I recently had the honour of attending a Legislative Openness Working Group meeting in Chile organised by the National Congress of Chile and the National Democratic Institute. The LOWG is one of the five working groups launched at the Open Government Partnership Summit last November and strengthens participation of a very important constituency, often left out of open government discourse. Parliamentarians.
In a recent piece by Soren Gigler on the World Bank Governance blog, he lists nine lessons for bridging the gap between citizens and cities. These lessons apply for open government broadly as well. One lesson is very important within the context of the LOWG and OGP.
Open Government programs are not effective if they are not embedded into a much broader institutional and cultural changes within government and fully integrated into the governments overall economic and social development goals.
With OGP focused heavily on open government champions or ‘domestic reformers’ in the Executive, there’s a real danger that in some countries (probably many), open government programs may not transition from ‘pet projects’ to institutionalised changes with resources allocated to them.
Parliaments play 2 roles which cannot be done by any other institution. Oversight of the executive and legislating. In exercise of their mandate they make it possible to apply oversight pressure on the executive to institutionalise open government programs in ways no other stakeholder can. Creation of the LOWG must have been in recognition of these roles legislators play and the need to make sure they are part of OGP engagement in participating countries.
Legislators cannot just be involved at the working group though. The vast majority of OGP member countries are from presidential or semi-presidential systems of government. The idea of government in these countries includes three arms in government guided by the principal of separation of powers; the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Having an open government only in the Executive may be a good place to start but it doesn’t amount to a truly open government. All three must be open. But are all three represented on the government side of the OGP steering committee? What level of engagement with legislatures within participating governments exists to support a truly inclusive set of commitments and their implementation? In our efforts to ensure civil society and public participation is strengthened in development and implementation of action plans are we presiding over the disenfranchisement of the Legislature from open government?
Based on my observations in the recent past, OGP needs to evolve rapidly to include greater engagement with legislators, a process that will be greatly helped along by the LOWG. This new level of engagement will require deliberate representation of legislators at the annual OGP summit, at regional OGP meetings and on the OGP Steering committee. Without their presence, the legitimacy of commitments on legislative openness are questionable and so is the respect for the principle of separation of powers within OGP. The Executive should not be making commitments on behalf of the Legislature. Participating countries should be encouraged to ensure that the national steering committee government co-chair rotates between (at the very least) the Executive and the Legislature every year and that one deputises the other at all times.
As I contend in this post from just over a year ago, I’d like to see more parliamentarians at the next Africa OGP meeting and more explicit language in action plans regarding parliamentary engagement going forward. I’d also like to see greater effort towards this demonstrated at the OGP secretariat (a dedicated team of government liaison staff will be a good start) and on the OGP Steering Committee next time around.