Faces of Open Government: Gordana Dimitrovska, National Coordinator for Open Government, Macedonia
How did you get involved in open government? What in your background inspired you to work in this field?
If I were to provide a short answer regarding my involvement in the open government concept, then it would be “simple and spontaneous” but certainly not “by accident”.
From the very beginning of my involvement in the administration of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia, I specialized in processes such as modernization of public administration and democratic governance, policy development, regulatory impact assessment, reducing administrative barriers, public consultation including e-democracy and e-governance. The issue of open government was an inseparable part of these processes. All these processes, including the prior experience as contact point for OGP, are not just an inspiration and encouragement for me, but represent a good example of how the “open government community” could create greater transparency and accountability, increased involvement by citizens, thus encouraging innovation and economic opportunities, and all this by virtue of open information, open dialogue and open data.
What is your open government “pitch”? Why should people care about and support it?
The responsible governments of the world recognize the need for innovative and sustainable policies that will improve the quality of the country’s democratic life and promote a culture of open government practices and inclusive growth. Therefore, open government should be seen as a platform that creates space for more constructive collaboration between the government and citizens, thus promoting good governance and democracy through increasing inclusiveness in policy-making and service delivery.
An open government “pitch”, regardless of the society type, provides introduction of mechanisms for mutual listening, institutionalizing cooperation as well as a change in the culture of work and interpersonal communication. Moreover, it is a possibility for the representatives from government institutions and civil society organizations to become allies, providing help in finding solutions to identified challenges.
The coordinating role of the authorities institutionally responsible for this process is also of great importance. In this context, the Macedonian Ministry of Information Society and Administration responsible for the OGP has an important role in providing strong support to government institutions for achieving greater openness, accountability and strive to promote participatory policy making.
Given trends in populism throughout Europe and around the world, what role do you think open government can play in stemming the tide of populist autocracy?
Finding an answer to this question is a real challenge. We are witnessing societal developments, changes in views of the needs and expectations of citizens, regardless of which continent we come from. The strive to promote the values on which our societies are based is the single clear thing regarding this issue. The essence and values of open government are clear even when they’re not “in plain sight.” Moreover, right of access to information and the possibility of effective public monitoring can be a corrective to societal challenges. Therefore, continuous tending to benefits of open government is required in order to achieve the desired aim. With respect to this concept, OGP has shown that despite the trends of populism, it continuously encourages a number of countries around the world to commit to their work to create open, transparent, reliable and efficient government institutions that interact with civil society as an accumulator of creativity, energy and knowledge.
The ever-expanding OGP community is an indication that the determination by fiscally responsible and technically competent governments to enable innovation, growth and competitiveness to their citizens is the core of a modern democracy.
Macedonia’s air quality index was one of the first open data initiatives in Europe, pre-dating the rise of open government. What drove government and civil society together to improve air quality?
Open data in Macedonia was introduced through the first National Action Plan for Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2012. In this plan, the Government made a special commitment to open data in machine readable format. One of the first results from implementing this commitment was providing real-time information on air pollution from the air quality state monitoring, where the air quality index application gives information of the current air quality in a simple way using easily understandable color schemes. As of October 2012, public awareness and pressure on relevant state institutions has significantly increased as a result of the published real-time information on the national air quality portal. Pressure from citizens is often manifested by imposing requirements for short-term rapid implementation in situations with enormous air pollution. Over the past few years, the Government has been undertaking short-term measures to improve air quality when the average air pollution limit of PM10 is exceeded. The Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, as the responsible ministry, in cooperation with NGOs, has proposed a set of measures to the Government for reducing pollution and improving air quality.
It is of great importance to point out that the development of sustainable and long term solutions to the air pollution problem is a challenge that requires serious commitment by policymakers, and should be implemented in close cooperation with the public. In this regard, in compliance with the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental issues, and the Law on Free Access to Information, the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning is committed to participatory policy making.
Given Macedonia’s air pollution problem, what are some commitments that Macedonia has made to combat climate change and pollution?
In terms of pollution, by signing the protocols to the Convention on Transboundary Air Pollution in 2010 (concerning the reduction of emissions of pollutants in the air), Macedonia committed not to exceed the limit values for sulfur oxide, nitrogen oxide, ammonia, and non-methane volatile organic compounds, as indicated in the Gothenburg protocol, and to continuously implement measures for reduction of certain pollutants. The government obliged the responsible institutions to implement the set measures for air quality in different sectors by adopting the National Plan for Air Quality in 2012. With a government decision in July 2015, the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning submitted a so-called “National contribution to [prevent] climate change” (INDC) to the UN Secretariat of Framework Convention on Climate Change. By delivering this contribution, our state became the 23th country in the world that had drafted, adopted and submitted this document, thus demonstrating its commitment to join the global efforts for climate change reduction prior to the Summit on climate in Paris, December 2015.
Macedonia is an ethnically diverse country. How does the OGP process work in a country with so many diverse nationalities? How do you ensure inclusivity?
OGP is an initiative that requires the government and civil society organizations to commit to the promotion of mutual partnership, strengthening trust and development of joint efforts aimed at good governance. In the multi-year OGP process, united in its diversities, specificities and customs, Macedonia makes continuous efforts for dedicated promotion of the achieved level of transparency and accountability of public institutions, promotion of partnership between state institutions and civil society organizations as well as meeting everyday challenges, needs and expectations of all citizens regardless of their nationality.
The experience from prior action plans and the Independent Reporting Mechanism’s recommendations are the main guides in organizing and implementing national action plans’ commitments, where extensive consultations within and outside the Government hold the central place.
Speaking in the light of OGP context, it is of high importance to continue the work on improving the conditions for well-designed civil participation, moreover providing resources to channel the authentic public requests, not only at the central but also at the local level.
How is Macedonia using open government to implement the Sustainable Development Goals?
With its third National Action Plan, Macedonia made a pioneering effort to connect two global agendas, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the OGP agenda, which both seek the broad engagement of society in the process of implementation and aim to have a transformative impact on the quality of people’s lives.
Public awareness of the goals of the OGP and the recently adopted SDGs was low among both civil society and public servants. It was therefore necessary to inform stakeholders about the value both initiatives can bring to our society. Thematic coalition-building events and consultative meetings were organized to engage more people from civil society, the business sector and the academic community before the preparation of the first draft version of the third OGP Action Plan, and to present the SDG’s. The participants were encouraged to think and propose how measures of the Open Government Partnership Action Plan may be relevant and adjusted with the Agenda for Sustainable Development. These events have significantly contributed to raising awareness of both the OGP and the SDGs among civil society, academia and the private sector.
Now, the majority of the measures of the OGP Action Plan 2016-2018 are aligned with Goal 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions), while others matched Goal 1 (eliminating poverty), Goal 3 (health and well-being), Goal 5 (gender equality), Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation), Goal 13 (climate change) and Goal 17 (Partnerships for the goals).