South Africa Yet to Approve OGP National Action Plan

6 August 2012

South Africa, a founding member of the Open Government Partnership and a member of the Steering Committee, has yet to approve its national action plan, the cornerstone commitment document for OGP members.

Last September, South African President Jacob Zuma joined leaders from the other eight founding OGP members to announce their action plans in New York (Zuma’s statement). Since then, more than 40 other nations have unveiled their plans, presumably approved and official, and moved to the implementation phase

The South African plan, however, has yet to be ratified by the South African Cabinet. This is holding up implementation of the commitments.

While the status of the action plan has not been kept  a secret, the lack of ratification came as a surprise to several top OGP officials consulted by FreedomInfo.org. While OGP membership requires submission of an action plan, the rules do not discuss the mechanism of national approval.

There is no indication in the posted South African plan that it is not final although Zuma’s remarks on Sept. 20, 2011, speak of finalizing the plan. He said, “We consulted with civil society in drafting an open government country action plan. The consultation process will continue until we finalise this plan.” 

No Action Means Implementation Delay

The lack of Cabinet approval was mentioned during a recent meeting of African governments about the OGP, according to recently published minutes of the July 3 meeting published by the South Africa History Archives. The minutes state:

The South African government delegation indicated that the South African action plan has not been approved by cabinet, despite the plan having been in place since September 2011, when it was presented to the OGP. The Department of Public Service and Administration, which is responsible for the plan, claimed that the lack of approval by cabinet means that it cannot easily advance commitments in the plan that require multi-sectoral engagement, such as the Open Environmental Data Portal.

Civil society representatives at the meeting remain adamant that South Africa’s action plan is deficient in terms of substance and neglects key areas of necessary reform, instead focussing on commitments that formed part of initiatives that were already underway, largely as a result of the National Planning Commission. While representatives recognised that resource constraints may make it necessary for government to dovetail some initiatives, they emphasised that government must develop concrete new commitments to open government.

A knowledgeable leader of a nongovernmental organization in South Africa confirmed the situation, writing FreedomInfo.org:

The deputy minister responsible for OGP has been saying they can’t create public awareness about the OGP and SA’s commitments and the plan of action because “cabinet has still not approved the plan”. Nevermind that the President went to New York and tabled these commitments and plans at the heads of state meeting during the official launch of OGP.

One civil society review critical of the South African action plan was done in April by the Open Democracy Advice Center.

The South African government’s ongoing efforts to pass a controversial so-called secrecy bill have drawn criticism with the country and from outside, with some questioning the legitimacy South Africa’s OGP membership.

In late 2011 such objections were raised by South African CSOs, prompting civil society members of the OGP Steering Committee, but not the government members, to issue a joint statement questioning the bill. 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, officials said, there was bilateral follow-up from several government members of the Steering Committee. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)   

Under the OGP Independent Review Mechanism, countries self-assess their progress toward reaching their goals and another assessment is done by an independent expert. That process has yet to begin.

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