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Zambia and the OGP – is it really worth the effort?

Melissa Lawson|

Is there a movement towards open government? Certainly the plethora of countries signing-up-to or expressing interest in joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP) indicates that there might be.  One of these is Zambia, where there is mounting pressure to join the OGP initiative. 

Only last month the UK’s High Commissioner to Zambia in his speech on the ‘3Ts’ and the G8, noted that the UK would welcome Zambia’s candidature.

But it’s not always that easy. 

The delay in the passing of the Freedom of Information Act means that at present, Zambia does not qualify for the OGP.  So is it really worth the effort?  Do OGP principles and efforts to increase  and citizen participation really make a difference to the lives of ordinary Zambians?

Tearfund research indicates it does – as in the case of Choma, a small market-town in Zambia.  A local clinic was previously under strain due to increasing demand.  People struggled to access vaccinations and women failed to receive the necessary medical attention during child birth.  That said, things began to improve when at a public meeting the local community identified the need to expand the clinic.  Collectively, the community applied to receive Constituency Development Funds (CDF) to expand the clinic, which was later successful.[1] 

The clinic has now been extended – including a much needed anti-natal ward. But this is in stark contrast to many other CDF projects in Zambia, whereby Tearfund research has found projects incomplete, unused, poorly constructed, and sometimes subject to accusations of corruption.  In fact, in 88% of the projects sampled, community members raised concerns with the CDF projects and 9% of projects were left lying idle.

So why was the Choma project different?

  • The community identified the project, meaning there was local buy-in, ongoing dialogue between officials and the community, and the project used.
  • Transparency in decision making processes helped prevent allegations of corruption.
  • Community involvement in implementing the project (they contributed time and materials) reduced the costs of the project.
  • Transparency and participation in the ongoing monitoring helped to ensure the project materials were delivered as planned and the project completed to schedule.

Whilst it is a local example, the situation in Choma shows just how important transparent processes are.  So imagine what life could be like if transparency and participation were exercised on a grand scale across Zambia? This is why Zambia needs to make strides to join the OGP.  The OGP provides a framework that would enable Zambia to receive support to better use its resources, build relationships with citizens and even harness economic investment.   Tearfund partner, Martin Kapenda from Micah Challenge Zambia urges action ‘The Zambian community needs to support the OGP process by calling on the Government to take to Parliament the Freedom of Information Bill.’ So let’s continue to encourage countries like Zambia to join OGP.  After all, it is in the interest of poor communities like Choma – and ultimately us all – to make government work.  

[1] Constituency Development Funds (CDFs) are decentralised funds intended for local development. Image source: Victoria Falls, Tobi via flickr  
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