Nepal has institutions in place to embark on open government system. We only need to use them creatively.
“Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalis” is the slogan of K P Sharma Oli’s government, but it should not remain limited to lip service. Every Nepali citizen should experience prosperity and happiness in a real sense. To achieve equitable development goal through higher per capita income, the government needs to engage with citizens, civil society and the private sector to ensure more open governance.
Nepal has made a huge leap from centuries-old monarchy to a decentralized model of federalism and it provides us the perfect opportunity to ensure a shift from closed-door, exclusive decision-making to more open, transparent policies and practices. We should have used this unique opportunity for introducing and systematizing transparency as we started implementing federal structure.
The constitution of 2015 was framed to promote open governance through regular and fair elections, multi-party democracy and freedom of expression. In 2017, Nepal held the first cycle of local elections in about two decades, which created nearly 40,000 newly elected public officials across all of the seven provinces, 753 municipalities and 6,743 ward units. Many of these public officials are serving their first terms in office. These fresh and active civic leaders are ideal for catalyzing sustainable and effective mechanisms of accountability, anti-corruption, and reciprocal communication and information sharing between the local and central level.
In this context, citizens and civic leaders have shown huge amount of interest in open dialogues and collaborative efforts to ensure more inclusive, bottom-up decision-making. But this is not easy in a country where decision-making has for long been top-down and by fiat. Building symbiotic networks between representatives and the communities they serve is challenging.
But there is a better mechanism that can provide the framework for a new type of governance co-creation, if the government is willing to tap it: Open Government Partnership (OGP).
OGP and Nepal
The OGP is a process through which the government, civil society and business co-create open government commitments and then jointly monitor progress towards these shared goals. The OGP process has led to some incredible progress on issues of citizen participation, anti-corruption, open data and freedom of information in countries around the world, including in Asia.
Tbilisi city municipality in Georgia, for example, has implemented subnational action plan to make municipal policy transparent, open and inclusive since they joined OGP. Sri Lanka, on other hand, has achieved 100 percent women participation in the political decision making process at all local levels.
The OGP provides not only unique opportunity for reformers inside and outside the government to build an ecosystem of trust, collaboration and action, and develop capacity and knowledge, but also paves the way to showcase our achievements to the rest of the world.
In Nepal, we, at the Accountability Lab, have been pressing the government to sign up to the OGP. We believe that OGP can help the government improve public services, fight graft, open-up data and empower citizens. Because OGP is a global network, it would also provide a platform for us to learn from peers elsewhere, network reformers inside and outside the government and begin to benchmark our progress. When it comes to governance, a little friendly pressure is never a bad thing.
OGP has deep partnerships with leading multilateral institutions like Asian Development Bank, UNDP, World Bank, and other bilateral agencies with whom Nepal can cooperate. The United States also strongly supports Nepal as it navigates OGP process.
Time for takeoff
The groundwork for joining OGP has already been laid in Nepal. In the past several years we have made incredible progress towards more open governance both in policy and practice. We have the institutions in place. We only need to use them in creative way in order to truly ensure accountability within our government, civil society and business from both top-down and bottom-up.
Federalism provides us a great opportunity to decentralize power to the local level. It should also make us rethink the role our government plays in making citizens engage in governance process. Federal, provincial and local governments have been very active in formulating policies, setting priorities, agreeing on budgets and implementing development plans.
The OGP would provide them perfect platform to take these reforms to a higher level. This is time for Nepal to publicly commit to OGP.
The author is Country Director at Accountability Lab Nepal