South Africa hosted the Open Government Partnership (OGP) regional meeting on 5 and 6 May, in Cape Town. This year’s event was preceded by a civil society day on 4 May. The meeting took place under the theme of Open Government for Sustainable Development in Africa, and topics included the role of parliaments in OGP, tackling corruption and illicit outflows, open education, and the participation of children and youth.

Among the participants were philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, statistician-general Pali Lehohla, environmental affairs minister Edna Molewa, and Africa Development Bank special envoy Geraldine Fraser-Moloketi.

Corruption Watch’s executive director David Lewis took part in two panel discussions, one on ending corruption and illicit financial flows in Africa, and the other looking at the current status of anti-corruption efforts around the world.

The OGP was launched in 2011 to provide an international platform that enables domestic reformers to make their governments more open, accountable, responsive to citizens, and corruption-free. Since then, the OGP has grown from the eight founding countries of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, the UK and the US, to 69 countries. In all of these countries, government and civil society are working together to develop and implement ambitious open government reforms.

The South African government, represented by deputy public service and administration minister Ayanda Dlodlo, is one of four current co-chairs of the OGP steering committee.

SA’s third action plan launched

South Africa launched its third national action plan on 6 May.

OGP countries are guided by a series of two-year national action plans (NAPs). The NAPs centre on commitments that push governments to surpass existing efforts, by building on current activities, taking new steps to complete ongoing reforms, or initiating action in new areas. The national plans must advance one or more of the OGP principles of transparency, accountability, participation, and technology and innovation.

South Africa’s Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) has led the national OGP efforts, with involvement from the National Treasury and the Department of Environmental Affairs as well as civil society.

The country also has two self-assessments and two independent reporting mechanism reports to its name. The overall grand challenge which South Africa plans to address through OGP is to increase public integrity, improve public services, create safer communities, effectively manage public resources and increase corporate accountability.

During the period of the second NAP South Africa managed to successfully develop its OGP Portal and, thanks to collaboration between the OGP, DPSA and business and civil society, develop the national open data portal, currently in the pilot stage.

South Africa’s third plan (NAP3) applies to the period 2015-2017, so it comes into being halfway through the term. Nevertheless, it contains a commitment of great significance for Corruption Watch and Transparency International, who have been campaigning for greater transparency in beneficial ownership through the Unmask the Corrupt campaign. The action plan promises to address this issue.

Corporate entities such as companies, trusts, partnerships and others, contribute to the global economy and conduct a wide variety of legitimate activities. However, they are also misused by criminals for money laundering, bribery and corruption, tax fraud, terrorist financing and other illegal dealings.

During its meeting in Brisbane in November 2014, the G20 adopted a set of principles aimed at fighting money laundering and forcing companies to come clean about their beneficial ownership. In a joint statement the power group committed to improving the transparency of the public and private sectors, and cleaning up the beneficial ownership situation, by implementing the G20 High-Level Principles on Beneficial Ownership Transparency.

However, a report released a year later by Transparency International showed that little or no action had been taken.

“Although the NAP also emphasises compliance with the G20 principles,” says Lewis, “we believe that the implementation of this commitment should go further by including the creation of a public register, not specified in the current plan, as we see this as an essential part of fighting corruption and illicit financial flows.”

Details of NAP3

South Africa’s third OGP national action plan was developed after input was sought and obtained from government departments, communities, civil society, and citizens, through surveys, public participation, workshops, and consultative dialogue. This ensured that all stakeholders involved in the programme were active drivers of the process.

“It is imperative that citizens participate in this process of holding government accountable,” NAP3 notes. The mechanisms of public participation, monitoring, and accountability help to ensure that government commitments to improving service, integrity and accountability, and corporate accountability are included and escalated, as they reflect the realities of and feedback from communities in South Africa.

The commitments are closely linked to issues that were raised during the public consultations, stakeholder engagements and izimbizo across South Africa’s provinces. For example, the lack of education and health infrastructure in some provincial districts was cited as a challenge in human settlements planning. This can be addressed with the development and utilisation of land use data in the planning and implementation phases, and the same information will contribute to addressing some of the environmental challenges identified during consultations.

The commitments

  1. Strengthen citizen-based monitoring in order to enhance accountability and performance, giving government departments the resources to strengthen the voice of citizens in monitoring service delivery.
  2. Open budgeting, with enhanced civil society involvement in the budget process, to improve the progressive realisation of socio-economic rights, and enable citizens to track public expenditure.
  3. Back to Basics Programme, which aims to promote public confidence in local government by developing a tool kit for citizen engagement for local government and conducting annual citizen satisfaction surveys. The Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs has this task.
  4. Develop an integrated and publicly accessible portal of environmental management information, supplying spatial data on biodiversity, ecosystems, water, agriculture, protected areas, conservation areas, air quality priority areas, important bird areas and other environmental data to identify and map environmentally sensitive areas at a national level. The Department of Environmental Affairs will lead this process.
  5. Institutionalisation of community advice offices as part of the wider justice network, and ensuring that the sector has the skills to lead advocacy and communications initiatives critical for long-term sector sustainability.
  6. Development of a pilot open data portal for South Africa, which would make data already published by government available to the public in an accessible format. This falls under the Department of Public Service and Administration.
  7. Roll out the open government awareness raising campaign, which will address the low level of awareness among citizens of the OGP and South Africa’s obligations under it. This falls to the Government Communications and Information Services.
  8. Implement South Africa’s action plan on the G20 High Level Principles on beneficial ownership transparency and implement a register of legal persons and arrangements which is available to the public in open data formats, in order to protect the integrity and transparency of the global financial and public procurement systems. This task will be led by the Department of Public Service and Administration as well as the Treasury.

Participants in commitment eight, from the government side, include the Financial Intelligence Centre, South African Revenue Service, National Treasury, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, National Prosecuting Authority, and the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission. Civil society organisations, the private sector and working groups such as the G20 Anti-corruption Working Group and the Financial Action Task Force will also play a critical role.

“South Africa commits to take concrete action and to share in writing, by means of developing, publishing and reporting, regular progress on a country implementation plan regarding the various steps to be taken to implement these principles and improve the effectiveness of their legal, regulatory and institutional frameworks with respect to beneficial ownership transparency,” states NAP3.