Part of the agenda setting process was the willingness of government to reasonably relinquish the space the Civil Sociaty have claimed without eroding Government’s leadership. In the diction of Khadijah Sesay the director of OGI/OGP’ our role is not to micro manage the process’. In essence the question was around how government and civil society could leverage the OGP process as a platform to foster open governance was directly emphasized.
The Road to the OGP and Developing the First National Action Plan in Record Time
The OGP in Sierra Leone has thrived on a highly consultative process inclusive of religious and traditional leaders, Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAS), Civil Sociaty , media and community groups. Sierra Leone’s road to OGP membership started with President Ernest Koroma announcing in February 2014 that the Open Government Initiative (OGI) and the Millennium Challenge Coordinating Unit (MCCU) would be the twin coordinating agencies of the OGP process. A group of 17 government and 17 Civil Sociaty Organisations were to serve in the Steering Committee with the initial task of creating a NAP for Sierra Leone’s OGP process. The committee is headed by a civil society representative from the interreligious council in the person of Canon Adjai Nicol.
The process of creating the NAP has been intensive; the Steering Committee held weekly meetings since the beginning of March 2014 to April 2014. The process stated with sensitization before consultation, an approach which became an innovation in the OGP process. The Steering Committee agreed that the NAP should address three of the OGP’s grand challenges: increasing public integrity, more effective management of public resources, and improving corporate accountability. After a nationwide consultation held in all 14 districts, the challenge of improving service delivery was demanded for by citizens. Diaspora Consultations were also done in US, Belgium and UK taking cognisance of the migration nature of Sierra Leoneans and recognising their keen interests in the development of the country. The first NAP in Sierra Leone speaks to 11 bold commitments. Among the core commitments our NAP makes are: developing a public integrity policy; increasing visibility of performance contracts; performing subsequent assessments of key government institutions; and operationalizing the single treasury account by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to improve accountability and management of government accounts. Instituting a culture of delivery and meeting stipulated timelines helped in producing a draft NAP in eight weeks. Sierra Leone endorsed a draft National Action Plan (NAP) for OGP in a ceremony led by President Ernest Bai Koroma having the political buy-in from the highest authority of the state. More than 300 government officials, paramount chiefs, civil society leaders, women and youth groups, and the general public attended the ceremony.
Building Trust and Confidence in Civil Sociaty /Government Partnership
In a situation where government and Civil Sociaty Organisations were critical of each other finding a common ground to genuinely engage was never smooth. Coming to the realisation that both government and Civil Sociaty were part of the solution and not the problem became a reassuring starting point. The problem was systemic decadence that fuel corruption which needed to be changed. Each party began to see the OGP process as the starting point of permanent consultation platform. It became clearer that Civil Sociaty Organisations now have a sit at the table and not a one off consultation.
Conflict resolution mechanisms were quickly instituted to quell the tensions building. In the words of a lead Government Official attached to the OGP Amadu Massally ‘let’s proceed for love of country’ he would implore this ultimately became the slogan during the action planning process and a way of resolving any contentious issue that warrants intense arguments. The OGP process is no longer about government improving communications with Civil Sociaty Organisations but Civil Sociaty Organisations and Government working together stimulating dialogue and instituting reforms. The engagement has now transformed Civil Sociaty view from a parochial to a participatory culture we now have the space to push for legal and institutional policies, demand accountability and help citizens’ access information using ICT friendly opportunities. The first ever Open Data Portal as a national registry was launched in May actualising commitment 11 of the NAP.
Engaging in a mutually respectful manner through clear Rules of Engagement
It was agreed that a Permanent consultation forum between Government and Civil Society be established taking the form of a hybrid approach. First, the general forum through Monthly Meetings held on the 26th of every month. This was instituted after the submission of the NAP to benchmark on progress. Next the smaller forum in which a government and Civil Sociaty focal point was to lead each cluster of the grand Challenge covering the commitments of the NAP. Through this model key actors keep the dialogue going and follow-ups made through sectoral interests in line with the commitments in the NAP. The media is also represented at each Steering Committee meeting to report on key outcomes and progress on the NAP. The OGI and MCCU give administrative and technical support, whilst the steering committee make and execute major decisions. The Sierra Leone model could best be described as a multi-stakeholders Consultation Platform for dialogue scrutiny and action.
In addition, appointed documentation as a critical mass of evidence in the process is a success story for the Sierra Leone OGP process. Reports photos presentations meeting agendas and minutes are available for quick reference and learning.
Accountability through an established Monitoring Framework
An established monitoring framework is in place in at the end of each quarter starting from 2015, the Performance Management and Service Delivery Unit in the Office of the President drafts an evaluation report on the implementation of the NAP. A 7 day Quarterly national consultation process is held on the implementation of the OGP NAP as a way of closing the feedback loop with citizens, thus legitimizing the process. The Steering Committee then takes the real status report to all 14 districts making sure citizens are aware of the progress on the NAP. This arrangement helps in addressing the question of discretional transparency.
It is important to point out that in striving to ensure genuine partnership Civil Sociaty did not forget its traditional role of checks and balances. The Civil Sociaty groups in the steering committee instituted a Parallel Monitoring and Evaluation Process of the NAP having a well-designed tool to collect and verify data emerging from MDAs. In essence the OGP process now gives Civil Sociaty Organisations the legitimacy to question from within. More importantly it is a way of addressing the misnomer that a permanent consultation forum of Civil Sociaty Organisations and government like the OGP is a tactic for government to manage difficult Civil Sociaty Organisations.