Is Pakistan really striving for open government?



By Ali Jafri & Rana Tanveer

LAHORE: Despite paying USD 25,000 of taxpayers’ money to Open Government Partnership (OGP) for its membership in 2016 and having missed three deadlines ever since, Pakistan is still struggling to fulfill the basic commitment as a member of OGP—an international initiative for more transparency and good governance.

The OGP is a consortium of 70 countries that commit to demonstrating significant progress in four key areas vis-à-vis fiscal transparency, access to information, asset disclosure and citizen engagement.

What make this partnership highly relevant and crucially important are exact these issues as corruption had been the buzzword during the outgoing political regime and ahead of General Elections 2018 taking place in July this year.

While Pakistan has been trying tech-interventions under the tag of e-governance and has tried its hand with proactive disclosures and RTI laws, critics believe that these steps are fragile unless consistency and stability are woven into the system.

On 25th November 2016, the Former Minister of Finance, Revenue, Economic Affairs, Statistics and Privatization Mr. Ishaq Dar wrote a ‘letter of intent’ to formally join OGP and was welcomed onboard at Paris Summit in December the same year.

Missing the deadline

One of the foremost requirements of being an OGP Partner State is that the country needs to engage all its stakeholders (governmental and non-governmental) to formulate an action plan on what steps in what areas would be taken to ensure improvement in the aforementioned four key areas of government. This document is called the ‘National Action Plan (NAP)’ in the OGP lingua.

Pakistan was given a year to formulate and submit its NAP for the next two years. However, the country missed its deadline on 30th June 2017 and filed for an extension, which was provided by the OGP and the next date of submission was set 31st October 2017.

It is argued that the delay was a consequence of the Panama shake-up and the preoccupation of the Cabinet with that issue. The Cabinet reshuffle as a result of the Panama Case decision didn’t help matters as well. However, despite workshops and meeting of the Multi-Stakeholder Forum by the Economic Affairs Division (EAD), Pakistan missed its second deadline as well.

After missing the second deadline, the OGP CEO Sanjay Pradhan had to write to Pakistan saying: “As you are aware, the OGP Articles of Governance state that all participating countries are expected to: Make concrete commitments. This letter is therefore to inform you that the Government of Pakistan has acted contrary to the OGP process for this action plan development cycle. We recommend that the Government of Pakistan publishes its new NAP before December 31, 2017 and publishes all future NAPs on time in order to avoid review by the Criteria and Standards Subcommittee.” But, Pakistan missed the third deadline as well.

What the stakeholders say

One of the most active participants in the Multi-Stakeholders Forum, Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) Project Coordinator  Moonus Kayinat Zahra while commenting on this apathy to international commitment is not very hopeful that Pakistan would be able to make a final submission of NAP by the given deadline.

“Out of the 21 members of the Multi-Stakeholders forum, only six are from the civil society while the rest are government functionaries. Which is ironically representative of what is wrong with the government approach and where is it lacking when it comes to openness and civic inclusivity”, she told Data Stories.

Of 21-member Multi-Stakeholders Forum, 6 are from civil society and 15 from the government.

The approach needs to change as during the solitary meeting we had of this forum, the civil society faction was virtually being pressed to agree to near absurd recommendations by the government functionaries, like, they were equating journalists protection as a measure for right for information and proactive disclosure, she added.

“With end of the government tenure on May 31 and an exhaustive process of vetting at government end and later at the end of OGP, I don’t think Pakistan will be able to meet the August 2018 deadline,” Moonus concluded.

Former Federal Minister Finance Miftah Ismail talking to Data Stories acknowledged the importance of being a part of such global forums where Pakistan can present itself in positive light with international approval contrary to the propaganda against it regarding covert terror financing and a corruption prone governance non-conducive for foreign investors due to lack of transparent procedures.

He, however, said this initiative has had its delays because of the political turmoil the country and the Ministry which took this initiative, underwent over the past year or so.

“The National Action Plan for OGP is all but complete, I didn’t have the signing authority therefore it was not possible for anyone to set the ball rolling, but now that I have this authority, I shall make it among my priorities considering how crucial it is for Pakistan’s global image”, he promised, and added that even if it would not be done in this term with one week to go, he would convince the caretaker setup to ensure that the fourth and final deadline is not missed.

Other the OGP commitments

The OGP is just one avenue that highlights the need for Pakistan to proactive the concept of open government.

The country has only recently established its “Right to Information (RTI)” laws at federal and provincial levels, while the implementation and more importantly the willingness of government departments to obey these laws is suffering.

Syed Raza Ali, an RTI activist based in Lahore, while explaining the right to information landscape in Pakistan said so far Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government seemed ahead of all provinces in terms of implementation of its RTI law.

“KP has a fully functional RTI Commission while in Punjab the post of Chief Information Commissioner has been lying vacant for a year now,” he added. Raza further said though Sindh had enacted the RTI law, the Commission was yet to be formed. According to him Balochistan had the weakest RTI law among the provinces.”

Similarly, Raza said the federal government enacted the Right of Access to Information Act 2017 but the government had missed the deadline given in the act to form the Commission.

Mohammad Tahseen, Political Analyst and Executive Director of the South Asia Partnership (SAP-PK) talking to Data Stories said in a country where democracy was demonized by autocratic forces on account of corruption, non-transparency and incompetence, open government was the best way to establish trust of the people in the system.

Tehseen believes that lack of institutional growth and capacity building of politicians is the chief reason. While he blamed for it the repeated interruptions by autocratic rule denying the country any organic evolution towards better political structure and governance, he did not discount the political leadership of the country and said that they had also failed to build capacity among their ranks which would have resulted in an effective and open government model.

“This has led to a mistrust of people in democratic institutions which made it easier for dictatorial regimes to find some level of acceptance among the masses,” he concluded.



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