Dutch Civil Society coalition produces Open Government Manifesto.
‘The government is our common heritage and our common property. We are the ultimate stakeholders and shareholders of that powerful force in the public domain we call government. We elect our representatives in local Councils and Parliament and thereby give direction to the government of our country. We provide the money for education, health care, roads, security, for all public services. Salaries of elected representatives, officials and civil servants are being paid by our collective taxes. Therefore we have the right to see how our voice is being used and how our money is spent. With certain exemptions publicly funded information should be made public by default. For some ten years our politicians have paid lip-service to freedom of information and transparency, open data and open government. It’s time to deliver.’
(Elements Dutch Manifesto ‘Our Government, Our Information’, October 2015, signed by 13 NGO’s working in the field of Open Government).
The Netherlands was among the first countries to introduce a ‘Freedom of information’ law back in 1979. As for today, there are quite a number of organizations active in the field of open government and transparency, such as Waag Society, Open State Foundation, Bits of Freedom and IMI (the Institute for Societal Innovation), but the Netherlands had no real coalition of civil society organizations in the field of Open Government.
After meetings and discussions with the OGP Civil Society engagement team, IMI initiated discussions with other Dutch CSOs in May this year with the aim to create a societal coalition for open government. As preparations for creating the new Dutch National Action Plan would soon start, we felt the urge to collaboratively create a shortlist of topics that we as civil society organizations would like to have covered in the new Dutch plan. The new Action Plan largely outlines the focus, activities and energy of ministries and other governmental agencies and departments for the next two years.
The several back-and-forth’s and get-togethers we had with a varied group of civil society organizations before and during last summer eventually resulted in the presentation of a civil society Manifesto titled ‘Our Government, Our Information.’
Our main points are:
1. Do what you promised. In a recent evaluation of the Open Government Partnership, the IRM concluded that the Netherlands has implemented its plans only in part. Openness is being paid lip service, but in practice often lags behind because of political or bureaucratic resistance;
2. Enshrine the right to government information by ratifying the Tromso treaty; expedite the passing of the renewed Dutch FOIA without further restrictions;
3. Expedite the disclosure of more categories of government-held data; ensure open government data adheres to international open data standards;
4. Actively open up more categories of information like media productions that were financed with public money; policy evaluations and financial audits of government bodies; and agendas and overviews of official decisions of the cabinet, regional and municipal governments.
5. Move forward on lobby transparency: integrate an official lobby paragraph in proposals for new laws that registers and summarizes external input.
6. Make participatory decision-making processes more meaningful and efficient: invite public participation from the very beginning of a law-making process on; all public bodies should publish all results of consultation processes.
7. Safeguard privacy; the constitutional right to privacy should unequivocally be applied in the digital domain as well. Encourage societal debate on maximizing open government and safeguarding individual privacy.
8. Openspending; disclose all financial and budget information held by government bodies, allowing anyone to track, trace and compare public spending. Include data on subsidies and allocated and planned procurements.
9. Create more transparency around beneficial ownership; we need more information on who eventually owns companies that are registered in the Netherlands in order to be able hold them to account – for example on how they benefit from tax payments or tax rulings with the Dutch tax agency.
10. Integrate ‘Data Wisdom’ in the curriculum of schools. With an ever increasing amount of data becoming available, citizens need to be equipped to understand, use and produce data themselves, so that they can reap the social, economic and democratic benefits of it.
11. Transparency at the local level; there’s several laws around transparency and the use of information in the Netherlands, but knowledge and implementation on the local level often lags behind. We need to enhance the capacity of account holders in local governments and advocate for a pilot group of municipalities experimenting with open data, open budgeting and open spending.
Currently, the Manifesto (in Dutch) is being discussed in meetings with the Ministry of Interior Affairs. It will also be brought up in meetings with relevant Members of Parliament to influence political decision-making. Our hope is that our suggestions will be included in the new Dutch Action Plan on Open Government in January 2016.
Nout van der Vaart, Program Associate Civil Society Engagement, OGP Support Unit.