OGP Clarifies Suspension Process in Revised Articles

25 July 2012

The Open Government Partnership has decided that disciplinary action could be taken after three years if a member acts contrary to the OGP process or to the commitments made in its national action plan.

Despite having established a mechanism for suspension, such action by the Steering Committee is not considered likely. Discipline is seen as contrary to the OGP founding philosophy of asking members to make and fulfill commitments voluntarily, of providing a supportive community and of maintaining dialogue.

The OGP Steering Committee, nevertheless, has addressed the subject in new detail in recently revised Articles of Governance.

The politically sensitive issue was dramatized in late 2011 when objections were raised to South Africa’s participation in the OGP in light of its efforts, still ongoing, to pass a controversial “secrecy bill.”

In that situation, the OGP Steering Committee twice provided an opportunity for members to express their concerns and to have South Africa respond during  Steering Committee’s executive sessions.  Also, there was bilateral follow-up from several government members of the Steering Committee and by civil society members of the committee, who issued a joint statement questioning the bill. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)   

This approach of engagement and discussion likely will be the strategy in similar situations going forward, according to OGP officials.  

Suspension Possible

The OGP Articles of Governance deal with two scenarios:

–          if member countries no longer meet the original eligibility requirements, or

–          if they fail to follow through on action plan commitments.

These procedures have evolved, having first been included in the Articles of Governance approved in April. In June, the Articles were reposted without indicating what changes were made. FreedomInfo.org has verified that the changes made were to the section on “Expectations of OGP Stakeholders.”

Underlying the “expectations” section in both versions is the statement: “OGP stakeholders are expected to uphold the values and principles articulated in the OGP Declaration, and to consistently and continually advance open governance for the well-being of their citizens.”

How a country could get to the point of possible suspension is spelled out in more detail in the June Articles. 

Suspensions could be triggered after three years of deficient behavior as identified through the Independent Review Mechanism. The IRM process provides for annual independent assessments of countries’ progress toward fulfilling their action plan commitments. The IRM process is largely defined, but still being refined with additional public comments having been recently invited. (See related FreedomInfo.org article.)

The key provision of the Articles states:

Should the IRM process find that a participating government repeatedly (for three consequent years) acts contrary to the OGP process and to its Action Plan commitments (Addenda B and C), fails to adequately address issues raised by the IRM, or is taking actions that undermine the values and principles of the OGP, the Steering Committee may upon recommendation of the Criteria and Standards (CS) Sub-committee review  the participation  of said government in OGP.

The Articles state that both the process “will include direct conversations with the said government.” Also stated is that the engagement “should emphasize the vertical accountability between a government and its citizens that is the founding principle of OGP.”  

OGP leaders believe there should be an emphasis on technical dialogue, assistance and learning as the first response, along with an emphasis on the roles of domestic civil society and oversight institutions. 

Both the three year rule and the link to the IRM process are new.

In the April version of the Articles, stating that failure “to act consistently with OGP principles” would be dealt with first through consultations with the country and secondarily through suspension imposed by the Steering Committee. Not connecting discipline  directly with the IRM process, the April Articles were more general, envisioning possible action “should an OGP participating government cease to act consistently with OGP principles, process benchmarks or no longer meets core OGP eligibility criteria.”

Countries slipping below the eligibility criteria will have a year to bring up their score.

Appeals System Dropped

In the April version of the Articles, if a country felt that the Steering Committee action was “unfair,” a special ad hoc committee would be appointed by the Steering Committee to review the situation and make recommendations to the Steering Committee.

The appeals mechanism is eliminated in the June version. Instead, the Steering Committee will get recommendations from the Criteria and  Standards Subcommittee and the resulting decision of the Steering Committee will be final.

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