The real challenge facing the government is to ensure, that its international commitments on good governance, through the Open Government Partnership (OGP) framework does not go the same way as many other fine plans that Sri Lanka has, but does not really implement.
by Harim Peiris
( October 26, 2016, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Earlier this month, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership (OGP). The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multi-lateral forum of seventy member countries. OGP is a relatively new kid on the block, in the international cooperation and partnership scene, having been launched only in 2011, largely as an initiative of the Obama Administration and would be one of its foreign policy success stories and legacies to the international community. OGP seeks to provide an international platform for domestic reformers committed to making governments more open, accountable, and responsive to its citizens, improving governance, strengthening democracy and making societies more open.
The current Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Administration was elected on a policy platform where good governance and anti-corruption are foundational. It is noteworthy that in late 2014, as signs of an early election were emanating from the then Rajapaksa Administration and when civil society organizations and movements were beginning to raise their voice over governance and corruption issues, Rajapaksa advisors and acolytes were claiming that good governance and anti-corruption are not issues of mass mobilization and regime change catalysts. However, the twin elections of 2015 proved that together with anti-incumbency tendencies, that in Sri Lanka as elsewhere, that governance and anti-corruption are issues that matter with voters. In Sri Lanka, especially the Sinhala electorate is very invested in the Sri Lankan state and punish at the polls, those who are thought to have abused state or political power.
There is great interest in the international community regarding Sri Lanka’s new policy trajectory, since it is so vastly different to its predecessor. The change that Sri Lanka peacefully and democratically brought about is stunning, when viewed from overseas, even more than it is when viewed locally. Especially in the area of foreign policy, Sri Lanka moved from an era of increasing isolation through self-imposed walls of non-engagement and a siege mentality, especially during the Rajapaksa second term, to a situation where as Foreign Minister Samarweera so often describes as “tearing down the dividing walls and building bridges of friendship” to not just the East but also the West. Accordingly, there is keen interest on the progress of Sri Lanka’s reform process in general and good governance initiatives in particular. President Sirisena was a special guest at the Anti-Corruption Summit in London earlier this year and his presence is also sought for a similar event in France towards the year end.
Membership in the OGP is by invitation only and Sri Lankan can be justifiably proud that last year, Sri Lanka’s then new government was invited to join the OGP, the first South Asian nation to have qualified and to have joined the OGP. Accordingly, by invitation, in October last year, Sri Lanka endorsedthe OGP declaration and committing to its objectives and but became a fully participating country of the OGP, through the adoption of its national action plan. Through the endorsement of the OGP declaration, member countries commit, essentially to foster a domestic culture of open which empowers a country’s citizens and delivers better governance for them.
OGP promotes and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.Members of the Open Government Partnership commit to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention against Corruption, and other international agreements in regard to human rights and good governance. The Implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, more popularly known as the sustainable development goals, is a key platform of the OGP framework.
The key instrument for the implementation of open governance in Sri Lanka is the OGP, National Action Plan (NAP). Sri Lanka’s first ever OGP, National Action Plan was carefully prepared through an inclusive consultative process, which witnessed community based dialogues in all nine provinces of the country. The National Action Plan contains policy reform commitments in about nine different thematic areas of governance including but not limited to education, health, environment, ICT, right to information and women’s affairs.
Implementing Sri Lanka’s OGP commitment through its National Action Plan, is the key requirement in the National Action Plan (NAP) framework. Sri Lanka is not short on good policy programs and action plans. Howeverit does have a very poor track record on policy and plan implementation. Sri Lanka has very many good laws in place, but which are sadly and all too often a dead letter in implementation. From human rights, to witness protection to anti-torture, anti-ragging, and anti-corruption, Sri Lanka has sound laws and good policies and plans in place. However, our human rights track record is abysmal, our witnesses in judicial proceedings are not protected, torture is rampant in our criminal justice system and ragging is endemic in our institutions of higher learning while anti-corruption measures are still weak in both enforcement and prevention.
The real challenge facing the government is to ensure, that its international commitments on good governance, through the Open Government Partnership (OGP) framework does not go the same way as many other fine plans that Sri Lanka has, but does not really implement. The real challenge then is to implement, our own good intentions of good governance and domestic policy reforms.
(The writer is Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The views expressed are personal).