The Open Government Partnership and socio-economic development: A perspective from African countries

Mukelani Dimba ANALYSIS Public Administration & Governance

One of the enduring challenges faced by the African continent in lifting millions out of poverty is this: how do you ensure that Africa’s natural endowments are used to benefit Africans directly? It is the conundrum of all time that a continent so richly endowed with natural resources remains the poorest in the world. It is clear that, over the decades and centuries, Africa’s riches have been used not to benefit ordinary Africans but to enrich the few in governing classes, local elites and international commercial conglomerates. This has been a classic example of inefficient use of resources on a grand scale and with disastrous outcomes.

The United Nations Economic Council for Africa’s (UNECA) High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows reported in 2015 that Africa lost $50 billion per annum due to illegal financial transactions. The year before that, 2014, the non-governmental organization Health Poverty Action had reported that Africa loses $192 billion per annum to the rest of the world through costs of adjusting to climate change ($36.6 billion), loans to the other governments ($24 billion), debt repayments ($21 billion), profits made by multinational companies ($46 billion), illegal logging ($17 billion), and tax evasion ($35 billion), among other things. The net effect of this is that millions in sub-Saharan Africa remain below the poverty line. A report by the World Bank (“Ending Extreme Poverty and Sharing Prosperity”) puts this figure close to 350 million Africans who are living below the updated extreme poverty measure of $1.90 a day.

On the other hand, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee reported in 2015 that Africa is a recipient of official development assistance (ODA) to the tune of $36 billion per annum. Whether one uses the UNECA’s $50 billion lost to illicit financial flows or the HPA’s $192 billion lost through multiple leakages, it is clear that Africa gives to the world a lot more than it receives in ODA. This means that Africa cannot rely on ODA alone to roll back the scourge of poverty and underdevelopment, and that the continent needs to have more resources than the international community to fund its own development initiatives. However, for this to happen Africa needs to take active steps to plug the holes and close the financial outflows.

One of the key tasks in the effort of plugging the holes is reforming trade, financial, commercial and infrastructure systems and procedures so that they incorporate the principles of equity, sustainability and inclusiveness. Transparency and accountability mechanisms are essential elements of this framework. The report of UNECA’s High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows indicated that one of the difficulties in assessing the extent of illicit financial flows is “the lack of transparency, secrecy and difficulty in obtaining information and systematic data”. The most evident causes of illicit financial flows is the lack of transparency in the tax system. This lack of transparency is used both by multinational companies and individuals to dodge payment of tax, and is also used by officials to dodge accountability on the usage of tax revenue. The panel also indicated that the lack of transparency includes issues of declaration of beneficial ownership in companies. The panel pointed out that “the operation of shell companies and allowing the identity of owners to remain secret enable those who wish to hide illicit wealth or launder money to do so without hindrance”. To this extent, the panel recommended the creation of public registries of beneficial ownership.

Openness and accountability are principles worth championing not just for their own sake, but also as great enablers for honest delivery of public services and management of scarce public resources. This is a principle which anchors a lot of the work being promoted by the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The OGP recognised at its inception, more than five years ago, that efforts aimed at advancing openness and accountability should be directed at helping countries address what the OGP calls “the five grand challenges” – improving public services, increasing public integrity, effectively managing public resources, creating safer communities and increasing corporate accountability.

The OGP was established in 2011 by the governments of Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia, Philippines, United Kingdom, Norway and the United States, together with civil society groups such as Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, International Budget Project, Twaweza, Natural Resource Governance Institute and the Transparency & Accountability Initiative, among others. The OGP was set up as a multi-stakeholder initiative, jointly led by governments and civil society groups, serving as a platform for co-learning and support for efforts aimed at creating sustainable innovations for promoting openness and accountability among member states. It is intended to be a network of reformers within government and civil society working together to improve openness and accountability practices.

Joining the OGP is not automatic. It is based on an objective assessment of a country’s legal and policy framework on access to information, fiscal transparency, asset disclosure regimes for elected and public officials, and public participation systems. Once a country has joined the OGP, they are required to develop a national action plan which contains a set of commitments each country makes towards advancing openness and accountability, and to stretch beyond existing practice. These commitments are required to be jointly developed by government in partnership with civil society. The OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism then tracks the implementation of those commitments over time in two-year cycles.

When the OGP was launched, only eight countries were members of the initiative, but this number has grown to 70 countries in 2016. On the African continent, 11 countries have joined the OGP; South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Malawi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria.

These 11 countries can be pioneers on how to reform governance practice through leveraging technologies to make the state more responsive, transparent and accountable. It is these 11 countries which are at the forefront of linking transparency and accountability to the developmental agenda.
These countries are part of the OGP community which together has created over 2,500 commitments on advancing openness and accountability at national level.

