NGO Open Government Partnership Conference in Bosnia and Herzegovina
The protests in February demonstrated that ordinary people in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) want the country’s leaders to address core socio-economic issues, make progress on reforms, and most importantly, create new jobs. The scale of the recent floods, and the enormity of the response that will be required, mean that it is even more vital for BiH’s leaders to address fundamental social and economic issues.
This is why the NGO Open Government Partnership Conference held on 9 June in Bosnia and Herzegovina is such a welcome step; the priorities of Open Government help to create the right climate for more investment and job creation. I was delighted to be invited to address the Conference and share a platform with speakers from across the region, where OGP has already shown how it can make a real difference.
At the conference, we saw civil society, government, and OGP experts working together to set the Government’s priorities for making the system more open and transparent. More transparency in this country will mean a better environment for both local businesses and international investors, and will reduce the space for corruption and nepotism. This is what those who have taken to the streets have been calling for.
Panel discussions covered a range of issues, such as: how OGP affects change from an international perspective; the challenges of fiscal transparency; and the state of openness in BiH and how to address policy and practice. It was good to see peer exchange and support from members of the OGP, something that is actively promoted and encouraged within the OGP community.
A representative from the EU Delegation spoke about Open Government as a lowest common denominator for meaningful partnership in the EU, whilst representatives from the BiH government expanded on openness as a prerequisite for government reform.
Our UK OGP representative spoke on implementing openness with lessons from the perspective of an OGP founder. She also gave advice and offered technical support on developing a National Action Plan, support which will be available when BiH formally signs up and begins to develop its own Plan.
During 2013, as the OGP’s lead co-chair, the UK has been at the forefront of the expanding international transparency movement. The OGP is a powerful force for making governments more open, accountable and efficient, and societies healthier and more prosperous. Transparency initiatives are leading to real improvements in the lives of ordinary people, as more open Governments thicken democratic dialogue. Just to give a couple of examples: in Montenegro an online government petitioning system has resulted in new kindergartens being built in municipalities where overcrowding was at its worse. In Macedonia, a feedback mechanism to allow citizens to comment on services available on a government portal ensured institutions were able to respond and to improve services.
I am excited to see what it can achieve in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I wish both Government and civil society the best of luck as they develop what I hope is a strong and substantive action plan for change.
Jo Lomas, Chargé d’Affaires a.i.
British Embassy, Sarajevo
At this moment, Bosnia and Herzegovina still remains the only country in the Western Balkans that has neither joined the Open Government Partnership initiative nor undertaken any formal steps in that direction, despite meeting all the necessary eligibility criteria. At the same time Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro joined in 2012, the Government of Kosovo sent its letter of intent in 2013 and Serbia becomes an OGP member in 2014.
It was civil society that sowed the first seeds of the OGP in this country. Advocacy activities started in the first half of 2013 when Transparency International BiH and CPI Foundation organised the conference at which the Open Government Partnership initiative was presented to the public for the first time.
One year later a conference held on June 9th 2014 provided an ideal opportunity to reflect on current conditions and determine the future steps regarding BiH joining the OGP. It was our great pleasure that many government representatives from both BiH and the region participated at the conference panels alongside civil society and relevant international open government experts. It is a clear indication that there is common interest for future cooperation.
Having a UK Government representative at the conference was especially significant. As one of the OGP founders and past co-chair the UK provides valuable experience for new members. BiH institutions’ representatives in the audience were then able to hear about the benefits of joining the OGP from the perspective of the country that established the initiative.
Opening speeches given from perspectives of the Delegation of the European Union, UK Embassy, civil society and BiH’s highest institutions of executive and legislative power all had one thing in common: the idea that BiH needs to join the initiative which promotes commitment to strengthening broader accessibility to information held by the government and empowers citizen participation with the highest standards of accountability and integrity of government.
Just a week before the OGP conference, the BiH Council of Ministers announced its support to joining the Open Government Partnership, taking forward an initiative from the BiH Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several institutions were designated to undertake necessary actions in order to prepare the letter of intent to be sent on the behalf of BiH and the process is expected to start very soon.
The OGP initiative will be beneficial for BiH for many reasons. Perhaps most importantly, it can bring government and civil society together to work towards shared goals. Sadly, such cooperation has eluded this country for too long. We have the opportunity to show what we can do together to the world,, improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our public offices, fight against corruption and win back citizens’ trust.
Civil society welcomes the positive support that the Council of Ministers of BiH gave to the idea of BiH joining the Open Government Partnership initiative and expresses the hope that it will, without delay, translate into concrete actions and steps on the path to the OGP membership by BiH.