Comparative Study of Open Governance and Data Security in Eastern Partnership Countries

Open Government Partnership has brought a renewed political attention to the questions of transparency and good governance into international arena. While we have heard a lot from the Digital Agenda of the European Commission and best practices from developed countries, these questions are also addressed by our neighbors to the East. The present report aims to provide a first coherent overview of a multitude of initiatives undertaken by the 6 Eastern Partnership Countries: Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Here is the full report – ep_opengovernance_datasecurity

Transparency International Ukraine Asks International Community to Help Stop Repressions Against CSOs and Activists

A letter received this morning from colleagues at Transparency International Ukraine … And asking myself how are all these initiatives and measures supporting the commitments and aspirations towards and open government in Ukraine?! Government of Ukraine joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in September 2011, and by joining OGP, it has signed the Open Government Declaration which stipulates the following:

OPEN GOVERNMENT DECLARATION

September 2011

As members of the Open Government Partnership, committed to the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Convention against Corruption, and other applicable international instruments related to human rights and good governance:
We acknowledge that people all around the world are demanding more openness in government. They are calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective.
We recognize that countries are at different stages in their efforts to promote openness in government, and that each of us pursues an approach consistent with our national priorities and circumstances and the aspirations of our citizens.
We accept responsibility for seizing this moment to strengthen our commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable.
We uphold the value of openness in our engagement with citizens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities. We embrace principles of transparency and open government with a view toward achieving greater prosperity, well-being, and human dignity in our own countries and in an increasingly interconnected world.
Together, we declare our commitment to:
Increase the availability of information about governmental activities.
Governments collect and hold information on behalf of people, and citizens have a right to seek information about governmental activities. We commit to promoting increased access to information and disclosure about governmental activities at every level of government. We commit to increasing our efforts to systematically collect and publish data on government spending and performance for essential public services and activities. We commit to pro-actively provide high-value information, including raw data, in a timely manner, in formats that the public can easily locate, understand and use, and in formats that facilitate reuse. We commit to providing access to effective remedies when information or the corresponding records are improperly withheld, including through effective oversight of the recourse process. We recognize the importance of open standards to promote civil society access to public data, as well as to facilitate the interoperability of government information systems. We commit to seeking feedback from the public to identify the information of greatest value to them, and pledge to take such feedback into account to the maximum extent possible.
Support civic participation. We value public participation of all people, equally and without discrimination, in decision making and policy formulation. Public engagement, including the full participation of women, increases the effectiveness of governments, which benefit from people’s knowledge, ideas and ability to provide oversight. We commit to making policy formulation and decision making more transparent, creating and using channels to solicit public feedback, and deepening public participation in developing, monitoring and evaluating government activities. We commit to protecting the ability of not-for-profit and civil society organizations to operate in ways consistent with our commitment to freedom of expression, association, and opinion. We commit to creating mechanisms to enable greater collaboration between governments and civil society organizations and businesses. 
Implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout our administrations.
Accountable government requires high ethical standards and codes of conduct for public officials. We commit to having robust anti-corruption policies, mechanisms and practices, ensuring transparency in the management of public finances and government purchasing, and strengthening the rule of law. We commit to maintaining or establishing a legal framework to make public information on the income and assets of national, high ranking public officials. We commit to enacting and implementing rules that protect whistleblowers. We commit to making information regarding the activities and effectiveness of our anticorruption prevention and enforcement bodies, as well as the procedures for recourse to such bodies, available to the public, respecting the confidentiality of specific law enforcement information. We commit to increasing deterrents against bribery and other forms of corruption in the public and private sectors, as well as to sharing information and expertise.
Increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.
New technologies offer opportunities for information sharing, public participation, and collaboration. We intend to harness these technologies to make more information public in ways that enable people to both understand what their governments do and to influence decisions. We commit to developing accessible and secure online spaces as platforms for delivering services, engaging the public, and sharing information and ideas. We recognize that equitable and affordable access to technology is a challenge, and commit to seeking increased online and mobile connectivity, while also identifying and promoting the use of alternative mechanisms for civic engagement. We commit to engaging civil society and the business community to identify effective practices and innovative approaches for leveraging new technologies to empower people and promote transparency in government. We also recognize that increasing access to technology entails supporting the ability of governments and citizens to use it. We commit to supporting and developing the use of technological innovations by government employees and citizens alike. We also understand that technology is a complement, not a substitute, for clear, useable, and useful information.
We acknowledge that open government is a process that requires ongoing and sustained commitment. We commit to reporting publicly on actions undertaken to realize these principles, to consulting with the public on their implementation, and to updating our commitments in light of new challenges and opportunities.
We pledge to lead by example and contribute to advancing open government in other countries by sharing best practices and expertise and by undertaking the commitments expressed in this declaration on a non-binding, voluntary basis. Our goal is to foster innovation and spur progress, and not to define standards to be used as a precondition for cooperation or assistance or to rank countries. We stress the importance to the promotion of openness of a comprehensive approach and the availability of technical assistance to support capacity- and institution-building.
We commit to espouse these principles in our international engagement, and work to foster a global culture of open government that empowers and delivers for citizens, and advances the ideals of open and participatory 21st century government.

