OGP Still Developing Rules on Member Noncompliance

30 April 2012

The Open Government Partnership Steering Committee  on April 16 engaged in a discussion, still partially unresolved, of how to handle members who fail to live up to their commitments, according to minutes released April 30.

The committee – made up of 18 members, half from governments and half from civil society – sets policy for the OGP, and at the all-afternoon hour meeting in Brasiia, Brazil, on April 16 approved the OGP Articles of Governance.

The Articles of Governance,  issued several days after the meeting, establish the OGP structure and election mechanism for the multilateral organization partially run by civil society organizations (CSOs). (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

The planned mechanism for reviewing national action plans also was discussed, the Internal Review Mechanism (IRM). (See separate FreedomInfo.org article.)

Noncompliance Penalties Unresolved

In the debate about  how to handle backsliders, the minutes indicated that civil society representatives made proposals to amend the draft Articles of  Governance and that “the bulk” of these were adopted, but two were left for further discussion by a subcommittee.

There was no consensus on a suggestion by “some representatives” of whether poor performance on the IRM for three consecutive years should be a basis for suspension. Also left unresolved is  “language on potentially suspending the participation of governments for human rights violations,” another CSO proposal.

These two provisions will be re-circulated for comment with a deadline of reaching a conclusion within six weeks of the April 16 meeting, state the minutes.

 The CSO proposals that were adopted are not outlined in the minutes. No draft Articles of Governance were available prior to the release of the final articles. The minutes  of the closed meeting are prepared under OGP rules without identification of who spoke.

Noncompliance Policy So Far

Under the new Articles, so far, countries that “cease to act consistently with OGP principles” will first be engaged by Steering Committee members. The policy states: “Should an OGP participating government cease to act consistently with OGP principles, process benchmarks or no longer meets core OGP eligibility criteria, OGP Steering Committee representatives may engage at the first instance with said government to address concerns and support the government on its path to openness.”

Falling below the initial eligibility criteria by which the qualified for membership would have to be remedied in a year or the government would face suspension.

Members are given appeal rights over disciplinary actions.

Changes Made on Elections, Consultaations

The minutes cite several other changes to the Articles:

“The discussion highlighted a concern that OGP’s civil society representation is currently dominated by international/national policy think tanks and not local community based organizations (CBOs), and the Articles were changed to specifically encourage the participation of CBOs. The group also strengthened the language around civil society consultations to include specific timelines for governments to alert civil society to consultations before they occur.”

The minutes do not indicate what changes were made regarding CSO representation.

The Articles establish a voting system through which national and international CSO representatives will elect the members of the Steering Committee. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Consultation Language Beefed Up

The issue of whether civil society was adequately involved in the creation of national action plans was a frequent problem cited by CSOs before and during the conference.The Steering Committee strengthened OGP policy. The language, included in Addendum C of the Articles,  buttresses previous guidance on participation by stipulating, among other things,  that the public should to be alerted alerting public at least 2 weeks before any consultation meeting.

Brazil’s Bill, Who’s Leaving, South Africa

The minutes contain a few other tidbits not previously released.

Brazil, the host for the conference and an OGP co-chair, said that it “has spent approximately 1.3 million reais on the annual meeting (approximately US$700,000–?$800,000).” (For more on OGP funding in general, see this FreedomInfo.org article).

Also, a two week time frame was set for committee members to indicate if they would be the first to rotate off the committee in time for the elections of six new members at the next OGP conference, next March in London. “If there are not enough volunteers, each constituency will vote” on who should roll off. The governance plans envisions a system in which the founding members, who new serve on the Steering Committee will gradually depart, leaving the vacancies to be filled by votes.

The hot topic of South Africa’s proposed Protection of Information Bill was raised at the meeting, the minutes relate. South Africa is a member of the Steering Committee and critics of the bill have questioned its standing in light of the bill.  The CSO members “asked that the government provide an update of progress and consultation around the legislation since this was first raised at SC meeting in December.”

“The Government responded that this issue is currently under discussion in the legislature, in keeping with South Africa’s democratic process for consideration of new legislation,” say the minutes.

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