ACCESSNG-SL

23
Sep

0
Oluseun Onigbinde

Sierra Leone’s Next Challenge: An Open Government Action Plan

A guest post by Oluseun Onigbinde* (@seunonigbinde) of BudgIT (Nigeria)

By passing the “Access to Information Act” into law, Sierra Leone scaled the final hurdle to achieving membership in the Open Government Partnership(OGP). On October 30, 2013, Sierra Leone officially applied to join an expanding group of countries with firm commitments to transparency and accountability. In support of that commitment, some Sierra Leonean government officials have also joined an effort to reduce corruption in the justice and security sectors, supported by Partners for Democratic Change (Partners) with Campaign for Good Governance (CGG) in Sierra Leone, CLEEN Foundation and BudgIT in Nigeria and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). The ongoing collaboration between these partners has produced theAccess Nigeria and Sierra Leone (AccessNG_SL) program, funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. One of the main objectives of this initiative is to provide civil society in Sierra Leone and Nigeria with better access to information, to open the public’s eyes to the real costs of corruption and to provide them with basic tools to monitor corruption cases within the judiciary.

I was in Sierra Leone last month for 12 days for the AccessNG_SL program, working closely with our colleagues at Campaign for Good Governance. This engagement began with BudgIT undertaking an eligibility assessment of Sierra Leone, which clearly outlines how the country qualifies for membership in the OGP. This video postcard from our meeting includes me and my colleague Marcella Samba-Sesay of the Campaign for Good Governance reflecting on the importance and timeliness of the Open Government Partnership in Sierra Leone.

The next step is for Sierra Leone to develop their first National Action Plan, which will require a multi-stakeholder approach as they race to meet the application deadline for the OGP. Together with the Partners’ team and CGG staff, we started off by meeting with the Open Government Initiative, a governmental program of Sierra Leone which encourages citizen engagement across the country. We also had a session with civil society leaders to share lessons from other African countries regarding their Action Plans. In all those discussions, I have identified four major points that the country should consider in developing an initial OGP National Action Plan:

  1. Amplify Current Initiatives: For a country to qualify for the OGP, it means it has been doing something right in the context of accountability, transparency and civic engagement. In the preparation of an Action Plan, the Steering Committee must scan through existing reform initiatives and approaches that align with the OGP. This can be within the context of the justice sector, Government Integrated Financial Management Information Systems, budget transparency or other initiatives. The right approach would be to document how to use technology to amplify current efforts as well as to strengthen the offline structure and institutional support needed to ensure accountability.

  2. The Eligibility Criteria Matters: When defining the first Action Plan, which is subject to periodic change, it is advisable to focus on what is within reach and build momentum gradually. This means focusing on specific and targeted improvements, such as:

    • strengthening citizens’ budgets;

    • ensuring that the defined guidelines to use the Access to Information Act are upheld;

    • developing an Open Data Portal;

    • driving citizen engagement through multiple viral channels.

  1. Inclusive National Steering Committee: If expectations and participation are not properly managed, joining the OGP may come off as another unsustainable “western construct” when the initial excitement fades. The prospective Committee members must be able to tangibly define what will change by strategically defining who should lead the process. This will require a phased appraisal of the diversity and commitment of the stakeholders who form the Steering Committee. For example, if a commitment has been set up to deliver open budget architecture and the committee does not have the support of the budget minister, it might face a lot of hurdles. The National Steering Committee must be broad-based and include at least twenty people who have defined roles for execution and monitoring of agreements within the Action Plan. All members must be identified with a specific responsibility to ensure that commitments don’t just exist on paper.

  1. Institutionalizing Commitments: Beyond making commitments as submitted in the Action Plans, there is the need to use legislative acts as instruments to ensure that certain commitments are followed. It will be good to have three branches  of government – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – to be involved right from the conceptual stage to the actual implementation of an OGP Action Plan. Such an approach would ensure that laws such as the Fiscal Responsibility Act, and other initiatives that are fundamental to transparency and accountability, are upheld.

Visiting Freetown was a great opportunity to share my thoughts and brainstorm with my civil society colleagues on key points that will hopefully strengthen their country’s OGP Action Plan. The next steps are to figure out the composition of the National Steering Committee and submit a feasible Action Plan that recognizes recent efforts of other countries and uses technology and institutional support to rapidly improve and deliver them.

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* Oluseun Onigbinde is a leading digital innovator in Nigeria and an advocate of the open data movement who works to foster greater transparency and better understanding of government budgets. In 2011, Oluseun founded BudgIT, a startup which uses digital technologies to make government budgets more accessible, transparent and understandable to Nigerians. In 2013, BudgIT was listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the top five exciting African startups to watch out for.

Oluseun is a contributor to the Data Journalism Handbook, a member of the Open Spending Wiki Group, an Open Knowledge Foundation Ambassador, and he has served as a consultant to DFID Federal Reform projects. He is both an Ashoka and Knight Foundation Innovation Fellow.

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