OGP Gives Australia Deadline to Draft National Action Plan

11 August 2015

By Toby McIntosh

Australia’s lack of action as a member of the Open Government Partnership is “particularly concerning,” the OGP Steering Committee decided at a recent meeting.

The Steering Committee set a new deadline for Australia “to recommit to OGP,” according to recently released minutes of the July 22-23 meeting. (See this page on the OGP website, scroll down.)

After two years as a member, Australia has yet to prepare a National Action Plan, the key component of participation in the OGP in which members make specific commitments on how to advance open government.

Australia, which joined in May of 2013, should have created its first action plan by May of 2014, according to an OGP chart. The submission of a plan is followed by other steps, including a one-year self-evaluation and then an assessment through the OGP Independent Review Mechanism.

Australia was given until the upcoming October OGP Global Summit meeting in Mexico to “recommit.”

OGP Keeps Identity Secret Pending Notification

The OGP Steering Committee minutes when issued referred to this anonymously as “one case,” without disclosing it concerned Australia. FreedomInfo.org separately confirmed the “case” referred to Australia.

An OGP official said the name was disclosed pending notification of the government and that the minutes would be amended after notification.

The entry in the minutes concerns a report given by the Criteria and Standards Subcommittee, abbreviated as CS. The original minutes stated:

CS is also monitoring several cases where countries have been late submitting action plans through two cycles. One case was highlighted as particularly concerning, and the Steering Committee agreed on next steps and a deadline for the country to recommit to OGP by the time of the Global Summit.

 A request for comment from the Australian government is pending.

The OGP has in the past has delayed the release of letters sent to governments about tardy behavior, with officials saying the confidentiality was intended to encourage compliance. But in other instances the OGP has announced its concerns.

Other Countries, Policy Discussed

The Steering Committee also heard updates on inaction by Malta and Turkey.

The minutes say: “In the case of Malta an action plan has been submitted so the review is now closed. In the case of Turkey CS has advised to wait until a new government is formed following recent elections. They will continue to monitor the situation and update the Steering Committee at the next meeting in October.”

“OGP is learning lessons about how to re-engage less active countries through a combination of political and points of contact outreach, technical assistance brokered by the Support Unit, and support from multilateral partners or working groups,” the minutes state.

“Steering Committee members noted that it is important to accurately diagnose the reasons for delays or setbacks, as OGP’s deadlines don’t always coincide with domestic political cycles,” according to the minutes, which continue, “Where Steering Committee members need to engage in direct outreach, members asked for more specific requests to help them target their support.”

The minutes state further:

Steering Committee members then reflected on specific cases where they had engaged in successful outreach efforts to support other OGP countries, including: Croatia’s peer support to countries in the region, US outreach to African countries in advance of President Obama’s visit to Ethiopia and Kenya, and Brazil’s personal letter of encouragement to the OGP point of contact in an inactive country. Governments agreed on the need to coordinate diplomatic efforts for the greatest impact, as well as on the possibilities afforded by direct contacts among points of contacts, and the Support Unit asked for volunteers to lead on targeted outreach to several countries in particular.

The OGP Support Unit briefed the Steering Committee on status of national action plans overall and highlighted some of the most interesting new OGP commitments. “There have now been 107 plans since OGP was launched. 20 countries had action plans due by the end of June 2015, of which 10 had submitted by the time of the meeting,” according to the minutes.

Past Warnings

Lithuania, Malta and Turkey were the first members to get a notice about missed deadlines. In February of 2014, the OGP issuing a public statement saying that  reports that there was “little evidence” that the countries’ action plan commitments were being fulfilled. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Under a revised OGP policy approved in March of 2014, 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. A country will be in breach if it does not publish a NAP within 4 months of the due date. (See previous FreedomInfo.org article.)

The OGP in August of 2014 has made public 11 letters sent in April informing member governments they were not in compliance with their OGP commitments. (See previous FreedomInfo.org.)

In December of 2014 the OGP cautioned 12 governments that they were falling behind on their OGP responsibilities, announcing the action in a blog post with links to the letters). (See FreedomInfo.org report.)

Response Policy Updates

The Steering Committee also heard about the status of Azerbaijan and Hungary.

In May, an OGP subcommittee announced that it agreed with complaints from civil society organizations (CSOs) that the Azerbaijan government is restricting CSOs and acting in ways inconsistent with OGP principles. (See previous FreedomInfo.org article.)

A complaint also has been submitted about Hungary and is being evaluated. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Under the OGP “response policy,” members acting contrary to OGP principles could ultimately be declared an “inactive” member.

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