In mid-July,  a diverse group of around 2,000 activists, civic leaders, businesses, CSOs and NGOs congregated at the Open Government Partnership Summit in Tbilisi, Georgia.  As one of the largest gatherings of these groups in the world, everything was on the table – open data, data privacy and artificial intelligence, governance and democracy, parliament engagement, youth activism, accountability and much more.

There were several takeaways from the Summit that we, at the Accountability Lab, believe are relevant for Nepal. Nepal already has the foundation for implementation of the OGP.  Since the country’s decentralization, federalization, and constitutionalization within the last decade as well as the first elections in nearly twenty years (in 2017) which brought thousands of new representatives into elected seats, Nepal has put in place critical measures to support accountability.  These include the Prevention of Corruption Act and its participation in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.  However, the challenge is to ensure that these institutions are able to enforce accountability measures.  If Nepal joined the OGP, this international commitment to open governance, citizen empowerment, and anti-corruption by the national government would become all the more imperative, and systematically strengthen transparency and good governance from the ground-up.

It was clear through many of the discussions that the OGP more easily facilitates reforms in member countries, whereas in non-member countries it is more difficult to push for change, especially during times of political transition.  Some countries – Macedonia, for example – found it useful to link the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the OGP in order to harmonize both agendas and keep them as top priorities.  Nepal would be able to enhance its SDG initiatives if it joined the OGP and if it linked goals like open data and improved information accessibility and monitoring with its SDGs. This would make it easier for the newly-federalized government to enforce both agendas as well as close communication gaps between all levels of government and public sector organizations and fight corruption.

Additionally, it will be strategic for Nepal to not to over-promise in terms of its commitments, should it join the OGP.  A 2016 analysis by the Global Initiative for Transparency[1] noted that, in the first fifty-one action plans, only 23% of the fiscal transparency commitments had been fully completed, with 25% assessed as substantially completed, 34% with limited completion, and 18% unstarted or withdrawn. Nearly one-third of all commitments for the first round of national action plans centered on fiscal transparency, and yet less than one-quarter of those were fully completed.  In total, only a few countries were able to complete over 90% of their commitments in their first action plans.  For Nepal and its first action plan, those that are making decisions around commitments will need to be careful in how they define, establish, and intend to implement them.  By not over-promising results and by setting tangible and realistic goals for its fiscal transparency commitments, Nepal will be able to reinforce the sense of momentum towards open governance, which will set a solid foundation for how the country develops its future plans.

At Parliament Day, Sanjay Pradhan – the current CEO of the Open Government Partnership –  talked about the relationship OGP creates for governments, civil-society organizations, and citizens. He mentioned that “OGP enables citizens to be the eyes and the ears of government” in order to preserve democracies.  It struck me that this dovetails nicely with the work of the Accountability Lab in Nepal, where the Citizen Helpdesks close information feedback loops between citizens and governments and our Incubator program provides the space and knowledge-building tools needed for young civic leaders to implement their social impact ideas to fill service and access gaps in communities. The OGP and the Lab both enable these open channels of communication and action for citizens, and if Nepal were to join the OGP, there is real room for the Lab to support a shift from “eyes and ears” to “hands and voices” for the Nepali people to actively participate in governance processes.

In that shift, the Open Government Partnership also has the ability to spotlight and engage youth and minority voices into decision-making (read blogs from youth participants at the Summit here and here).  As a platform that seeks to improve trust, government efficiency and public service delivery through participation by constituents, it offers a prime opportunity to take advantage of active youth and minority populations and truly incorporate their feedback and participation into viable solutions and strategies.  The OGP could be platform through which citizens do not need to play by the socio-cultural and hierarchical rules of the governance game- and don’t need years of practical experience in policy, government, or administration in order to have a seat at the table that defines policies for the less included. Nepal is incredibly diverse and OGP partners such as ourselves need to ensure varied perspectives are taken seriously if we want to truly create effective and far-reaching change in our communities.

The future of OGP is bright in Nepal- here’s hoping that the the political pathway can be found for the government to sign up, work with civil society to develop realistic, inclusive commitments, and really deliver on the governance and development the Nepali people so richly deserve.

Narayan Adhikari is the co-founder and director for the Accountabilty Lab Nepal and Soni Khanal works with the Lab as learniing Manager

[1] from data measured by the OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism