Sanjay Pradhan is the Chief Executive Officer of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). He recently led a delegation on a visit to the Federal Ministry of Justice on Nigeria’s participation on the partnership. In this interview, he speaks on the impact of transparency in citizens’ participation in governance.
Can you explain the overall aim of this visit to Nigeria?
It is because Nigeria is a member of the Open Government Partnership, and it’s one of our priority countries. Nigeria is the 70th country to join the OGP going back in 2016. And in the last few years, Nigeria has been elected to serve on our steering committee. So, OGP has grown to be in about 79 countries, 20 local governments and thousands of civil societies. Together they represent more than two billion people. That is the scale of growth in just eight years. It is led by 11 governments and 11 civil society organisations.
So, we call it a priority country because OGP has an important international value for Nigeria, but also there is a very important domestic value for Nigeria. And that domestic value comes precisely because you have just come out of elections.
So, what is open government? It is not just transparency when you think of open government. It is really what we call ‘democracy beyond the ballot box’. As you have just come out of the elections, so the question is ‘what happens after elections?’
In majority of countries, citizens vote but they find that government doesn’t really deliver for the people on why they voted. And OGP is one instrument to help government deliver for its citizens between and beyond elections. So, the National Action Plan of the OGP, like the second National Action Plan, has real elements which can help deliver to citizens between and after elections. Like access to information; we know when citizens have access to information, they can demand what is due to them.
I was sharing with them the example of Sri Lanka. The poor villagers who were supposed to receive compensation from government had not received it, but when access to information was implemented through the OGP Action Plan, they could demand and they got the compensation.
Similarly, in Philippines, they were investing in roads but money was being stolen. So, what did the government do through the OGP Action Plan? They gave information to the citizens on what they were spending on roads and where the roads were located. Then, the citizens started doing social audit with civil society to see: ‘Do these roads exist?’ Then government started responding to the feedback, so they saved money on ghost roads.
Kaduna has done something similar through the OGP on ‘Eyes and Ears of Government’ where citizens can download information on projects that are funded by the budget and give feedback on health, clinics, roads and so on. So, these are ways in which citizens can feel that open government delivers to them because it gives them voice, it gives them information and services.
There is a very important anti-corruption element to this Action Plan, which is that all contracts should be open and that all the company ownership should be transparent – because a lot of the money is stolen through non-transparent contracts, through company ownership which is hidden and in extractive industry, and so on.
So, we are here to say to government, I am meeting with the development partners, that we are all here to support you; continue the progress you have made in the first action plan and in the second action plan, see it through to the implementation like the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO). Let citizens use it, so people feel that all contracts are genuinely open, make sure there is a beneficial ownership register, so all the company ownership is actually open.
So, we are here to support, encourage, inspire and share examples from other countries. But really with the intent of saying that if Nigeria can do this; it can deliver to citizens between and beyond elections, it can raise a global leadership role in open government which can change the image of Nigeria. And it will generate investments, donor funding, and so on. That is why we are here.
Does the steering committee role Nigeria got means you have endorsed the impact of the First National Action Plan?
No. The steering committee role, any government can run for it, it is an election process among the 79 governments. And these governments select who they want on the steering committee and we have regional quotas and so on. But of course, for peer governments to support you and elect you, it means they are seeing that you are doing something that is interesting and important.
We don’t endorse, it is an election process, just like citizens elect amongst competing parties, governments in our steering committee elect the strong competing governments better than steering committee. The key is that now that you are in that position, you have got your own model, you have to live up to the high standards.
Looking comparatively at the countries you mentioned, do you think Nigeria in the last three years of membership has been moving in the right direction in terms of implementing the cardinal principles of the partnership?
The Action Plans are very ambitious; that’s a good sign. You know you have many countries but which action plans don’t inspire you. Here if you can really implement them the action plan on open contracting, beneficial ownership, freedom of information. Now the test on implementation and results. The jury is out, as they say. So, then one has to continue to push and show results. Ultimately, it will be results that citizens should feel and test that it has actually made a difference.
We have very good examples of what it would take to win that kind of confidence: take open contracts in Ukraine, where there is a lot of the role of oligarchs, powerful people who capture contracts for their own benefits. In the equivalent of the two action plans like Nigeria’s, in the first action plan, they implemented a version of NOCOPO which is like Nigeria’s open contracting portal, the Prozorro, but it was a very strong portal, all the contracts were there with open data standards so journalists and civil society persons and anyone could search.
The second action plan they called it Dozorro where any citizen could report violations in contracting. I-citizens again became the eyes and ears. In two years, they have saved $1billion because of the transparency and competition. 82 percent of corporations reported reduced corruption, 50 percent increase in new companies, small and medium enterprises bidding for contracts. That is the kind of results you want to see; Nigeria’s results would be different but you want to show results.
To answer your question, we are optimistic, but cautiously optimistic because we want to see this momentum translate into implementation and results. But we think there are a lot of potentials here.