Analysis of the OGP national action plans and the commitments which have been made reveals that the majority of the commitments being made by governments relate to improving governments’ own efficiencies through e-governance and capacity building. The second biggest group of commitments being made relate to open data, public participation, budget transparency and digitizing legislation and regulations. However, it is noted with concern that commitments relating to realization of socio-economic rights and development, and protection of civil and political rights form the smallest category of commitments being made by OGP countries. To be more specific on this, 1,299 commitments were analysed using the OGP’s own OGP Explorer and it was found that of those commitments only eight relate to welfare and social security, 55 relate to health and nutrition, 27 relate to education, five relate to gender and sexuality, 33 relate to water and sanitation, 34 relate to infrastructure development, 14 relate to human rights, and there are no commitments focusing on marginalized communities.

The above notwithstanding, it is important to note that commitments being made by African OGP countries relate specifically to the issue of accountability for the usage of public resources in order to harness better developmental outcomes. In this analysis, we are going to add Nigeria, even though Nigeria does not yet have an OGP national action plan. However, we will use text from Nigeria’s statement of commitments released at the Global Anti-Corruption Forum in London on 12 May 2016.

The analysis shows that Kenya, Malawi, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Tanzania have focused on extractive industry transparency as a major area of focus. For a start, Malawi has committed to joining the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, while Kenya has committed to publishing oil and gas contracts, including revenue information to ensure transparency and accountability of the extractive sector. Côte d’Ivoire has committed to publishing the number of cataracts of diamonds exported, as well as the accompanying Kimberly process certificates each year, and to create and operationalize five local Mining Development Committees. Ghana has committed to strengthening transparency and accountability in the management of the country’s oil and gas revenues through the effective oversight of the Public Interest and Accountability Committee (PIAC), a citizens’ oversight body established by the Petroleum Revenue Management Act (PRMA). Tanzania has committed to implementing their EITI commitments by publishing signed mining contracts and publishing a list of demarcated mining areas.

The issue of land usage and management has also emerged as an important area to apply the principles of transparency and accountability. For example, Tanzania will work on making land use plans, ownership and demarcated areas for large-scale land deals accessible online for public use. Liberia has committed to making accessible to the public information on proposed reforms in the land and natural resources sectors, and ensuring that material information on commercial land use rights is made publicly available.

On the issue of procurement transparency, Kenya has committed to ensuring greater transparency around bids and contracts by individuals and companies in Kenya, and creating transparent public procurement processes, public oversight of expenditure and ensuring value-for-money towards citizen priorities. Côte d’Ivoire has committed to publishing reports to the Council of Ministers on contracting processes on a quarterly basis, while Ghana will conduct open contracting and contract monitoring to ensure value-for-money on all transactions, and also as a means of providing information to citizens on all contracts entered into by government. Sierra Leone intends to improve citizen and business access to open, timely and credible information about public procurement, and promote their engagement in monitoring public procurement processes. Nigeria has committed to applying the Open Contracting Data Standard to: i) development of refineries in the oil sector; ii) building of health centres and improvement of health services; iii) building of roads and other infrastructures; iv) building of schools and improving transparency in the management of education funds, and; v) investment in the power sector.

With regard to beneficial ownership transparency, South Africa’s action plan commits the country to implementation of the G20 High Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency by implementing a register of legal persons. Nigeria is committed to establishing a public central register of company beneficial ownership information. The Nigerian country statement notes that: “the President of Nigeria has presented a draft Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Bill to the National Assembly in February 2016. This Bill has defined Beneficial Ownership in line with FATF standards.” Nigeria also wants to establish a transparent central register of foreign companies bidding on public contracts and buying property. Nigeria is committed to the strengthening of asset recovery legislation, including through non-conviction based confiscation powers and the introduction of unexplained wealth orders. Nigeria has also drafted the Proceeds of Crime Bill, which will provide for transparent management of returned assets and a non-conviction based approach to asset recovery.

All of these efforts by African OGP countries are deeply rooted in the OGP’s own vision for sustainable and inclusive development. The OGP identified Agenda 2030 as an important process to link into for optimal impact. The OGP’s Joint Declaration on Open Government for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the OGP’s contribution towards achievement of Agenda 2030. In the Declaration, adopted in September 2015, OGP countries have committed to “promote public access to timely and disaggregated information and open data on government activities related to the implementation and financing of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in line with national legislation and international commitments” and “[to] use [our] Open Government Partnership National Action Plans to adopt commitments that serve as effective tools to promote transparent and accountable implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. African countries in the OGP are at the cutting edge of this work and yield important lessons which the rest of the world can learn from.

Written by

Mukelani Dimba is the incoming civil society chair of the Open Government Partnership’s steering committee. He is the Executive Director of the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC), a South African law centre which specializes in freedom of information and whistleblower protection laws. Mukelani has experience in accountability and transparency issues in many countries across Africa.