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OGP Asia Pacific Health Check

Evaluación de la Salud de OGP en la Región Asia-Pacífico

Shreya Basu|

Six months ago when I first joined the OGP as the Regional Civil Society Coordinator for Asia Pacific, early conversations with stakeholders in the community led to the identification of four key objectives for the region: broadening the base (both in terms of participating countries and actors engaging with OGP), deepening engagement between government and civil society, securing ambitious commitments and creating more platforms for lesson-sharing in the region. How did we fare as a region over the last months and what are the challenges and opportunities that 2016 holds?

Progress on several fronts

  • 2015 saw three new Asia Pacific countries join or re-engage with OGP. In Australia the sustained campaigning by civil society over the years resulted in a full re-commitment to OGP by the new government; Papua New Guinea joined in response to the outreach from Indonesian civil society and government to their counterparts in PNG; and Sri Lanka became the first South Asian country to join OGP as it ushers in a new era of democratization. In 2016, the base of OGP looks likely to grow further as the Nepalese government mulls participation.
  • There have been slow but steady gains on the process side too. For Indonesia, it was a year of consolidation after a period of transition following a change in government in late 2014. The framework and structure for OGP governance, with strong civil society representation, has now been agreed, and day-to-day coordination between government and civil society shows signs of improvements as the stakeholders came together to draft their latest action plan over the past few months. Similar improvements on the consulation process and inclusion of new civil society actors in the national OGP working group were observed in Armenia. In New Zealand, a Stakeholder Advisory Group with CSO representatives was appointed to assist with development, implementation and evaluation of the commitments in New Zealand’s Action Plans. In the Philippines, the National OGP Steering Committee is currently being expanded to include greater representation from civil society and academia and for the first time CSOs will be selecting their own representatives. In keeping with the findings of the global civil society survey, over 60% of respondents from the region said that more actors both on the government and civil society side are becoming involved with OGP, although the proof of the pudding will be in the extent to which such involvement brings in new topics and new energy in the implementation of action plans.
  • On the commitments front, the Philippines 2015-2017 action plan for the first time included commitments not only from the government, but also from civil society and private sector partners as well. Civil Society in Georgia branched out the concept of OGP to the parliament, using the OGP method to deliver a legislative set of commitments on transparency, accountability and participation.
  • Regional organisations such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asia Foundation convened knowledge sharing and peer exchange activities bringing together government and civil society organisations from both OGP participating and non-participating countries to share stories of open government successes and failures (see here and here for outcomes and resources from the events).

Big challenges, big opportunities

  • While IRM data shows that countries in the region are checking more boxes on consultation steps and regular forums for government-civil society dialogue are becoming more common, across the board there is still a long way to go in making consultation processes more open and inclusive, creating the space for regular, meaningful collaboration between government and civil society, and ensuring that engagement is not limited to a small group of actors but is open, fair and accessible to those on the outside.
  • A lack of ambitious commitments in the plans and lack of delivery on important commitments is another challenge. The adoption of the FOI law in Philippines, a long standing ask of civil society and commitment made in the previous action plan, continues to be delayed and majority of the potentially transformative commitments made in Mongolia remain undelivered. The data coming from the IRM reports show that completion rates remain low across most countries and that big challenges facing countries are yet to be addressed in the action plans (for e.g. South Korea where the IRM researcher notes the need to increase the scope of ambition, moving beyond the current e- government focus to fundamental issues of open governance, such as corruption and public participation.)
  • Worryingly, the global trend of crackdown on civic space is mirrored in Asia, best exemplified by the Azerbaijan case where civil society concerns on threats faced by them in the country were upheld by the Steering Committee under OGP’s Response Policy. While action on Azerbaijan will be evaluated in early 2016, there’s a clear need for all OGP countries to demonstrate their commitment to open and inclusive government by adopting reforms on participatory decision-making and improving the enabling environment for civil society.
  • With 9 of 11 countries (Armenia, Australia, Georgia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Mongolia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea) in Asia Pacific developing new action plans in 2016, there is a real opportunity to address some of the above concerns and get things right going forward. The IRM reports that will be released over the next weeks provide a good starting point with the recommendations they include on improving national action plans and can provide a strong basis for civil society to push for better process and more ambitious commitments in 2016.
  • There’s also an opportunity for countries to align their work on OGP national action plans with plans for SDGs implementation. The governments of Armenia, Georgia, Indonesia, Mongolia, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Korea and Sri Lanka have already committed to doing so by endorsing the Joint Declaration on Open Government for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and we hope that Australia and Papua New Guinea will follow suit. Networks like the Asia Development Alliance and the Asian Democracy Network have already begun considering how their members can leverage the OGP platform in localizing the SDGs. Finally, given the many innovations around open government taking place at the sub-national level in Asia, we hope to see sub-national governments from the region will participate in OGP’s pilot program, both in the pioneers’ tier and leaders’ tier.

Announcing the Asia Pacific Civil Society Network.

One recurring demand from civil society across the region, voiced both at events and in one-to-one conversations has been the need for a space to connect, share ideas and find areas for mutual collaboration in the region between global and regional meetings. Responding to this request, we’re now creating an informal OGP Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Network.

The network is envisioned to be a broad, unofficial, virtual network of CSOs that work on advancing the aims and principles of OGP in the region. Amongst the activities envisaged are: peer exchange and learning, awareness raising and outreach, regional collaboration, support to civil society in aspiring member countries and providing input into the civil society day for regional and global summits. More information on the activities and operation of the network can be found here.

The network is open to all CSOs operating in Asia Pacific or with significant interests and activities in the region. Civil society organisations operating in Asia Pacific with a history of engagement on OGP or those that wish to engage in the activities described above going forward are encouraged to join. The network will come into effect on March 15 and work for an initial period of one year. Its membership, structure, activities and principles of engagement will be reviewed at the end of six months and at the end of the year. To indicate your interest in joining the network, please fill out this short form by February 28. For questions, please get in touch with me directly at shreya.basu@opengovpartnership.org

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