An Insider’s Perspective on Sierra Leone’s Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership
Guest post by Marcella Samba-Sesay, Director of Programmes at theCampaign for Good Governance in Sierra Leone (CGG). She coordinates the AccessSL programme and is a member of the national OGP Steering Committee. You can follow CGG on Twitter @CGGSierraLeone
Just months after stating its intent to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP), this week Sierra Leone endorsed a draft National Action Plan (NAP) for OGP in a ceremony led by President Ernest Bai Koroma. More than 300 government officials, paramount chiefs, civil society leaders, women and youth groups, and the general public attended the ceremony. The Action Plan has now been forwarded to the OGP Support Unit in Washington, DC for comment and feedback. The commitments Sierra Leone’s government has made in the NAP will lead to more open government processes and increase citizens’ interactions with their government — a significant step on the long road of Sierra Leone’s reform agenda.
Many in civil society initially argued that Sierra Leone’s Action Plan timeline was overly ambitious and ran the risk of consultations being inadequate. However, with earnest collaboration, clear timelines, and delineated responsibilities, the process of developing Sierra Leone’s multi-stakeholder NAP has been a success.
What is the Open Government Partnership?
The Secretariat describes the OGP as “an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens.” Fifty-nine countries are currently members, with Sierra Leone and three others seeking to join in 2014. To join the OGP, each government and representatives of civil society convene a national steering committee to develop and implement ambitious reforms to increase government transparency.
OGP membership criteria include fiscal transparency, income and asset disclosure, access to information and citizen’s engagement. Civil society organizations in Sierra Leone believe that the OGP membership process will become a tool in our fight against corruption, and will serve as a benchmark for opening governmental spaces for effective resource management and service delivery. The commitments Sierra Leone has made in the NAP reinforce our view that citizens are the ultimate clients of the government, and therefore citizens must benefit from the government’s actions. Additionally, the Action Plan process has helped encourage greater interaction between government and civil society.
The Road to Open Government in Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone’s road to OGP membership started with President Koroma announcing in February that the Open Government Initiative (OGI) and the Millennium Challenge Coordinating Unit (MCCU) would be the twin coordinating agencies of the OGP in Sierra Leone. The national steering committee was launched with membership composed of 17 civil society representatives and 17 government agencies. Campaign for Good Governance (CGG), the organization I work for, was invited as a steering committee member because of two factors: the tenets of the OGP resonate with CGG’s core values and our mission to foster citizen participation in governance and build an effective democratic state; we are also currently implementing the “Access Nigeria and Sierra Leone” (AccessNG_SL) project in collaboration with Partners for Democratic Change, BudgIT, CLEEN Foundation, and theInstitute for War and Peace Reporting. AccessNG_SL is building more accountable institutions in Nigeria and Sierra Leone by enhancing institutional transparency and preventing impunity for those who engage in corruption and transnational organized crime.
The process of creating the NAP has been intensive — the steering committee has held weekly meetings since the beginning of March 2014. Early on, we agreed the Action Plan should address three of the OGP’s grand challenges: increasing public integrity, more effective management of public resources, and improving corporate accountability. Among the core commitments our Action Plan makes are: developing a public integrity policy; increasing visibility of performance contracts; performing subsequent assessments of key government institutions; and operationalizing the single treasury account by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to improve accountability and management of government accounts.
Getting the Word Out to Citizens
We presented the commitments to citizens in the fourteen electoral districts of Sierra Leone and also to those living in the diaspora, for critical assessment, analysis, and input. The OGI raised awareness at the district-level, highlighting the concept, essence, and benefits of the OGP. The national steering committee also conducted robust media outreach, with members appearing on many widely distributed radio and television programmes to acquaint the general public with the OGP, the NAP process, and the commitments. This highly inclusive and participatory process led to this week’s endorsement by citizens of the Action Plan, which the Sierra Leone government must now live up to.
With Sierra Leone still emerging from 11 years years of civil war, many of us on the steering committee viewed OGP membership and the commitments in the context of post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. My fellow civil society representatives and I advocated that all of Sierra Leone’s governance and development efforts must seek to include and benefit citizens, especially the rural poor and traditionally vulnerable groups like women, children, youth, and people with disabilities. Consequently, the question we faced on the steering committee was which of the OGP’s 5 “grand challenges” and commitments in the Action Plan would continue to consolidate peace and close the feedback loop with ordinary citizens who have been marginalized from mainstream governance and decision-making as a consequences of the war. Our ultimate goal was to ensure that the Sierra Leone’s resources and opportunities benefit the whole nation.
The Action Plan process allowed civil society and government to build a collaborative relationship that will foster development. Working on set principles, with clear terms of references and timelines provided us new ways to build trust and mend previously adversarial relationships. For all of us, the focus was on delivering the goods for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans, in support of which the steering committee coined a slogan: “for love of country.” Nonetheless, as we move from Action Plan to implementation, there are challenges to overcome. A major challenge we’ve identified is that all of Sierra Leone’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are yet to fully commit to actualizing the content of the NAP. For example, a robust Freedom of Information Law is a necessary pillar of OGP membership. Sierra Leone’s FOI Law is very new, and implementing it will take time. In the months to come, President Koroma’s enthusiasm must be translated into efforts to get heads of all MDAs to buy into the commitments and begin to make them a reality.