By Nida Qasim Khan

Open Government Partnership (OGP): An overview 

Since its inception in 2011, seventy-eight countries, a growing number of local governments and thousands of civil society organizations have become members of the OGP, a co-creation between both government and non-governmental organizations. The OGP serves the purpose of enabling open government for its citizens, whereby they are more accessible, responsive and accountable to its citizens. In OGP, governments and civil society co-create two-year action plans, with concrete commitments across a variety of issues. This model enables civil society organizations to help shape and provide government oversight.

Seventy-five countries have endorsed the Open Government Declaration under which their governments have pledged to uphold the principles of open and transparent practices in their countries, to “foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st-century government.” The declaration proposes four major commitments on part of the participating governments: to increase the information about governmental activities, support civic participation, implement high standards of integrity throughout government administrations, and to increase citizens’ access to new technologies for accountability and openness.  

Thousands of civil societies also use the OGP platform to advance key issues such as the right to information, gender and inclusion, digital governance, protection of civic space and natural resources, and corruption, among others. OGP also has partnerships with leading multilateral organizations such as the World Bank Group (WBG), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Asian Development Bank (ADP), among others. 

OGP setting the stage for new business landscapes through open governance 

Trust is an essential ingredient of any well-functioning society and the secret behind good business. Unfortunately, much of the current public disillusionment with business seen throughout the world is linked to a lack of trust in government and its institutions. OGP believes in purpose-driven business practices to help re-establish trust in government and its institutions. Following the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), OGP is working towards moving towards a world that is more inclusive, fair, stable, and prosperous. However, we cannot rely on the governments alone in this matter. The private sector will need to play an important role in helping achieve these goals, through sustainable business practices. In order to do so, businesses must follow socially accountable business models from every level. Creating a new landscape for businesses in the form of “sustainable capitalism” will require incentives that reward businesses for engaging in long-term creation. Through a variety of sustainable and transparent commitments by partner countries, OGP is helping governments reestablish trust in governments and their institutions.

How OGP partnered initiatives are helping shape a new global business landscape 

OGP has helped influence many positive practices in partnering with countries to create a more transparent and sustainable business climate in the respective countries. Evidence shows that transparent governments improve business efficiency and develop economic and investment opportunities. OGP governments are leading this fight against corruption as affiliated countries are amongst the earliest adopters of policies to advance beneficial ownership transparency and open contracting standards. Some of these beneficial practices include openness of data and open contracting.

The openness of data benefits businesses as transparent practices help the private sector reduce cost and manage risk better. World Bank together with OGP established the Open Private Sector platform at the World Bank in this regard, providing a database of open data, web, and knowledge that can help the private business sector enter the OGP movement. 

Open contracting is one of the most prominent areas for commitments in OGP action plans, embraced already by thirty national and local governments. Open contracting holds a powerful business case. For example,  in South Korea, transparent e-procurement generated $6.6 billion inefficiencies for businesses. Another great example of open contracting done right is Ukraine’s ProZorro & DoZorro. To fight the corruption in the public procurement system in Ukraine, reformers in the civil society, government and the private sector came together to build an e-procurement system called ProZorro (“transparent” in Ukrainian). This software enables government bodies to conduct electronic deals in a transparent manner, making the information accessible online for everyone. A survey of two hundred companies found that eighty percent of companies believed the system positively impacted their business by lowering administrative costs, saving time to participate in procurement, increasing the quality of business decisions, or making new connections. Additionally, e-procurement was estimated to have saved the Ukrainian government over the US $1 billion over two years and facilitated a fifty percent increase in the creation of SMEs and companies, all thanks to achieving greater trust in the procurement system.

According to OGP’s Open Contracting Fact Sheet, several of its member countries achieved notable commitments in open contracting. Since 2011, 70 OGP members made open contracting commitments, with 37 members currently implementing them. These commitments have achieved significant changes in levels of transparency across the board, engaging users at every sector, and empowering women by creating access to gender-disaggregated contracting data. Some notable commitments include Kenya’s commitment to transparent and accessible government contracts, France’s commitment to open procurement increasing competition for procurement, and Nigeria’s commitment to further implementation of the Open Contracting Data Standard. 

Challenges facing youth startups in Pakistan 

The youth startups of Pakistan today face several challenges across the board, including cultural expectations of immediate success in business, administrative issues, lack of policy addressing their needs, and a general lack of communication with the public sector. The regulatory framework in Pakistan places high costs that big companies can take on but are unsuitable for startups. Private law firms are needed to find solutions but law firms are too expensive and most startups lack funds to hire them. There is a lack of an effective taxation process for entrepreneurs which leads to problems of double taxation. Lack of digital payment infrastructures is also a big problem for e-commerce startups, hindering their growth further. 

Aside from these challenges, youth startups are at a disadvantage due to the lack of open contracting, limited access to data online, and the government’s tendency to contract with more established businesses which tend to leave them out. They face challenges in procurement, limited access to data online, weak education systems that do not prepare them for entrepreneurship, and a limited business network, among many issues. While the government and the private sectors have both recognized the potential that youth startups hold in the context of Pakistan’s economy, they will also need to take substantial steps to support their growth in the country.

How OGP can aid Pakistani youth startups in their growth

If Pakistan were to commit to an action plan with OGP, youth startups could greatly benefit from its support and policies of open governance. Through OGP’s policies of fiscal openness, digital governance, open contracting, greater access to information, and other key policies, youth startups can experience much growth in the business ecosystem of Pakistan. OGP has helped many youth startups in its partner countries, such as aiding the program of Smart Cities Youth Startups in Seoul, South Korea. By partnering with OGP, the Korean youth startups gain access to the following: a startup consultative body for overseas advancement, access to SMG’s connections and knowledge on foreign cities and companies, support to participate in global business events such as MWC, DreamForce, 4YFN and Slush, as well as help in promoting the culture of starting a business through the private-public cooperation. Another key aspect of this support includes OGP helping create a framework that allows startups to provide feedback to SMG and other stakeholders on the policies they are affected by and ensure the relevant authorities consider and respond to their feedback. These are key features that would greatly aid Pakistani youth startups, enabling them to gain influence in public policy, build their network both locally and globally, and gain access to the global business world with its events and opportunities. 

How OGP’s current partner countries are facilitating more transparency to aid businesses 

Pakistan has been registered as a member of the OGP since 2016, but has not committed to an action plan to date, and continues to maintain an inactive stance. However, there is a considerable improvement that can be brought in the field of business if Pakistan were to receive help from the OGP by formulating an action plan in the coming years. According to the OGP Global Report 2019, partner countries have made significant improvements in terms of better business practices since 2018. Some examples are as follows:

Argentina and Armenia committed to a new interactive fiscal budget platform that enables citizens to search, download, filter and use an expanded set of fiscal data in their 2016-18 action plans. This is a great step forward for government openness in these countries. 

Albania committed to a Whistleblower Protection Law in its 2016-18 action plan. In consultation with citizens, the Albanian government established the necessary legal infrastructure to enable protection for whistleblowers in the country. This is a big improvement as it adheres to OGP’s standards for commitment to development and implementation. 

Brazil committed to providing Digital Educational Resources to its citizens through a new online portal, a new online system with land data to empower citizens to certify land holdings and enable a social participation portal for citizens to discuss public policies with government officials.

Similarly, all of the OGP member countries with action plans in 2018 and beyond committed to reforms in various areas of open governance, including reforms in fighting corruption (via open contracting for example), enabling civic space, encouraging open policy making, providing greater access to information, and ensuring fiscal openness, as laid out in the OGP Global Report 2019.