By: Narayan Adhikari and Pranav Boudhathoki. This blog post was originally published on the Open Government Partnership blog.
Politics has often been the obstacle to greater transparency in Nepal. But the country’s open government movement took an important step forward last month, when twelve leading accountability and transparency groups gathered in the new OpenGov Hub Kathmandu – a resource center on openness and transparency – to critically examine progress on this agenda to date. The idea was to push build consensus around the idea of open government and the Open Government Partnership, generate local ownership of the process and develop preliminary ideas on possible commitments in Nepal- when the government is ready to sign up.
At Accountability Lab Nepal and Local Interventions Group, we’ve seen that a lack of ownership has undermined progress on open government reforms elsewhere- so we have been working hard, as Nepali civil society organizations, to ensure that the OGP is fully-embraced by government and civil society from the outset. Here are a few thoughts that emerged from our meeting that we’re going to bear in mind as we push for OGP membership in Nepal:
- Incentives– our group discussed incentives for openness in depth– how does the OGP add value to existing openness and transparency efforts? What are the incentives for the various stakeholders to take part in the process? What could persuade the government to sign up? We’ve seen the value of the OGP to governments elsewhere- as a framework and process for reform, but there are many ongoing policy reform processes in Nepal- we need to make sure the OGP is different, and better. And we also see not just transparency, but efficiency and growth as key incentives for the government that might distinguish the OGP- if we can indicate to decision-makers that opening up means greater GDP growth for Nepal through improved competitiveness and trust in business, this will allow us to put together a broad coalition in support of reforms.
- Trust-the OGP process has to be built on trust, given that commitments are co-created between government and civil society. But trust has been in short supply in Nepal recently, given the post-earthquake dynamics and frequent turnover of governments. Trust between people in power and citizens is low, the government has been mired in controversies around governance issues and civil society has often played a deeply adversarial role. We want to find constructive ways to move beyond these challenges- and the OGP provides a set of positive ideas, collective tools and shared goals to do this.
- Commitment– we want the Government of Nepal to sign up to the OGP, but only if they are fully committed to the process. We have spoken to colleagues elsewhere about their work with government on these issues along with some key advocates within the Nepali government who are pushing for more openness. We’ve realized that proponents for reform are everywhere, but not always in the places you expect. They key seems to be working with these change-agents to open up the space for conversations that are politically feasible; rather than pushing “against closed doors” as it were. This means that we ourselves also have to be committed- with the understanding that this is a long-term effort.
- Coherence– everywhere you look in Nepal there are fantastic groups working on technology, openness, transparency and civil engagement (Young Innovations, Saferworld, Open Nepal, to name but a few). It is an exciting time to be working in civil society on these issues. There is readiness outside government, but we need to find the mechanisms to bind them all together to form a collective effort- too often we are disparate and as a result, less effective. At the same time, we are guilty of speaking to each other in an echo chamber- without bringing in much more diverse perspectives (trade unions, for example, or academia) to ensure the gains in transparency benefit everyone. After all, transparency for only a few means continued opacity for many. It is unclear whether the diversity of organizations we need are ready for the OGP- we need to work harder to make sure they are included.
Over the next few months we are going to build on this initial meeting by convening similar discussions with other groups- including the government, media and other more varied civil society groups. The idea is to conduct an OGP readiness assessment of sort and a stakeholder mapping to understand which actors can best play which roles in the open government movement in Nepal. We are bringing in a full time researcher to help with this, supported by CIPE, and the OpenGov Hub Kathmandu will serve as the venue for the process. This is all well-timed ahead of the OGP meeting in Paris- where we expect the open government agenda to take another important step forward at the global level. There has never been a more important time for this work- and here in Nepal we are working hard to play our part.