Letter from TI Ukraine: Transparency International Ukraine Asks International Community to Help Stop Repressions Against CSOs and Activists

Parliament of Ukraine with lightning speed has adopted the law that would officially call independent civil society organizations extremists and foreign agents. These organizations, as well as participants of mass protest actions, would be sanctioned starting fines and ending several years of imprisonment.

On January 16, 2014 Ukrainian Parliament has adopted the law “On Amendments of the Law “On the Judicial System and Status of Judges” and Procedural Laws on Additional Citizens Safety Measures” initiated by V. Kolesnichenko and V. Oliinyk (both from Party of Regions). The correspondence draft law was registered two days before adoption, on January 14, as№3879. The law recommends “reinforcing safety measures in relation to specific categories of persons and objects, intensify sanctions for some criminal and administrative offences, and establish additional measures of influence for maintenance of a public order, rights and legal interests of citizens”.

Transparency International Ukraine states that this law, in case signed by President Viktor Yanukovych, will suppress any display of civic resistance in Ukraine, start repressions and turn Ukraine into dictatorship. According to the law, everybody who is involved in extremist activities will be punished with a fine, seizure of property, and imprisonment up to 6 years. The law’s authors consider the following actions as extremist: moving in a motorcade of more than five vehicles (all Auto-Maidan movement participants), performing the activity of an information agency without state registration (all independent websites), holding meetings, assemblies, street marches and demonstrations near government bodies (all Euromaidan participants); participating in mass actions wearing masks and hard hats (all self defense detachments of Euromaidan); mounting of tents and constructions to be used as scenes and stands for sound amplifiers (all protests organizers); providing transport and technical assistance for holding meetings (all suppliers of firewood and food for the needs of Euromaidan); production or dissemination of extremist materials via media, the Internet, social networks (all dissenter); publicly demonstrated slander in media and the Internet (all investigating journalists); illegal collecting, keeping, using, destroying and distributing confidential information about a judge, his / her close relatives and members of families(all civic watchdogs and investigating journalists).

Besides, Ukrainian Parliament, following Russia’s example, has officially introduced the notion of “a foreign agent”. This norm in Russia is in force for over a year. For this sake specific amendments have been made in the law “On Civil Associations” and Tax Code of Ukraine.

According to the amendments, “a foreign agent is a civil association with the status of a legal entity that aims to receive money or property from foreign countries; their public bodies; non-governmental organizations of other countries; international non-governmental organizations; foreign citizens; stateless persons; persons, who receive money or other property from the mentioned sources, authorized by stateless persons (hereinafter referred to as “the foreign sources”), and participates, including for the benefit of foreign sources, in political activity on the territory of Ukraine.” A civil association is considered to participate in political activity “when regardless aims and objectives mentioned in its registration documents, it takes part in organizing and conducting political actions, which are aimed to influence decision-making process by the public authorities, change the state policy, determined by the latter, as well as in forming social opinion for the mentioned purpose.”

Transparency International Ukraine mentions that all Ukrainian CSOs advocating any reforms, starting from anticorruption or tax reforms to educational or agrarian ones, automatically fall under this notion. As Executive Director of TransparencyInternational Ukraine Oleksii Khmara mentions, “Transparency International Ukraine represents an international anti-corruption organization, and receives financing from abroad. It means that we are foreign agents. We collect declarations of ministers, governors and mayors, and monitor their ways of life. It means that we slander. We influence anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, so we are involved in politics and are dangerous extremists. These are not my inventions; this is the logic of the draft law №3879, adopted on January 16.”

According to the law, “a foreign agent” must register in the Ministry of Justice as “a foreign agent”, keep separate accounting of incomes (expenses) received from the foreign sources; report monthly on its activity, membership of board, amount of money received from foreign sources, plans for their spending; once per three months place a report on its activity in the Internet and publish in official newspapers of authorities. In case of denial, the Ministry of Justice terminates the activity of such organization.

Transparency International Ukraine calls for international community to urgently demand President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych to cast his veto on the draft law №3879 and secure the steady observance of citizens’ rights and freedoms. In case Viktor Yanukovych denies doing that and signs the law, we demand that the European Union, USA and international organizations introduce the heaviest sanctions against all officials involved in preparation and bringing into force the draft law №3879.

Here are the 2 additional documents from TI Ukraine: Ukrainian CSOs are officially listed as extrimists and Press release_Foreign Agets

Veronica Cretu: ‘We need new ways of thinking’

“In an ideal scenario OGP member countries won’t be talking about separate action plans
on Open Government in 5 to 10 years. Open Government principles and values should become part of the regular way of doing business.”

