South African Official Says OGP Should Not Punish

28 October 2015

By Toby McIntosh

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the country assuming the lead co-chairmanship of the Open Government Partnership, said Oct. 28 that South Africa wants that the OGP “does not become a tool for punishment.”

The scope of his remark was undeveloped in his speech at the opening session of the OGP summit meeting in Mexico City Oct. 28-29. However, South Africa’s lead representative to the OGP later explained to FreedomInfo.org that the OGP needs to work with member countries and avoid investigations.

The wider context is that civil society organizations (CSOs) participating in the OGP are increasingly critical of member nations for inhibiting CSO activities.

The outgoing civil society co-chair, Sunetta Kaimal, speaking on the same stage with Ramaphosa, strongly urged the OGP  not to remain silent in the face of attacks on civic space. At least one-third of OGP countries have proposed legislation tor restrict CSOs, said Kaimal, the Deputy Director of the Natural Resource Governance Institute, with half already having policies and practices that restrict CSOs. “This is just unacceptable,” she said.

Samantha Powers, US ambassador to the United Nations and an OGP founder, also expressed concern about civic space. President Obama, she announced, will inaugurate an award for an advocate for anti-corruption, transparency or accountability.

 

 

 

 

The OGP created a “response policy” that has been used once, with Azerbaijan, following vociferous civil society complaints about that government. (See FreedomInfo.org article.) OGP disapproval may be voiced again soon. A report on allegations about Hungary is in process at the U.S. State Department, tasked by the OGP to do the evaluation, but progress was slowed when State diverted resources to the refugee crisis, sources said.

CSO representatives on the Steering Committee have been informally discussing how to strengthen sanctions agains countries seen to be violating OGP principles, perhaps by setting tighter timelines for countries to make improvements.

Delwa Elaborates

Qinisile Delwa, South Africa’s point of contact with the OGP, amplified on Ramaphosa’s remarks, beginning by pointing out at that “many African countries are already suspicious” of the OGP and are concerned about the response policy.

The OGP response policy, Delwa told Freedominfo.org, comes in to play too early. There should be “more constructive engagement” with members which is “less critical but more encouraging,” she said. The South African experience is that “problems can be solved by engagement.”

Addressing the ongoing process regarding Hungary, Delwa said that Hungary has “made an outreach” after complaints were made by civil society and “we need to leverage that.”

“The word `investigation’ is very sensitive for governments,” Delwa said, also calling into question of the OGP response policy system. “Can we even claim we have the capacity to get to the source of the problem, and if we can do that how sure are we that we won’t be making the the wrong conclusion.”

“The OGP’s business is to encourage,” she said, adding that the OGP’s work is “suffering” because of the added burdens of the response policy. “It is not what we are good at, she said, “At OGP we are about fostering partnership and doing good.”

Other Priorities

Ramaphosa also listed a number of other priorities for South Africs’s one-year term.

He said he would advocate that OGP’s work takes into account uneven levels of development. Delwa said this was aimed at independent reviewers who propose things beyond the capacity of a country.

He proposed a parallel ministerial-level; OGP meeting on sideline of the annual UN General Assembly meeting. The private sector should be involved to promote and support the OGP. He endorsed the idea already endorsed by the OGP steering committee that the OGP should be, as he put it, “an enabler” of the Strategic Development Goals. He suggested mapping the OGDP commitments that relate to SDGs.

See other FreedomInfo.org reporting on the OGP here.

 

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