Romania’s new NAP: the civil society perspective
Romania is very close to adopting its third National Action Plan, 2016-2018. The consultation process started in March. At the end of June, the Government published the final draft of the NAP, to be approved in the coming weeks. Both the process and the final result has had ups and downs. Although the Plan includes 18 commitments, many of them have limited ambition. The process started well but in time it lost the momentum and ended with the government making most of the decisions with limited civil society input.
Compared to the previous NAP, both the plan and process have improved. This shows that all the partners involved are learning and progressing. However, the final result does not meet expectations for a country that is preparing its third action plan, is holding a Steering Committee position, and is often used as example of positive practices. In the following paragraphs I will try to underline the main positive and negative not-so-positive points of Romania’s new NAP, form the civil society perspective.
The content: 18 commitments in eight areas
Romania’s NAP proposes commitments in eight thematic areas: access to information (4 commitments), citizens’ participation (4), sub-national (1), anti-corruption (4), culture (1), education (2), public procurement (1), and open data (1).
The notable absence is the economic sector. The government rejected or simply ignored all the civil society proposals related to accountability of state owned enterprises, better public control on regulating authorities, transparency of natural resources exploitation, and opening government spending. The Ministry of Economy refused to participate in OGP and that was final. However, a small gem is hidden under the citizen’s participation heading: the concept of citizens’ budget. The Minister of Finance agreed to introduce a narrative of the budget, called citizens’ budget, as described by International Budget Partnership. It will be introduced initially for the national budget, and gradually for the sub-national ones.
The strongest area of the NAP is anti-corruption. It may not be so obvious when first reading the NAP so a little bit of context is needed. Romania has embarked on an anti-corruption campaign lead by magistrate. Over 100 high-level politicians, including former prime-ministers, the former president and dozens of parliamentarians are being investigated, and many of them jailed for corruption charges. Currently, the government is preparing an updated National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS), to be adopted in fall. The OGP NAP will effectively be the public window of the NACS, and the two instruments are truly complementing and strengthening each other.
Between the absence of the economic field and the strong justice component, the rest of the plan is a nice but not-so-ambitious story. The numerous commitments on access to information are useful but do not tackle the deeper problems, as suggested by civil society; among them, a naïve (to be polite) commitment on Open Parliament which… does not involve the Parliament (!). There are some very interesting attempts on sub-national government and culture, but the responsible agencies lacked the courage to make bold statements, so their milestones abruptly end in “we promise to make an analyses”.
There are, however, a few commitments that have the potential to become stars. I have mentioned the Citizens’ Budget. On the public procurement, Romania promises to implement Open Contracting Data Standards, which a powerful commitment; the problem may be that the same commitment was made in the previous plan, but not implemented. The commitments related to citizens’ participation may create a small revolution on the transparency of decision-making, if properly implemented. And a final note for my personal favorite, the commitment of the Ministry of Education to create a national OER Repository, where all the educational resources produced with public money will be available under an open license: it is this type of commitments that links OGP to the concrete needs of people’s life.
The process: from co-creation to government decision
The process started well. The civil-society driven process put on the table an impressive list of 28 potential commitments, proposed by citizens (see my previous article on this topic). The official consultation started with a week of thematic debates. After that, the civil society expected that the responsible agencies will create working groups to develop each commitment. With a couple of exceptions – Education, Justice, and to some extent the Prime-Minister’s Office – it never happened. Most governmental agencies read the proposals, some took them into consideration, and some ignored them, but the final text was the product of the government officials. The civil society had no opportunity to contribute to the introductory part of the NAP; not even the suggestion to mention that it is entirely and solely the point of view of the government was not accepted.
A good example of how co-creation failed are the numerous commitments proposed by a new agency, called the Ministry for Public Dialogue. At the end of the consultation period, the new ministry opened a call for those interested to co-create the commitments but the results of the call were announced… after the final draft was published. Let’s stay optimistic and hope that the implementation will allow for more citizen involvement.
The changes in the government structure may be the source of the administrative mishap. Until the end of last year, the Prime-Minister’s Office was coordinating OGP. But the new structure, the Ministry for Public Dialogue, wants to take over the coordination role (disclosure: some civil society organizations, including the one I represent, disagree with this approach). For several months the government was incoherent of who is doing what, which affected the process. Hopefully, the internal power struggle reached a compromise decision, also suggested by the civil society: creating a National Steering Committee, on the model of the international one. We will see how this works.
So what’s next? The implementation, of course
We are now waiting for the government to formally approve the plan. The IRM report recommended to give it legal binding power by making it a government decision, and not only a Memorandum, as it was the case with the previous NAPs. We will see if this recommendation will be followed. But anyway, speaking from the civil society perspective, many organizations are ready to work with the ministries and the government agencies that made commitments to open the government in Romania. As such, we are hoping to report soon on the good results of the implementation!