– Veronica Cretu

The imperative of individual government departments having a good understanding of open governance (OG) principles if OGP objectives and action plans are to be realized, has been a vital lesson learnt for those involved in the OGP in Moldova, says Veronica Cretu, incoming OGP civil society Steering Committee (SC) member.

Cretu has been actively involved in educating and advocating for individual Moldovan government departments to understand exactly what open governance is, and how such principles speak to their sectoral departmental agendas, “towards ultimately infusing OG into everything they do.”

Lack of capacity

Moldova’s first OGP action plan faced challenges due to a lack of understanding of the principles of OG within government agencies and a concomitant lack of capacity to implement the national action plan in a way that meets the principles of transparency, citizen engagement, openness and accountability.

“We found that people in government did not have an understanding of open government, so we need to build government capacity on this issue – what it is; how you plan activities that speak to and infuse open government principles into action; and how to ensure deliverables result in participation and transparency,” she says.

In the process of developing Moldova’s first action plan, a capacity building (CB) element was lacking. The decision to pilot a more sectoral and inter- sectoral approach for the second action plan process seeks to build capacity within different sectors of government towards accountability, transparency and a more citizen-centred approach to governance.

In working towards a new agenda for the next two years, CB sessions were held with chiefs of key departments of the Ministry of Education. It was a pilot exercise in which “the department was tasked to think through their individual departmental priorities from an OG values perspective”. Cretu says the lack of practical ‘how to’ tools to elaborate or identify specific commitments based on the values of transparency, accountability and citizen engagement makes this task a challenging one.

Role of Civil Society Organisations

Civil society organisations working on issues of transparency, citizen engagement and accountability in Moldova have niche areas of expertise on the very issues with which government departments are struggling. Cretu sees civil society playing a central capacity building and collaboration role towards creating a qualitative and consolidated approach to open government in Moldova.

“It is challenging for civil society to play the role of both partner and watchdog in these processes. We need to learn how to balance the two,” says Cretu.

As in other country contexts, Cretu identifies the need to broaden and deepen CS engagement with open government-related processes, especially outside capital cities. She also identifies the need for tools to ensure the voices of grassroots organisations are heard.

Improving processes: a second chance

Cretu says the second action plan has been approached more holistically and both government and CS have made inputs. Each Ministry was tasked to provide “one good open government-related commitment,” but the pilot exercise was not as effective as envisaged.

The Civil Society Working Group on E-Government/ Open Government, part of the National Participation Council, the driving force for OG in Moldova, has identified a range of OG commitments requiring endorsement in the second action plan. A request in writing to this end has been made to the Prime- Minister, State Chancellery and E-Government Centre.

Public consultations for the second plan are intended once key stakeholders agree on a draft plan, says Cretu: “We are not yet at the stage of the action plan being co-created by key stakeholders. At present, the process is dominated by the agendas of each stakeholder.”

She emphasises the need for a second plan ‘owned’ by both the Moldovan government and civil society. “Civil society has to be part of the process, not just watching it,” she says. She notes however that many CSOs at present lack the resources and capacity to support and fully engage with OG-related work.

M&E and being ‘SMART’

Reflecting on other lessons from the first round, and how they are informing the second action plan process, Cretu notes that: “Commitments towards deliverables in the first plan were not SMART. There was no M&E component for tracking achievements and challenges. The second action plan needs to include M&E, including how and who will conduct M&E. This is essential if we want to institutionalize an OG methodology within the public sector and civil society.”

Ensuring sustainability of open government agenda

In order to ensure sustainability, Cretu argues that “civil society should be driving national Open Government platforms that bring together key stakeholders including Government, private sector, media, education and youth players.”

Going forward, she believes that embedding OG values through the education system could be a valuable entry-point. “Incorporating citizen participation,
public participation, in decision making; and participatory democracy in school curricula could contribute to building an OG culture in our societies. Educating citizens on how to keep governments accountable and how to contribute to the well-being of communities they are part of is crucial.”

Looking forward

Cretu’s vision for the OGP is that “ideally, OGP member countries won’t be talking about separate action plans on open government in five to ten years’ time. “OG principles and values should become part of the regular way of doing business; consultations with citizens should be part of developing sectoral action plans. Local development strategies should be based on citizens’ needs, while OG principles should be at the core of all initiatives implemented by governments,” she says.

“Rethinking the way we do our business, becoming more open, inclusive and accountable to those we serve, being pragmatic in exploring the full potential of technology and innovation, and at the same time balancing situations where not everyone is online, is important.” Cretu concludes: “We need new ways of thinking. We need more open and critical thinking.”

By: Sarita Ranchod,

Source: The OGP Civil Society Hub