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Parliaments – what can they add to the Open Government Partnership?

Daniel Swislow|

This guest blog post was originally published on the Opening Parliaments blog

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) has been successful in bringing aboard nearly 60 countries to make commitments — some more concrete than others — toward transparency and openness in government. It has been barely more than a year since governments began submitting action plans to OGP, outlining the ways in which they would work to be more accountable and responsive to citizens. Now, as we approach OGP’s Steering Committee meeting this week, the focus has increasingly shifted toward monitoring countries’ progress in meeting the commitments that members have made. That’s why OGP has set up the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), a team of five technical experts and three senior advisors, that will aim to provide objective analysis on each country’s progress on their OGP action plans.

This constitutes an important next phase in OGP’s development. OGP has sought to lead by example by engaging civil society and the public, seeking a high level of participation in the development of its guiding principles. But one part of the conversation has been underemphasized; namely, the contributions that parliaments can play in supporting and overseeing implementation of OGP commitments. 

As has been asserted previously, the world’s democratic governments already have a built-in IRM: parliaments, for whom oversight of the performance and policies of the executive branch is a core responsibility. Granted, not all parliaments have the capacity or level of interest to become deeply engaged in monitoring OGP commitments. Some parliaments are also more focused on opening their own legislative data or lack sufficient exposure to open data and open government ideas. Yet, if the goal of OGP is not only to improve the quality of government service delivery, but also to improve the quality of our democracies, parliaments are a necessary part of the conversation. Efforts to expand government openness happen in a political context, affecting every level of government, and members of parliament (MPs) also need to be engaged in the discourse. The benefits of engaging parliaments include greater awareness of open government ideas in considering relevant legislation, greater support for budget allocations that enable openness, and, perhaps, more effective monitoring of OGP commitments.

While they haven’t been a major part of the discussion — OGP is aimed at the executive branches of governments, after all — it is also an overstatement to say that parliaments have had no engagement in OGP. At least three of the governments on OGP’s Steering Committee members are represented by ministers who are also MPs (South Africa, Tanzania and the UK). Several of the action plans submitted by member countries contain provisions that require parliamentary involvement. And some individual countries have formally included MPs in the national implementation process, like Ghana, who has three MPs on their National Steering Committee. So, while OGP has a large number of important steps and considerations on its plate as we approach the December meeting, doing more outreach to the world’s parliaments need not be a heavy lift. Recognizing the importance of independence among different branches of government, such engagement may most appropriately be informal and consultative, rather than a formal engagement in the OGP process. There are already strong networks of parliaments that are concerned about openness and could potentially be activated to focus on OGP. For example, the Inter-Parliamentary Union has been engaged on issues of openness, transparency and technology — recently focusing on enhancing citizen engagement through the use of social media at its 127th Assembly and issuing draft Social Media Guidelines for Parliaments (in cooperation with the Association of Secretaries General of Parliament). There is also ample room for partnership between civil society and parliaments on government and parliamentary openness. The OpeningParliament community of PMOs, who have collaborated in support of the Declaration on Parliamentary Openness, are also an excellent resource for parliaments that are working to engage more actively on parliamentary and government openness. Perhaps some of these already-existing parliamentary networks could weigh in on the OGP process, helping parliaments to fulfill their important oversight role.

When the OGP’s Steering Committee meets this week to plan future OGP work and to consider options for overseeing the implementation of OGP commitments, it will also have an opportunity to begin thinking about creative ways of broadening the growing coalition for open governments — and open parliaments. The range of options for increased dialogue with and engagement of parliamentarians are broad and, eventually, will need to be developed in partnership with parliaments and the associations that represent them. However, it is not too early to begin to strengthen this conversation. It seems the conversation has already begun in the Americas. The government of Chile is organizing a regional OGP for the Americas in January 2013, which will include a session on open parliaments with members of parliaments and civil society. Visit the event’s website here to learn more. We’ll look forward to seeing the results of the discussion in Santiago and hope that the wider parliamentary community will take note.