Selected country experiences with the OGP process at the national level : Croatia

This is the first in a five part series of posts based on Q&As with selected countries and their experiences with the OGP process at the national level. This first post is a Q&A with Katarina Ott, Director at the Institute of Public Finance in Croatia.

1.     Describe the process

Since Croatia applied to join the OGP in 2011 when the then Government was more focused on parliamentary elections than on plans for the future, OGP related activities were run by enthusiasts from CSOs (e.g. GONG), academia (e.g. the Institute of Public Finance), the Office of the President and a few people from the administration (e.g. Ministry of Finance), the crucial role being taken by the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs. The process was almost by the book, with broad public consultations and timelines available to citizens prior to consultations. A forum was established, which after the elections became the Council for the Initiative of the OGP with 19 members from ministries, offices (of the President, the Prime Minister and for Cooperation with NGOs), Agency for Protection of Personal Data, associations (of counties, cities and municipalities), journalists, CSOs and academia.  

2.      Describe two things that were really good about the consultation, why it worked, and one thing that was not so good about it

Consultations worked well first of all because there was a kind of political vacuum, i.e. the then Government was in disarray concentrated on parliamentary elections which were held at the end of 2011 (which they lost) and did not care much about what was happening related to OGP. Second, the President of the Republic - who was not facing elections - was very interested in OGP which is in line with his social-democratic political views and was surrounded with people involved in OGP preparations (high-level political backing). Third, the new Government which came in the office at the end of 2011 embraced the OGP – at least declaratively – as it is in line with social-democratic values. However, the Action Plan is much more modest than we expected, i.e. it cannot remedy all the Croatian deficiencies listed in the Open Budget Index. Reasons why we cannot be too satisfied with the Action Plan on budget/fiscal commitments:

  • the economic crisis, necessitating concentration of the Ministry of Finance on – in their view - more pressing issues than fiscal transparency;
  • the ban on employment in the public administration (= insufficient staff to work on OGP)
  • lack of experts in administration and of funding for improvements in IT;
  • the independence of the State Auditing Office (SAO) preventing the Government from being able to demand that it publishes reports on extra-budgetary funds and public companies;
  • the independence of local governments units (LGUs) meaning that the Ministry of Finance cannot  require of them to publish citizens budget guides or agendas of their sessions, so it ended up with the Government merely making recommendations to SAO and LGUs.

The Action Plan is less committed than we wished for, but bearing in mind the challenges, we would be very happy if in the end we obtained everything written in it related to fiscal transparency, access to information, using IT, citizen and CS participation.   

3.     What would your advice be for a new OGP member country- both for the government and for the civil society actors

Governments should seriously commit themselves to use the OGP for improvements within the country and avoid treating OGP as a kind of a foreign policy PR and carefully place the responsibility for the OGP within the most appropriate department as it could be essential for its capacity to influence the process. Non-government actors interested in open government should Inform themselves and try to get acquainted with people from the government who are involved in processes, less on higher than on lower levels of the government. With that knowledge they could be able to better target and communicate with people from the administration who can influence decisions. They should also actively monitor, analyze and publish their findings and distribute them as wide as possible to media. (Process can also start with the NGOs) NGOs  should try to work – if possible together with governments and if not then on their  own  - and with constant endeavors and contributions, step by step try to move forwards to a more transparent, accountable and participative society. This collaborative kind of approach of non-government actors from the beginning of the OGP in Croatia was visible in the preparations for the European OGP regional meeting this October in Dubrovnik. Croatian CSOs and Government convened it jointly and representatives of CSOs and academia moderated all sessions. Maybe both governments and non-government actors should start thinking both ways: “how government could assist civil society” and “how civil society could assist government”.

Authors: Blog Editor
Filed Under: Champions