OGP Redefining Standards for Suspending Members

17 March 2014

The Open Government Partnership is developing revised criteria for disciplining member countries that don’t fulfill certain commitments.

Lithuania, Malta and Turkey were the first of the 63 OGP member countries to receive warnings, but more countries could be cautioned if the OGP Steering Committee approves a new series of standards.

Two warnings in a row would trigger a discussion about continued OGP membership – the sanction that the organization, founded on inclusion, voluntary goal-setting and mutual support, hopes to avoid.

Civic Space Decisions Deferred

The subcommittee deferred a decision on what to do about member countries that create hostile environments for civil society. That concern was raised urgently October by the civil society members of the Steering Committee, but resisted by the government members, who comprise the other half of the Steering Committee membership.

The controversial topic is expected to be revisited at the May meeting of the Steering Committee. The subcommittee “agreed that there would need to be a very clear trigger mechanism, followed by a flexible case-by-case approach once the trigger had been activated,” according to the minutes.

Three Countries Warned

Lithuania, Malta and Turkey missed the deadline for producing self-assessments of their progress on fulfilling their action plans and appeared to have dropped out of the OGP, as the OGP stated in an unusual statement in February. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

As a result, the OGP did not assign independent reviewers to evaluate their national action plans, leaving the trio behind countries who joined at the same time. All three countries now apparently still hope to remain in the OGP, although there are no official status reports on their current intentions or activities.

Should they, or other members, get two successive such warnings, their participation in the OGP could be in jeopardy, with the decision up to the Steering Committee.

Other Warnings Possible

Proposed standards fleshing out the grounds for potential suspension were drafted during a Feb. 20-21 meeting in Washington of the Criteria & Standards Subcommittee. They will take effect in 10 days following the March 17 publication of the minutes unless there are objections from the Steering Committee.

The new standards will apply to each two-year cycle for producing an action plan, which involves steps including preparing national action plan, doing a self-assessment and getting evaluated through the Independent Review Mechanism.

The planned standard would introduce a slight retrospective twist, meaning that some OGP countries could receive caution letters for infractions in their first cycle. Not holding adequate public consultations to draw up their national actions plans, was a not uncommon infraction.

Moving From Past Standards

In setting out specific areas that could lead to “a breach” of commitment, the OGP is moving away from broader and more subjective earlier policy, never fully fleshed out.

The policy from 2012 said that disciplinary action was possible after three years if a member “acts contrary to the OGP process or to the commitments made in its national action plan” and “fails to adequately address issues raised by the IRM.” (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

This policy was later modified to take into account the altered two-year cycle for the creation and review of action plans.

On a related point, the Steering Committee in early 2013 adopted a statement about when it would examine actions taken by member countries that arguably transgressed OGP principles. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.) The policy was set following protests over the failure of the Philippines, a Steering Committee member, to enact a FOI law. The Steering Committee decided to comment on national controversies only in “exceptional circumstances,” according to a Feb. 21 two-page statement.

The Steering Committee has said it would get involved if a participating government falls below the minimum OGP eligibility criteria.

In all of these decisions, the OGP has said that even in difficult situations it would seek to engage and help member countries to come into compliance.

New Standards Proposed

The C&S subcommittee proposes five actions that would be “contrary to OGP process.”

Violation of one or more of these five “would result in a written communication from the Support Unit informing the country of the reason for the breach and offering assistance to improve.”

“If the IRM finds in a second consecutive action plan cycle that the common expectations are again not being met, then the country will be subject to a C/S review on its ongoing participation in OGP,” according to the minutes.

The suggested thresholds are:

  •  Failure to endorse the Open Government Declaration.
  •  Failure to publish a National Action Plan within four months of the due date.
  •  Failure to develop country action plans through a multi-stakeholder process, with the active engagement of citizens and civil society.
  •  Failure to submit a self-assessment report on the country’s progress within four months of the due date and/or to refuse to engage with the IRM researcher prior to publication of the report.
  • Making “no progress on implementing any of the commitments from its action plan” in the eyes of the IRM reviewer.

The minutes indicate that the subcommittee looked for definable breaches, noting at one point that it “decided not to develop guidelines on breaches due to lack concrete and ambitious commitments due to subjectivity and methodological difficulty.”

Anticipating that other countries will be judged “in breach,” the subcommittee said that the OGP will communicate the news to these countries and provide “the necessary coaching, outreach and peer exchange opportunities to minimize the likelihood of future breaches.”

New “Close-Out” Report Being Created

A variety of other issues related to the IRM were discussed.

The subcommittee also determined that beginning in 2015 all government self-assessment reports “should include a section on how IRM recommendations are being addressed.”

Among other things, it was agreed that the reviewers should prepare a short “close-out report” at the end of the two-year action plan implementation period, to complement the main progress report which will continue to be produced earlier in the cycle.

Changes to the eligibility criteria also was on the agenda, with the subcommittee deciding that alterations “would need to be made with clear scenarios for how shifts in weighting or replacing indicators would alter the list of eligible countries.”

“In the short-term C/S agreed that OGP should maintain and encourage dialogue with external organizations responsible for the current data used in the eligibility criteria, and with organizations that may be developing new indicators that could potentially be adopted by OGP in the future.”

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