OGP Makes Plans for Elected Steering Committee

30 December 2011

By Toby McIntosh

The Open Government Partnership Steering Committee plans to invite many civil society organizations to the April OGP meeting in Brazil and to have CSOs elect their representatives to the OGP government body.

These are among the decisions made during a Dec. 6 meeting of the Steering Committee, according to minutes made available Dec. 29, the first such document released by the organization.

Other highlights from the meeting include:

– Efforts are proceeding to create a third co-chair, to represent civil society.

– Updates from each new OGP country on their consultation and action plan development process are to be received and posted on the OGP website in January.

– Backsliding by OGP member countries will be addressed through engagement, not confrontation, but with the possibility of being declared ineligible by a supermajority of members.

– Members will be asked to make minimum annual contributions of $50,000.

CSO Reps to Be Elected

The details of the plan for electing CSO members to the OGO government body appear to not be fully developed, but the minutes describe a process through which CSOs would nominate themselves, be vetted by the Steering Committee, and then be voted on by their CSO peers.

The 17-member Steering Committee now consists of 9 CSO representatives, basically persons from CSOs that helped start the OGP initiative, and eight representatives from the founding governments. The OGP now has 50 government members out of 70 deemed eligible based on established standards.  The OGP member governments will elect their own Steering Committee representatives. The minutes say the elections will occur at the April meeting.

Structuring an international initiative with both government and CSO representatives is quite unusual. The OGP is now chaired by representatives from the U.S. and Brazilian governments.

The OGP aims to encourage greater national transparency on many fronts through voluntary commitments for reforms. At the April meeting, the 42 countries that have joined the founding eight are expected to present their national action plans. These plans are to be developed through a domestic consultative process.

(For all previous FreedomInfo.org articles on the OGP, see here.)

More Stakeholders to Be Included

The April meeting is being designed as a “global OGP stakeholders meeting,” according to the minutes.  However, they hint that the CSO delegates may not be invited to attend the sessions where national action plans will be discussed.

It appears that at least 50 CSO representatives could be invited to the April 16-18 meeting. Funds exist to only bring 50 representatives to Brazil, according to the minutes. However, an OGP official said there is room for an additional 50-100 self-financed civil society reps to attend, for total of between 100-150 CSOs at the meeting.

The selection system appears to be a work in progress, however.

Criteria for CSO eligibility are going to be developed, according to the minutes. Also to be established, “in the coming weeks” will be “a transparent and credible process” for identifying “civil society representatives from the 50 OGP member countries to participate in the April meeting.” The rpocess will be indendent of member governments.

The minutes also state that it will invite international CSOs to attend the April meeting “as observers.” The minutes continue: “This number will be determined shortly based on an assessment of available space and the need to maintain a balance among participant numbers from each constituency. A quota for private sector and media participants will also be set in a similar fashion (based on available space and concern for overall balance).”

The minutes also reflect an effort to expand government attendance at the OGP meeting, indicating: “Government stakeholders will be represented by 2-3 (TBD) from all 50 OGP member countries. Each government will be assigned 3 seats in the meeting. Other delegates from countries will be accommodated in general seats. 

Regarding the openness of the April meeting, there is some suggestion that CSO attendees will not be included in all sessions at the April meeting. “There will be one large conference with all stakeholders, and a second event on a separate day where high-level leaders from the new OGP countries will announce their country action plans,” according to the minutes.

The two-day December “working” meeting in Brazil Dec. 7-8 of member government representatives and some CSOs was largely closed, as was the Steering Committee meeting.

Electing CSO Reps to Steering Committee

Election of new CSO representatives to the Steering Committee will be held based on a multistage process, according to the minutes, which describes the planned system similarly at two places in the minutes.

