist in both the Freedom of Information Act and the Public Interest Disclosure Act. The objective should be to mandate the publishing of all data and information (except personal data).

  • A lobbying register that applies across the board, including in-house corporate lobbying. This must be an effective measure and must not impede citizen participation in policy making.
  • A plan for core reference data sold by trading funds to be eventually brought into the government’s open data strategy.
  • Increased obligations on the private sector to publish data and information, covering their activities and social and environmental impacts.
  • Any organisation delivering a public service subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Enhanced open data from companies house, including new records on nominee directors and beneficial owners.

Priority 4: Transparency

Transparency is critical to good governance, accountability and the effective use of resources. The actions of public, private and civil society organisations all impact on the lives of citizens. The principles of transparency should therefore apply across the board to all sectors.

We want to see:

 

  • Budget transparency, with the UK working to strengthen the fiscal transparency criteria of the OGP. For example through revising the Open Government Declaration to call for publication of the full range of government revenues (not just government spending as it currently stands); requiring year on year improvements and calling on OGP members to reach a minimum score in the Open Budget Index. The UK should also support steps towards a global norm on budget transparency, engaging in existing processes such as Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT) and the Open Government Standards, and should encourage all countries to produce a citizens budget for 2013. Where possible, budgets should be linked to the outputs and outcomes they achieve.
  • Extractive industries transparency, with the UK making good on its promise of working with others to see the EU deliver effective transparency legislation and encouraging other countries where extractive industry companies are registered to implement similar publish what you pay laws. The UK should also sign up to EITI as a sign of its global leadership and commitment to transparency and encourage other OGP resource-rich countries to sign up to EITI and implement mandatory reporting legislation.

 

  • Tax transparency, with the UK working with other governments – through the G8, the G20, the EU and the OECD, as well as through OGP – to develop and implement rules and standards which prevent companies avoiding their responsibilities to pay taxes, both in the UK and in developing countries where tax revenues are key to sustainable progress on poverty reduction. The UK should drive progress towards the automatic exchange of information between revenue authorities, work with others to extend country-by-country reporting beyond the extractives sector, and – by supporting the progress of EU legislation on Anti-Money Laundering – enhance transparency around beneficial ownership.

 

  • Aid Transparency, with the UK fulfilling the commitment in its action plan to ensure that all government departments involved in funding aid publish their data to the IATI Registry, and working to improve the quality of DfID’s IATI data in line with its open data strategy. The UK should use its chairing of OGP to promote best practice and peer learning to support wider adoption of IATI in national action plans.

 

  • The UK commit to open contracting, from procurement to the close of projects. This would mean all major projects key documents associated with contract and delivery would be published and kept updated. This would include details of contract awards, terms and conditions (including amendments), ‘Red Amber Green’ ratings, and a contract summary including all shareholder interests.

 

Priority 5:  Anti-Corruption – effective policies, strengthening the rule of law and increasing deterrents

Anti-corruption is a key underlying principle of the Open Government Partnership.

Combating corruption is essential to ensure that public resources can be used for development and are not siphoned off through embezzlement, bribery or tax evasion.  The current UK action plan emphasises open government for improved public service delivery, and thus tackling corruption should be seen as an integral part of this agenda.

Consequently the forthcoming action plan should prioritise anti-corruption, not only through increasing transparency, but also through effective criminalisation and strong enforcement of anti-corruption legislation.  In particular we want to see:

  • A commitment to ensure sufficient resourcing for the UK Bribery Act (particularly the Serious Fraud Office and the diplomatic posts) and for the UK Bribery Act to be extended to all legal persons incorporated in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
  • OGP progress on bribery: To urge all OGP countries to commit in their National Action plans to make progress in adopting and enforcing strong anti-bribery legislation.
  • A commitment to establish a publicly available register of the ultimate beneficial owners of companies, and for all OGP countries to take measures to tackle money laundering and have publicly available shareholder registries.
  • Robust protection for whistleblowers, and to encourage all organisations to establish effective whistle-blowing arrangements for their staff and for a commitment to close the loopholes in the Public Interest Disclosure Act.
  • A commitment to initiate a cross-Whitehall anti-corruption strategy, which outlines how different departments and agencies are working to tackle corruption and how anti-corruption is being prioritised in different international fora (e.g. OGP, G8, G20 etc).
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