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OGP Africa: Commitments to Watch

Joseph Foti |

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Big things are happening in African OGP countries.

Yet, a recent report on OGP’s “starred commitments”–the most ambitious reforms in OGP– did not feature any African commitments, showing the difficulty of implementation across the continent.

But the pattern of weak implementation doesn’t have to stay that way.

Here we highlight a few of the reforms that, according to our Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) reports, show some progress, but need the extra push to get them across the finish line. Once completed, these reforms could mean big things for each of the OGP countries. In OGP-speak, most of these commitments were judged by the IRM to be “potentially transformative” in their respective policy area, but none of them had reached completion.

The finish line is not far away. The majority of countries below will receive an “End of Term” report assessing the final state of implementation for their National Action Plans (NAP)up to a June 30 deadline. For countries to get credit for their achievements, we–governments, civil society, international partners–need to redouble efforts in the next two months to ensure completion.

So we present a partial list of important commitments–many of which were marked as “transformative”–from the continent making progress from a recent batch of IRM  reports released over the last several months.

Ghana: Cleaning up government accounts

  • Financial management: Ghana’s national accounts are scattered across more than 45 different government bodies, creating opportunities for waste, fraud, and mismanagement. With this OGP commitment, Ghana aims to integrate all of its financial information into a single, integrated financial management system. The system would bring Ghana into compliance with International Monetary Fund standards and help to limit corruption. To finish the commitment, Ghana will need to make sure all of the agencies are linked to the system.

Sierra Leone: Reform on many fronts

  • Compliance with audit measures: Fiscal oversight in Sierra Leone remains limited. The Audit Service and the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee recently made a number of recommendations to improve fiscal oversight. As part of OGP, the government would implement reforms to administer a variety of controls. Moving forward, government will need to figure out how to regularize public oversight and ensure independence of reviewers.

  • Single treasury account: Currently, Sierra Leone’s budget is held in nearly 2000 separate accounts across 15 banks. This commitment would consolidate them. Recently, the Ministry of Finance and  Economic Development has established an internal database to  maintain records of all bank accounts authorized by the minister of  Finance and come to agreements with the various banks to consolidate finances. To fully complete consolidation, Parliament will need to repeal laws allowing for establishment of separate accounts.

  • Extractive industries legislation: Sierra Leone’s mining regime suffers from a broad range of tax loopholes. A 2012 Extractive Industries Revenue Bill, if passed, would harmonize tax collection and close these key loopholes. The bill awaits tabling in the Cabinet and passage by the Parliament.

  • Implement the Right to Information (RTI) Act: As part of joining OGP, Sierra Leone passed a Right to Information Act in 2013. As a first, important step, Parliament has appointed members of the Right to Access to Information Commission. For completion of this commitment, officers in the various regions, departments, and agencies will need further capacity.

  • Records management: Sierra Leone’s archives law dates to just after independence and much of the national archives was destroyed during its decade-long civil war. Without records, however, many administrative reforms, including the RTI law (and most other OGP commitments) may be impossible to implement. As part of their OGP NAP, Sierra Leone is updating the law. In order to complete the reform and ensure maximum impact, it will need to transfer jurisdiction over records management to the Ministry of Information and Communications which can then compel other agencies to meet basic requirements.

South Africa: Environmental transparency leads the way

  • Portal of Environmental Management Information and Data on Conservation Areas: As the host of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, South Africa has long prided itself on strong environmental governance. As part of its OGP NAP, the South African government aims to build on this legacy with a central database of environmental information and a crowdsourcing tool for conservation areas. The environmental portal is now up and running and the commitment awaits completion as more key datasets are uploaded, such as key information on water quality as it relates to the impacts of acid mine drainage and shale gas extraction. The crowdsourcing tool on conservation areas will allow the public to make inputs into defining “buffer zones” around national protected areas before approving commercial development. While these commitments were not marked as “transformative potential impact,” they are still noteworthy.

Tanzania: A long road to freedom of information

  • Access to information bill: Tanzania is one of the few OGP countries without an access to information bill. While the bill was tabled in 2015, it was rejected by Parliament due to inadequate consultation with stakeholders. Many civil society groups felt that the legislation did not address already existing, out-dated, and controversial legislation which limits the rights of access to information, including the Newspapers and Broadcasting Services Acts.

  • Land use planning: Tanzania, like many other African countries, is going through an agricultural real estate boom, which may result in efficiency at the cost of equity and increased corruption. This OGP commitment works to make land acquisition more fair and equitable by publishing land use plans, ownership information, and demarcated areas. In order to finish this commitment, the Government must make available all of this critical cadastral information in open data format.

Tunisia: Addressing the roots of corruption

  • Anti-corruption laws: Corruption was perhaps the most important driver of Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution.” This suite of commitments would pass legislation for whistleblower protection, asset disclosure, and illicit enrichment. At the time of assessment, the draft laws still awaited publication. While it did not receive a rating of “transformative” from the IRM report, these laws would be laudable first steps in curbing corruption and abuse of public office.

Also of note…

While the following commitments are from old or new action plans that haven’t received a recent independent review, we provide them in the hope that they might inspire other countries to carry out big reforms:

Kenya: Improving the rule of law

  • Judicial reform:  Kenya’s judiciary, like all judiciaries, must walk the fine line between independence and accountability. Kenya’s judicial commitments to OGP (from its 2012 NAP) would do three things: (1) Televise judicial appointment hearings; (2) Publish cases and judgments online; and (3) Systematically allocate cases among judges to reduce undue influence on justice processes. This last element was still pending at the time of review (2013).

  • Electoral reform: Following the 2008 unrest, Kenya went through a participatory process of redrawing electoral boundaries. While no such process is without controversy,  80 new constituencies were created. The new boundaries and names were developed and gazetted through a consultative process spearheaded by the Independent Electoral Boundary Commission. As part of the process, the government made the recruitment process for the members of the IEBC transparent and public scrutiny of Elector’s Register was made possible online through the IEBC ‘s election portal. Some challenges remained to ensure transparency and regularity of the process, such as the failure of the electronic vote transmission system’s failure in the 2013 General Elections.

While Liberia and Malawi’s newest NAPs haven’t been reviewed, a few commitments caught our eye as promising.

Liberia: Innovations in Freedom of Information and Land

  • Freedom of information officers: As part of implementing its newly minted Freedom of Information law, Liberia will make sure that there are assigned officers in each agency to respond to public requests and be advocates for the law among their colleagues.

  • Land management: To address the consequences of large scale land acquisition and illegal use of land, the government of Liberia aims to publish information on commercial land use rights, including:

    • acres (hectares) for each commercial land use allocation before it is granted;

    • accurate location data for each commercial land use allocation via a map-based web platform;

    • hard copies of proposed land-use allocations to affected populations without Internet; and

    • disclosures of whether a commercial operator has the right to expand their area of operations.

Malawi

  • Freedom of information: Section 37 of the Malawi Constitution guarantees the right to information. However, there is no enabling legislation to regulate and operationalize that access to information. The Access to Information Bill has been approved by Cabinet and has been gazetted and awaits enactment by the Parliament.

  • Asset declaration: To stem the problem of illicit enrichment among officials, Malawi’s Anti-Corruption Bureau will be strengthened to ensure its ability to collect and publish required asset declaration information from elected and appointed officials.