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Albanian CSOs got the “OGP message”. Did the Government?

Gjergji Vurmo |

Around this time two years ago the Government of Albania finalized the draft Action Plan outlining 30 OGP commitments. Most of them aimed at improving access to information, accountability, and use of technology and information for transparency and accountability. Earlier this year, the IRM progress report 2011/2013 for Albania found that the Government had substantially or fully implemented 16 out of 30 commitments, with nearly one third of commitments failing to prove clear relevance to an OGP value. While the government has dominated every stage of the process in the first year, the civil society and other non-state actors have remained largely uninformed about OGP, the IRM report suggests.

This situation has reversed recently as the country prepares its second OGP Action Plan (2014/2015). In February 2012 the then Ministry of Innovation and ICT held on its own initiative one consultative meeting with civil society to discuss the drafted AP. It further collected some feedback through in-person meetings. In contracts, civil society has now taken the lead on the OGP Albania process during the first quarter of 2014 and is increasingly pressing the Government to carry out an open and inclusive process.

A CSOs Coalition for OGP Albania was established in December 2013 under a regional project of PASOS financed by the European Union (EU). Ever since, Albanian civil society has been informed on OGP and country’s to-do-list over the consultation phase and implementation of the Action Plan. The CSOs Coalition coordinated an online consultation with civil society actors gathering some feedback during the first three weeks of March this year. The Ministry of Innovation and Public Administration (MIPA) joined as co-organizer of the Regional Conference “Open Government Partnership: Challenges and opportunities for the Action Plan 2014/2016”, on March 28th 2014 in Tirana. A list of 13 draft commitments prepared by the Government a week ahead of the Conference was discussed and confronted with 24 commitments outlined by CSOs prior and during the event. Furthermore, Government officials were specifically asked at the conference to enable within clear deadlines (1) additional consultations with CSOs, private sector and other actors; (2) continuous informing of stakeholders and the general public on OGP, the AP’s design and implementation; and (3) involvement of civil society in AP’s implementation.

Compared to the first year of Albania’s OGP process when the Government invested poor efforts to consult civil society and failed to involve CSOs in the implementation process, nowadays situation has changed dramatically. Yet, this time it is not the Government, but civil society that is making the difference. The Government presented a first draft AP only at the March 28th Conference in Tirana. However, it has not published on its website either the document or a consultations’ timeline. An OGP section at MIPA’s website is missing too and the only online resource on OGP-informing in local language or AP’s consultation are those provided by Albanian CSOs (e.g. Albanian Institute of Science). With not so much time left until the May 7th deadline for draft AP and June 15th deadline for official AP there is a narrow window of opportunity to address concerns over depth and breadth of consultation, advance notice, timeline or awareness raising. Using these opportunities and OGP resources for peer-learning and exchange is critical in order to finalize an action plan that is OGP-relevant, realistic, measurable, and has high potential to deliver tangible impact and change in respective grand challenges. Last but not least important, promoting OGP Albania must include the administration and senior government officials in order to allow for a high profile process that delivers at all levels.

While civil society had a successful start, the most important part is yet to come – finalizing the action plan by mid June and, most significantly, getting involved in AP’s implementation. An active civil society sector promoting, monitoring and advancing OGP Albania Agenda must not be a hostage of “lack of donors’ support”. Indeed, civil society and the Government can lobby to turn the OGP process into a priority for donors and other stakeholders. A sustainable way for civil society to do that is by capitalizing the OGP agenda in Albania, transforming it into its own platform that stands in the heart of civil society struggle for transparency, accountability, participatory governance and knowledge-based society. Instead of lobbying for an “externally-offered priority”, by highlighting their efforts on OGP as an “endogenous platform”, civil society can attract donors to join those few (like US, UNDP etc.) that have already pledged support. Ultimately, it will lead to reaching out at broader audience of societal stakeholders and citizens.

This is the only sustainable approach to bring more societal actors onboard with OGP Albania, and the OGP process closer to the citizens. Obviously, a government’s commitment is enough to bring OGP formally “at home”; but OGP will only deliver to the citizenry if civil society shares responsibility with governments.

*Gjergji Vurmo is IRM Researcher for Albania 

Photo credit: Tirana View from Sky Tower 4, via WikiMedia Commons