There will be “an open call for applications, followed by an SC short-listing of candidates,” the minutes say in Section III under the heading “Selection of CSO reps for Steering Committee.” It states:

SC members agreed that for civil society steering committee member elections, an open call for applications, followed by an SC short-listing of candidates, would be the best approach. It would allow for reflections by members taking into account diversity, regional representation, depth and breadth of experience areas, etc. The vetting process would be based on transparent criteria, and the SC would make an explanation of what factors it takes into account in the short-listing process. Members also agreed that for application purposes, it would be helpful for OGP to share its definition of a civil society organization.

The selection process is similarly described in Section II where it is stated:

Taking into consideration the full suite of country and CSO nominations and after the vetting process, the Steering Committee is responsible for ensuring regional diversity in the composition of the candidate list that is put forth for voting to the plenary and in the composition of the SC.

The plan for election of the CSO members by the CSO constituency specifies that there will be one vote per country, but is not further described.

Civil Society Co-Chair Generally Backed

The Steering Committee supported the idea of creating a third co-chair, from civil society, but the minutes indicate that details still need to be worked out.

“Broadly speaking, SC members are supportive of the idea of a third civil society co-chair, first raised as a proposal at the September 19, 2011 SC meeting,” the minutes state. Minutes from previous meetings are not available.

“Members indicated the importance of the role in providing strategic leadership, helping plan for meetings, fielding complaints, increasing proactive outreach, and importantly, signaling the central and equal role of civil society in OGP,” the minutes elaborate.

The selection system, however, was not finalized, amid “concerns” about how the co-chair would be “pre-screened and selected, given that, unlike governments, there is no civil society eligibility criteria to participate in OGP at present.”

“The group agreed that the SC should have clear standards for all civil society members of the SC related to transparency, accountability and experience, and that the third co-chair would be elected from amongst SC civil society members.

The minutes note that the three co-chairs would not operate as “a new decision-making authority that subverts the influence of the SC as a whole.”

The third co-chair proposal is to be further discussed at the next SC governance sub-group meeting at end of January, “so that more detailed proposals and criteria can be drafted and final consensus/decision might be achieved, preferably before April 2012,” according to the minutes.

The subcommittees of the SC “will remain responsible for developing policy proposals for decisions by the whole SC,” according to the minutes.

Four subcommittees are cited in the minutes: governance and leadership, standards and criteria, learning + peer support,  and audit and finance.  The OGP has not otherwise announced what subcommittees it has, who the members are, or if they will be covered by a disclosure policy expected to emerge in several weeks. SC membership terms will be for 3 years, with the possibility of being re-elected for one second term, according to the minutes.

The minutes note that the governance sub-group “will need to further flesh out the process for existing members to rotate off at its next meeting (end of January) for the SC to approve.”

On another procedural point, the minutes state: “Members agreed that the Steering Committee is the executive body of OGP, and that while it welcomes and proactively seeks out recommendations from government and civil society participants, the SC makes all final decisions on OGP policy matters.  The group also agreed on the need to vote in bloc lists by region for government and civil society representatives to ensure the maintenance of diversity.”

Backsliding Addressed

The Brazil meeting came against a backdrop of complaints that Steering Committee member South Africa was undercutting transparency with its proposed Protection of Information Bill. After the meeting, the OGP Steering Committee members issued a statement of concern on the topic.

The full Steering Committee did not specifically address the situation in Brazil, but did hold a discussion of it, according to an appendix to the minutes, and reached some agreements on the topic of “Protecting OGP Against Process Abuses and Violations.”

Overall, the group agreed “that in these circumstances it would first and foremost seek to be respectful and try to help create more productive approach in country itself rather than provoking confrontation.”

The minutes go into more detail about the OGP strategy to facilitate self-improvement and points out: “The spirit of the proposal is to try and keep countries in OGP, not rid OGP of countries.”

The OGP Steering Committee’s standards and criteria subcommittee was tasked with creating a mechanism for handling complaints about OGP members being in “gross violation” of OGP process requirements (e.g. consultation, reporting) or backsliding on core OGP eligibility criteria.

