Last week, the OGP Steering Committee formally approved a new parliamentary engagement policy, which more clearly outlines rules for parliamentary participation in the initiative and recognizes the value of legislative engagement in open government reform efforts. A draft version of the policy, which was approved pending minor technical changes to the language, can be seen in the Steering Committee meeting pre-packet. Approval of the parliamentary engagement strategy marks a significant step in OGP’s continued maturation and growth—one that should help the initiative deliver on its transformational potential at country level.
Deeper participation of parliaments has clear value. As the representative branch of government, parliaments often bear the brunt of public dissatisfaction, and, in many regions of the world, stand to benefit from a more open, responsive relationship with the public. Apart from its institutional transparency, the legislative branch can play a central role in promoting a culture of openness across government by passing and amending legislation, conducting oversight, and ensuring resources are allocated to support the implementation of openness commitments. In Kenya, Paraguay, and elsewhere, commitments made by the executive branch to pass or amend freedom of information legislation have only been realized through the participation of the legislature. Parliamentary participation can also create opportunities for engaging opposition political parties. Having support and knowledge of OGP in both government and opposition parties helps prevent situations in which a change in administration derails progress on OGP reforms, as has happened in a handful of OGP countries. Parliaments stand to benefit from and support open government reform efforts, and OGP’s new parliamentary engagement policy will help ensure its continued growth.
Just as with the executive branch of government, OGP is uniquely positioned to create meaningful opportunities for dialogue on openness reform between parliaments and civil society organizations. While there are a number of international fora for parliaments to share best practice, none of them fully incorporates civil society and none of them focus specifically on openness reform, an issue that is particularly relevant given sinking levels of trust in legislatures around the world. This makes OGP uniquely valuable to legislatures that are interested in finding new ways to tell the story of parliament, engage with citizens, and reinvent the relationship between elected officials and the public. As we have seen in Chile, Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere, OGP can help create fundamental change in the way parliaments engage with civil society and initiate openness reforms.
While the new policy paper might at first glance outline only minor tweaks to existing OGP policy and practice, we believe that the real value of these changes is that they will increase and enhance both the prominence and quality of parliamentary participation in OGP. Most significantly, the policy states that parliaments are able to either contribute commitments to the National Action Plan (NAP) in coordination with the executive branch or independently as a chapter of the National Action Plan. This is significant for a number of reasons. Having a more clearly defined role for the legislative branch should encourage and create additional opportunities for inter-branch collaboration on the development and implementation of OGP commitments. That being said, being able to contribute commitments as a separate chapter of the NAP will help facilitate parliamentary participation in separation of powers systems where it would be constitutionally challenging to do so. No matter how parliaments contribute to the NAP, the commitments will be subject to review by the Independent Reporting Mechanism and must be developed in a manner consistent with the OGP co-creation guidelines. The policy also encourages parliaments to seek opportunities for collaboration with the executive branch and to identify an individual parliamentary “lead” responsible for managing the process and communicating with the Support Unit and Working Group.
While the policy is a significant step in the right direction, much work is yet to be done to more fully engage parliaments in the Open Government Partnership. In the coming months, the Steering Committee, Support Unit, Working Group, UNDP, and other partners will be working together to develop a plan to ensure that the policy is effectively implemented throughout the OGP community. The Steering Committee has authorised the launch of parliamentary engagement policy at the forthcoming OGP Global Summit, scheduled to take place in Paris in 07 - 09 December 2016. The Paris Summit will include an open parliament conference track and provide an opportunity to spread information about the policy and build on the number of parliaments currently participating. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about parliaments and OGP, please see the Legislative Openness Working Group’s homepage for additional resources.