Civil society efforts in OGP are winning

May 5, 2020

Original publication found on Hivos East Africa

The growing need for governments to foster transparent and accountability has been apparent in current times.

Ideals of populism have been on the rise with trust in governments slowly waning due to corruption and lack of openness in the use of public funds.

We have observed how cultures of secrecy are loopholes of compromising integrity and sometimes denying citizens crucial social services such as quality healthcare, education and road networks.

Shifting a culture of secrecy to openness

Movements demanding for open governance and reforms are growing. Civil society actors and activists are calling for open data that can allow citizens to have a voice in governance particularly in monitoring of government projects and calling for action where there are delays, lack of transparency and corruption.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is proving that if governments are open they can create meaningful impact through efficiency and reliability in oversight of public resources. With a membership of 76 countries and 20 local governments, OGP has become a rising multilateral initiative that is partnering governments with civil society and citizens in harnessing new technologies to strengthen good governance practices.

From Kenya’s Elgeyo Marakwet County to the Philippines’ South Cotabato province, open government practices have shown that when citizens are involved in designing policies and expenditures on essential social services such as roads this strengthens transparency and contributes to efforts in ending corruption.

Hivos East Africa’s journey

Hivos East Africa contribution to OGP through the civil society engagement ties with its belief in establishing just and fair societies. This is a future where governments are open and accountable in their practices in an ideal democratic society.

Through its open up contracting program, Hivos East Africa has enriched debates in the open governance space by partnering with various civil society actors in lobby and advocacy.

In Makueni County, Hivos East Africa partnered with the sub national government to set up the first open contracting portal adopted by a devolved government unit in Kenya. Launched in 2019, the portal provides user- friendly and real time data procurement data expected to fast-track clean procurement that will save time, money and increase efficiency.

Engagement with champions from government, civil society and media

High-level advocacy forums such as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) for the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women offer great avenues to accelerate discussions on gender responsive procurement. At the 62nd CSW in March 12-13 2018, Hivos East Africa was able to lobby civil society organisations from Africa to adopt a position on transparent affirmative action and inclusivity of women in the public procurement in the main policy paper that would be later tabled at the main forum in New York. This intervention was informed by its research on Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) that unveiled women owned and led enterprises are still locked out in doing business with government through public procurement.

The establishment of the Local Open Contracting Initiative (LOCI) at the OGP Summit in Ottawa, Canada was a new resolve that by implementing open government reforms such as open contracting at the local level; more tangible results and impact would be felt directly by citizens. By championing LOCI in East Africa, Hivos East Africa was able to spearhead the first meeting in November 26, 2019 linking local governments champions with civil society actors drawn from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria. The forum was a breeding ground of sharing ideas and experiences of reforms necessary at the policy level to co-create and implement ambitious open contracting initiatives.

In Kenya, engagements with the Office of the Deputy President through the OGP Action Plan to strengthen its commitments have been fruitful. For instance the country’s willingness to adopt principles from the open contracting approach in reforming its public procurement at the National Treasury was a significant step in efforts to stem corruption and uphold transparency in the management of public resources.

Lastly, the media is also emerging as a champion in pushing for openness in the publishing of real time open contracting data and releasing informed and objective news to the public touching on public procurement. Hivos East Africa’s partnership with the Nation Media Group and the Sinar Project established an Open Contracting news portal that will provide the public with open data on public procurement.

Open government efforts are proving a win in the fight against corruption and opening the governance process to also include vital voices such as citizens and civil society.