OGP as a platform to build trust and culture of openness in Nepal
In the third week of December, Nepal will be celebrating Open Nepal week, which will focus on the theme of open government this year. The Open Government Partnership (OGP), with its mission of securing concrete commitments from governments to increase accountability and responsiveness to citizens’ needs, can be an important platform in Nepal for realizing the elevated level of interaction needed between civil society and government in order to build the trust needed for sustaining peace and pursuing a common agenda for change.
As the country embarks on a journey to institutionalize a new political set up marked with a transition to a federal structure from a unitary state, in many ways, the context in Nepal is conducive for it to join OGP. It has just introduced a new constitution after more than a decade of civil unrest and governance breakdown. With this, the government is systematically putting structures in place for its own form of federal democratic governance. “OGP offers innovation to find new forms of civic participation in democratic governance. It will be useful for us while developing structures and mechanisms of governance at sub-national level”, said Nepal Government’s Chief Secretary Dr Som Lal Subedi who participated in the OGP Global Summit held in Mexico in October. He added the sharing of best practices in promoting citizens participation in national and sub-national level through technological innovations would work in our context while implementing the new constitution.
The presence of civil society organisations already experienced in advocating for openness, securing government buy-in, and improving technical capacity with an emerging community of techies engaging with public policy issues provides a good foundation for the partnership between government and civil society that OGP requires. The constitutionally-guaranteed Right to Information (RTI) enabled with constitutional, legal and institutional provisions, growing campaigns for information requests, and capacity strengthening of the demand and supply side, including building the capacity of journalists, has established RTI as a popular tool for exercising citizenship. Furthermore, there is already an Open Data movement in the country, spurred by government and donors’ releases of aid data and CSO-led initiatives such as Open Nepal.
At the same time, there’s also much to be done in improving Nepal’s low ranking on many social and economic indicators, addressing high-level of social inequalities and corruption, and building mutual trust between government and citizens. These provide further rationale for Nepal to join OGP and benefit from the access to the network of reformers and opportunities for peer learning the platform offers.
“Open government is inherent part of modern life. The recognition of civic space in governance is the key theme of open government partnership which accords high value in addressing growing pursuit of good governance mostly in developing countries like ours”, noted Taranath Dahal, who also attended the OGP Global Summit representing civil society organizations of Nepal. He underlines the need for devising mass sensitization for CSOs and government and making systematic efforts to push the OGP agenda in Nepal.
Nepal already meets the required eligibility criteria on fiscal transparency, access to information, asset disclosure and citizen engagement. Joining OGP would not just be an opportunity to streamline and raise ambition levels of transparency and accountability initiatives already taking place in Nepal but also provide an important signal of the government’s willingness to be a listening and responsive government, a government which is committed to providing opportunities for citizen engagement in public affairs, and building the trust between the state and its citizens that is so essential to ensuring the sustainability of its democratic reforms.