Sri Lanka commits to addressing a wide range of open government issues, but implementation found lacking
The Open Government Partnership publishes mid-term progress report on Sri Lanka’s open government efforts.
COLOMBO, SRI LANKA – The annual summit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) will be held in Tbilisi, Georgia between 17-19 July 2018. The global summit will see heads of state, government reformers, and civil society leaders coming together to discuss and promote achievements and challenges in upholding the principles of open government. For Sri Lanka, a participant in this partnership since 2016, this will be an opportunity to learn from the diverse experiences of partner countries and reflect on its own commitment to the open government agenda.
OGP is a multilateral initiative comprised of 96 governments and hundreds of civil society organizations, working together to make governments more inclusive, responsive, and accountable to citizens. Specifically, all participating governments develop action plans that elaborate concrete commitments towards open government, to be achieved over a two-year period. Sri Lanka developed its first action plan in May 2016, and has been implementing the AP since July 2016, ending the implementation period in July 2018.
Earlier this year, the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) of OGP released Sri Lanka’s mid-term progress report. The report—currently available for public comment—evaluates the development and first year of implementation of Sri Lanka’s action plan, and thus, its commitment to open government. Sri Lanka pledged to introduce the principles of open government in a number of important areas, ranging from health and environment, to corruption and education. Although often conservative in ambition, the commitments were generally found to be well-designed, specific, and relevant to the values of open government. The commitment to enact and implement legislation on the right to information, for instance, stands out as a particularly laudable feature of the first plan.
The report finds that the process of developing the action plan was inclusive and facilitated iterative dialogue. The general public helped to set the agenda through a series of public consultations across the country, while civil society stakeholders, line ministries, and state agencies collaborated to refine priorities and determine thematic areas of focus. The process of developing the action plan may have been further enhanced, however, through awareness-raising activities and the availability of a timeline and process prior to the consultations.
At the end of the first year, the implementation of commitments in the action plan, on the other hand, was found to be limited. Although the commitment on the right to information had achieved substantial progress, the report confirms that none of the 23 commitments had been fully implemented. This is in spite of government and civil society stakeholders taking a number of positive measures to facilitate implementation. These include the creation of a National Steering Committee, the establishment of a multi-stakeholder forum at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to review progress under each commitment, and various CSO initiatives, such as online tracking of implementation. According to the report, these measures were stymied by inadequate public engagement in the implementation process beyond the participation of a handful of select civil society organizations.
Looking ahead, the report provides a suite of recommendations to help stakeholders better leverage the promise and potential of open government. Key priorities include promoting greater ownership of the OGP initiative; adopting clear measures to facilitate inclusive and meaningful participation in the OGP process, and introducing transformative commitments that foster fiscal transparency, local accountability, and stricter enforcement of anti-corruption measures. The global summit in Georgia will provide an ideal platform upon which to explore and discuss best practices in this regard.
The mid-term progress report reflects the first year of implementation within the two-year cycle. The IRM’s end-of-term report on Sri Lanka will document subsequent progress on open government under the existing action plan, and is scheduled for publication in October 2018.
 The Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) monitors action plans to ensure governments follow through on commitments. Civil society and government leaders use these evaluations to reflect on progress and determine the impact of the commitments.