Open Government Week: Enhancing Openness in the Governance Ecosystem

Posted by on 20th May 2021

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This week, the world commemorates the Open Government Week, a period that seeks to creatively train focus on the need for embracing openness in the governance ecosystem. It is a period that is broadly undertaken under the aegis of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a ten-year-old initiative started in 2011 that brings together State and Non-State Actors to co-create commitments aimed at securing open, accountable, transparent, inclusive and responsive governance. Thus far, the OGP has 78 member states, a number of local governments and ‘thousands of civil society organizations’.

Kenya is a founding member of the OGP, having joined the platform in 2011. As part of execution, OGP requires member states to co-create a National Action Plan (NAP), a set of commitments to be implemented over a period of two years. Actors involved in the process include government, civil society organizations, private sector, academia, institutions of higher learning among others. 

Recently, Kenya concluded the co-creation process of its fourth NAP that is set to be implemented between 2020-2022 (NAP IV 2020-2022). In compliance with OGP’s founding aspirations, the year-long co-creation process saw robust engagement with and by diverse actors across the governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. 

The co-creation and implementation of the country’s NAP IV falls within a challenging context, but one with opportunities too. First is the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenya reported its first case of the pandemic in mid-March 2020. Ever since, official records show that confirmed cases have risen to 165,465 with 3,003 deaths as at 17th May, 2021. The pandemic has occasioned unprecedented challenges, at least in recent times, to the country’s political, economic and social systems. Its implications have, in fact, been directly felt within the OGP space, with the co-creation process having had to adapt to the disrupted space. Originally scheduled for March 2021, the official launch of the NAP IV had to be put off indefinitely due to the surge in the number of cases around the same time. 

Secondly, the NAP IV coincides with the country’s ongoing conversation around reforms, largely under the auspices of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). Officially birthed on March 9th 2018, the process was designed to inform interventions aimed at securing the country’s long-term political, economic and social stability. Incidentally, the BBI Report, officially unveiled in October 2020, made particular reference to the OGP as a platform for intervention. Specifically, it identifies OGP as an actualization strategy to the prudent use of resources, noting that effort should be made toward full implementation ‘at both National and county levels of government, the Republic of Kenya Open Government Partnership National Action Plan including open contracting and transparency in public procurement and other policies..’ Thirdly, the implementation phase of the NAP IV coincides with the country’s 2022 electoral cycle during which period intensified political activities tend to largely distract from a dedicated implementation focus.

In deed the totality of the context did inform the shape of the NAP IV, including the commitments and respective milestones. In total, 8 commitments were adopted: Beneficial Ownership; Open Contracting; Open Data for Development; Public Participation and Legislative Openness; Improving Public Service Delivery Performance; Access to Information; Access to Justice; Building Open Government Resiliency. Emerging issues around COVID-19 pandemic related to accountability, particularly issues on procurement, influenced the choice of the transparency and accountability related commitments; Beneficial Ownership and Open Procurement. Acknowledging the centrality of public participation as an anchor principle in our governance, and the challenges it is facing to secure its meaningful sense was key in ensuring its inclusion in the NAP. Enhancing meaningful public participation requires information, hence the deliberate move to incorporate an access to information commitment. 

As the incorporation of the OGP in the country continues, this fourth phase of the NAP seeks to further entrench the initiative by way of institutionalization. The objective of the deliberate move is to partly insulate it (OGP) from the shocks largely associated with transitional tumults. Stakeholders are keen to push for establishment of OGP desks at the three branches of government: Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. But beyond that, actors in the space are alive to the country’s devolved governance system as ushered in via the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. As such there is growing interest in incorporating the devolved units into the initiative. Excitedly, the signs are very encouraging. Thus far about 5 of the 47 devolved units have joined OGP: Nairobi, Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet, Makueni and Vihiga. Some of them are at an advanced stage in so far as setting up their respective Local Action Plans (LAPs) is concerned.

It is with this in mind that the Open Government Week emerges as a period of supreme significance to the open government enthusiasts. As the current Civil Society OGP lead, Mzalendo Trust seeks to exploit the week to raise the profile of the OGP and accord an opportunity for engaged stakeholders to amplify their voice. This we seek to achieve by facilitating and coordinating the commitment-focussed activities, all of which should culminate in a big tent Multi Stakeholder Forum (MSF) on 21st May, 2021.