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Does open government need accountability institutions?

Jeff Thindwa's picture



Accountability Institutions – such as Information Commissions, Ombudsman and Supreme Audit Institutions – play a fundamental role in advancing government openness. Initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership should deepen engagement with them.

Transparency and accountability are key priorities of the Open Government movement. They are also areas where accountability institutions can have real impact. Information Commissions play a crucial role in guaranteeing the right to information. Ombudsman institutions handle citizen complaints about public administration and help protect citizen rights. They have a crucial mediation function that fosters reciprocal engagement of the citizen and state. Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) are also a critical part of the national accountability architecture, with a mandate to “watch over” government accounts, operations, and performance, through external auditing.

At the World Bank Group (WBG), we have supported the strengthening of Information Commissions for effective access to information legislation implementation in Mexico, Chile, and Honduras, as well as the creation of a network of access to information and transparency agencies (RTA). We expect our engagement with Ombudsman institutions to deepen as a complement to our ongoing support of grievance redress mechanisms at the country level. At the same time, our knowledge exchange with the International Ombudsman Institute will reinforce these efforts.

The WBG’s “Public Participation in Budgets and Audits” initiative helps SAIs leverage civil society organizations (CSOs) to increase the effectiveness of external audits in the public financial management system. The program invests in technical capacity building of SAIs and CSOs to enable co-creation and implementation of participatory audits.

Recognizing the crucial role of these accountability institutions, the WBG and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) recently worked together to explore how best to engage them at the OGP regional event for the Americas in Costa Rica in November.

The Open Government Partnership offers a great opportunity to promote the strengthening of national accountability frameworks.

At the global level, a Mexican Information Commissioner served in the OGP’s first International Steering Committee, and recently co-convened the OGP Access to Information working group. At the national level, the engagement of accountability institutions ranges from participation in national OGP steering committees or similar forums to formulating and monitoring OGP Action Plans.

This is the case of the Federal Institute of Access to Information and Data Protection (IFAI) in Mexico’s national Tripartite Committee, Chile’s Council of Transparency as well as the Comptroller General Office in its OGP Permanent Round Table, Peru’s Ombudsman Office as observer in the OGP Executive Committee, and Honduras’ Institute of Access to Information (IAIP) in its OGP Technical Committee. In addition, Mexico’s IFAI participation (together with civil society) in the national OGP Tripartite Committee helped provide continuity to the national OGP process during the new government’s transition in 2013.

Several OGP countries have made commitments to advance transparency, participation, and accountability with implementation by accountability institutions, including Chile’s Council for Transparency, Costa Rica’s Ombudsman, and Honduras’ IAIP. In the Philippines, the partnership of the Commission on Audit and ANSA EAP on participatory audits demonstrates the pivotal role an accountability institution can play in open government and was recognized with an award during the 2013 OGP Summit in London.

The unique mandates of accountability institutions and their position between citizens and the state necessitate their deeper engagement in the OGP process – such as finding ways they can contribute to the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) and to actions linked to national OGP IRM reports.

To ensure their effectiveness, transparency, accountability, and citizen participation are also needed within accountability institutions themselves. At the same time, their independence must be upheld and strengthened. Independence, however, should not be confused with isolation, as citizens are the main stakeholders of accountability institutions’ work. Openness, listening, and responsiveness are vital for these institutions to be relevant to societal needs.

Independence also requires transparent and open processes for appointing the heads of these institutions in order to limit political interference and possible co-option. (The latter would be an important item for the OGP Legislative Openness Working Group, since Parliaments are often responsible for voting on such appointments and for the legal frameworks that create and regulate accountability institutions).

In sum, accountability institutions are an essential link in the government accountability chain, and help open up government to citizens. Engaging them strategically as partners and stakeholders must become a real priority of the OGP.

Comments

Submitted by Muhammad Salar Khan on

Nice work here. The practice and knowledge across accountability institutions need to be distilled among the community of practitioners and may be somehow made common across member countries. However, contextual factors should be included in the equation. Way to go!

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