It was agreed that annual checks will be run on eligibility.

“In the case of supervening national situations that might lead to violations to OGP processes and principles, the Standards and Criteria sub-committee would work closely with specialized international organizations, such as the UN Human Rights Office, to assess the country’s situation and make recommendations to the Steering Committee,” according to the minutes.

The committee decided that the external auditors who will evaluate progress on national plans could get involved in such situations, apparently disagreeing with a suggestion for a separate ombudsman.

There should be “multiple warning steps before ineligibility becomes an option,” according to the minutes. An unspecified supermajority vote of the Steering Committee would be required to declare a country ineligible, and the country could appeal to the entire OGP membership.

Considering how to handle SC member countries that pass laws “which may create a difficult situation with respect to standards and principles of OGP,” the group “noted that there is a special onus on SC members—as OGP’s governing body—to demonstrate best practice and lead by example,” according to the minutes,

“The group coalesced around a series of initial steps to function as a protocol when the SC receives concerns from among its members or externally,” according to the minutes, which continue, Overall, the SC noted that in these circumstances it would first and foremost seek to be respectful and try to help create more productive approach in country itself rather than provoking confrontation.”

The minutes indicate that because the SC representatives from South Africa were not able to attend the Dec. 6 discussion, the group arranged a separate meeting on the evening of Dec. 7, at which “some members of the SC presented their comments over the draft law, and the representative from South Africa gave OGP SC members a basic overview of the draft law’s evolution, current status and the legal process going forward.” The South African delegate “noted that the law has been significantly amended from its original version based on extensive public consultations,” but that civil society still has a core set of concerns.

The minutes state:

Members made clear that OGP would not intervene in domestic legislation in South Africa or elsewhere, and is focused on helping South Africa to face these complex issues and promote international best practice on open government more broadly.  Furthermore, the SC noted that South Africa is an equal and valued partner on the SC and that all members of the SC would like to support South Africa as it faces this complex issue.

Private Sector Inclusion; OGP Prize 

The Steering Committee considered private sector involvement.  The minutes note that the OGP networking mechanism “is one vehicle (although not the only one) to support participation of the private sector entities in helping OGP countries.” The OGP also encourages countries to include private sector in OGP consultations,” the minutes state.

The group agreed that it would make sense for the Learning + Peer Support Subcommittee to explore ways “to more formally engage private sector (and academic) partners to help spur research and innovation within the partnership.”

Also discussed was the possibility of working with the private sector and other stakeholders to create some kind of OGP “prize” for innovation or best practice.”

Other Possible Members Discussed

The SC agreed that subnational governments interested in joining OGP should work in tandem with their national governments in OGP eligible countries for now. “OGP will also work include specific discussions on cities/states at annual meetings to encourage subnational participation and highlight the tremendous innovations at this level.”

Regarding multilateral entities, the Steering Committee “agreed that it is important to strategically partner and cooperate with all relevant entities and overlapping initiatives, including having them as observers at meetings, partnering with them to help particular countries qualify for OGP or develop and implement OGP action plans, and to develop and execute the OGP independent reporting mechanism.”

Country Contributions Sought for Financing

The governance sub-group proposed that all members be encouraged to contribute a minimum of $50,000 per annum to cover costs, which so far have been borne largely by private foundations and by in-kind contributions of member countries.

 SC co-chairs would be expected to make a contribution of $200,000 during their tenure as lead chair, in addition to shouldering the in-kind costs of hosting the annual meeting. The minutes provide qualifications and  elaborate on this topic.

The Steering Committee also heard a report on the OGP networking mechanism, in which 80 plus NGOs, think tanks, private sector groups are registered to engage with OGP governments on commitment development and implementation. The demand for their services, however, has been “minimal” according to the minutes.

“Weak demand is likely due to a number of factors, including the speed of the OGP process/slow startup on action plans,” according to the minutes, which include a discussion of suggestions for the networking mechanism.

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