THE withering of democracy and its morphed populist version emerging as the new political world order with shifting priorities and exclusive approaches was anticipated by president Barack Obama in 2011. His political foresight was behind the idea of formulating a global multilateral initiative that sought to make governments more open, accountable and responsive to citizens’ needs. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched in September 2011 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting by Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa, Britain and the US.
In the last eight years, the number of OGP member countries has grown to 75 with Pakistan joining in December 2016 at the Paris Summit through a letter of intent submitted to the co-chairs of the OGP by former finance minister Ishaq Dar on Nov 25, 2016. The OGP member countries are required to develop a National Action Plan (NAP) based on voluntary commitments that are evaluated by a third party for successful compliance.
Between end 2016 and early 2017, a series of meetings were held at the federal level to prepare a set of commitments against respective themes relevant to each ministry, but no progress has been made in the last two and a half years as approval is awaited from the finance and foreign affairs ministries before the matter can be presented to the cabinet. The OGP National Action Plan prepared in Pakistan also includes climate commitments that were mutually crafted and agreed on by the climate change ministry and civil society. However, it remains a mystery as to why no forward movement has taken place on the OGP agenda. The deadline for approving the NAP is Aug 31, 2019, after which the membership of Pakistan in OGP will be suspended.
The hallmark of the PTI government during its campaign focused on the need for good governance, emphasising transparency and accountability as the tools for delivering basic services to the people. The OGP approach aligns perfectly with the policies of governments that aspire to empower people at the community level by giving them a voice in shaping policies that reflect their aspirations. The three pillars of OGP, transparency, accountability and co-creation, are vehicles for improving governance and shifting from exclusive approaches to a more open and inclusive governance model in which the citizens collaborate with the government to work as partners in development and take full ownership of policies.
Inclusive approaches are key to good governance.
While the government and civil society operate from separate domains, it is not possible for either to achieve success without the support of the other. This co-dependency should, therefore, be leveraged to foster a relationship of trust to give the development agenda a forceful thrust forward. It is more important now than ever before to work with a ‘whole of society approach’ on building the adaptive resilience of vulnerable communities and ecosystems as the impacts of climate change will intensify with each passing year, making it difficult for the government to cope with the challenge without the active support of civil society.
The OGP model offers a simple and effective way for improving governance by taking small but incremental steps towards achieving overarching goals by completing one set of commitments and building on the blocks of previous success and lessons learnt to make the next set of commitments. All the other OGP member countries have made good progress on commitments with success stories that are replicable and scalable in Pakistan.
The Glacial Lake Outburst Flood is a $37m project that was approved in 2017 and has not yet been implemented. Similarly, the National Climate Change Authority has not been operationalised two years after the act was passed. These are just two examples of unexplained delays among other pending policy commitments that would benefit from an OGP approach. The pace of climate change is gaining momentum, and without clear-cut targets and time lines for achieving outcomes extreme events will take over and pose new and insurmountable challenges.
To succeed, society as a whole should ideally move forward collectively and collaborate on vital policy issues and approaches. This can only happen if government and civil society work together with unity of purpose.
The crucible of OGP encompasses the spirit of democracy. This process does not end with elections. It starts at the ballot box and is manifested during the tenure of the elected government, defined by its actions and relationship with citizens. It is a pathway to equity and a participatory approach to governance that represents the will of the people and gets a buy-in for policies that affect their lives. Working together and building partnerships has many dividends for society as a whole and for strengthening democracy in particular.
The writer is chief executive, Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change.
Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2019