Ghana’s Absence At The OGP Africa Regional Meeting: Did It Matter?
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a voluntary multi-stakeholder initiative that began in 2011 with the aim of securing concrete commitments from government to their citizenry to promote transparency, accountability, active citizen participation, and the use of technology and innovation to strengthen governance. Since the initiative began in 2011, the OGP has grown from 8 participating countries to 65 countries, including 8 countries from the African continent.
Among the 8 countries only three are from West Africa – Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. As part of the OGP requirements, governments are to work with civil societies to ensure the successful implementation of open governance reforms in their various countries.
The just-concluded OGP Africa Regional Meeting held in Tanzania from May 20th – 21st brought together civil society groups and representatives from the Government of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Tanzania and Kenya, to mention but a few. The Government of Ghana, however was not represented at the meeting.
Some critics have argued that the OGP is a smokescreen that provides good PR for governments that have no real intention to reform. While there may be an iota of truth in this argument, the difficulty one may have is determining when a country is merely engaging in PR and when there is a real genuine commitment to ensure open, transparent and accountable institutions.
The Africa Regional meeting discussed critical issues such as ongoing open governance reforms, civil society-government relations under the OGP, access to information and public participation, amongst others. In all these discussions the Government of Ghana was conspicuously absent.
Ghana’s absence was made particularly obvious mainly because the country did not make much progress in the implementation of the first national action plan even though there was strong civil society involvement in the development of the action plan.
Ghana embarked on a path of sustained political liberalization and democratization in the early 90s with a multi-party democratic system which has been maintained for two decades. This has contributed in the country being seen as the beacon of democracy in Africa. Ghana currently enjoys the enviable reputation of being one of Africa’s most democratic, stable, peaceful and best governed countries.
The questions then are: what is the implication of Ghana’s absence at the OGP Africa Regional Meeting? What signals does Ghana’s absence at the meeting send to other OGP participating countries in the region including potential participants?
Peer review and learning processes in Africa provide an opportunity for countries to assess themselves and learn from each other; however, countries that have not made much progress in terms of promoting citizens participation and facilitating citizens access to information often cite other countries with poor governance / access to information records as examples to justify their non-progressive status and to show that they are not doing badly after all.
Ghana’s poor performance in the implementation of the first national action plan coupled with her absence at the OGP Africa Regional meeting is a pointer to the level of commitment on the part of government towards the OGP processes. Ghana in her first national action plan committed to passing the Right to Information Bill which is currently in Parliament, the Code of Conduct for Public officers Bill, the National Broadcasting Bill, and the preparation and passage of a Fiscal Responsibility Act, but none of these legislation materialized after two years of implementation of the action plan.
Ghana’s shinning democratic credentials demand that she must at all times be the torch bearer and pace setter for other countries particularly in West Africa. Where this is not the case, the first assumption will be that the country has become complacent which in reality may not be the case.
The questions then are: how does Ghana’s poor performance in the OGP action plan implementation coupled with absence at the OGP Africa Regional Meeting encourage eligible countries such as Nigeria, to join the OGP? How does it support and encourage non-eligible African countries to advance reforms to meet the OGP eligibility criteria? How does the country’s performance and participation motivate other countries to continue in the progressive part and prevent a possible retrogression given that their beacon of democracy didn’t do so much after all?
The OGP in itself is not an event; it is a process that requires continuous engagement and sustained efforts to ensure concrete reforms at the country level. That is why CSOs at the regional meeting adopted a statement calling on the Governments of participating African countries including Ghana to adopt comprehensive access to information laws that would empower their citizens and help them understand government better.
Ghana cannot relent in its efforts at ensuring open governance. Ghana must not only be quick to endorse such progressive initiatives but must also be seen to be taking part and engaging vigorously with other stakeholders at all levels of the OGP processes. As a key stakeholder in the OGP, Ghana must continue to engage extensively with civil society groups particularly in the development of the second NAP and also ensure that civil society is given the space to monitor the implementation of the plan. This is because, as the saying goes, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’.