However, for democracy to be effective it must create open spaces for interaction and build bridges to connect people’s demands and interests to accountable and representative public institutions and public servants. It is the “open government” movement that has brought renewed political attention to a number of important areas such as good governance, transparency, accountability and engagement of citizens in policy-making. How are these issues addressed in practice and how can one secure concrete commitments from national governments to follow these principles?
Open Government Partnership
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) was launched in 2011 as an international platform to connect, empower and encourage domestic reformers committed to transforming government and society through openness. It also introduces a domestic policy mechanism – the action planning process – through which government and civil society are encouraged to establish an ongoing dialogue on the design, implementation and monitoring of open government reforms. For example, in the first year of the OGP’s existence 980 commitments were made by OGP member countries. The OGP’s theory of change clearly states that there are three critical elements for initiating and sustaining progress on open government reforms:
In addition to these three elements, the OGP provides independent reports on progress to promote accountability for delivery.To understand the value of the OGP, one needs to look into the meaning of “open government” and why this international mechanism is particularly valuable today.
“Open government” is seen and perceived by many today as a “revolution”, a transformation, a kind of metamorphosis of the government-citizen relationship, driven by champions in government and open-minded reformers.
Chart 1: Key pillars of open government.
Open government is seen as a platform for improving government capacity and public administration reforms.2 The OECD defines open government as “the transparency of government actions, the accessibility of government services and information and the responsiveness of government to new ideas, demands and needs”. This new government-citizen engagement paradigm departs from the key pillars of an open government which are:
A government that claims to be open needs to have mechanisms in place for interacting with its citizens at all levels. Being citizen-centred means positioning the citizens’ agenda at the core of public policies and placing citizens’ needs high on the political agenda.
Of course, such a framework requires transparency within the processes opening up information that might have been closed to scrutiny until now; opening up data that citizens are interested in; ensuring that citizens, regardless of where they live (in rural or urban areas) benefit from the potential of information and communications technology (ICT) and are therefore able to engage with the government and to benefit from the public services available in new formats.
An open government is a government that regularly seeks feedback from its citizens and improves its services based on what citizens find as being relevant or less relevant for them. It has multiple social accountability tools in place and uses data generated by its citizens to further build on new reforms, strategies and sectoral initiatives.
Moldova’s open government agenda
Moldova is a country with a young democracy and even though it has been independent since 1999 it still faces several challenges regarding the implementation of democratic principles and values, the promotion of freedom of expression and access to information, the protection of human rights, and combating corruption, which is pervasive and entrenched at all levels.
Open government still represents a nascent or an emerging trend in governance in Moldova, which has been fostered by the information society, particularly through its Governance e-Transformation project and Open Data initiative3 Having joined the OGP back in April 2012, Moldova is now among the 65 countries that are committed to implementing open government reforms through their national action plans on open government. However, it remains to be seen whether commitments to these plans are bringing significant changes to the government-citizen relationship.
Moldova has implemented two action plans on open government, the latest one being under the Independent Reporting Mechanism evaluation process in May 2015. Most of the commitments of both plans4 are related to Open Data, the e-Government Agenda, transparency and access to information, implementation of a number of portals for easier and faster access to government data and services, and re-engineering and optimising of public services. Implementing national action plans on open government and the broader concept of open government remains a challenge from a number of perspectives, as explained below.
Elaboration and co-creation process
The open government agenda is not something one ministry or agency can deal with in isolation. It has to be created by the government in conjunction with civil society. All ministries and subordinate agencies have to be able to participate in this process and generate sectoral commitments so that the open government agenda reaches education, health, social protection, environment, justice and so on. To sum up, the efforts should be sustainable.
CSOs working in different sectors need to actively challenge the government to adopt more ambitious commitments and they need to target areas that require considerable improvement and change. This process should also involve development partners and international organisations that would align their priorities for the country based on what has really come out of this joint creation process.
So far in Moldova, implementation of the national action plans has been limited to the E-Government Center,5 which enacts the draft action plan in-house, and consults on it afterwards with ministries, other public authorities and CSOs (often the same organisations each time). Attempts to jointly create the second action plan with civil society (the Open Government Institute)6 have ended with no contributions from those sectors approached by the Institute back in August 2014 (education and youth). However, there were two commitments which the Institute delivered on: one relating to “an elaboration of new public consultation principles,” based on the OECD principles on citizen engagement; and the other relating to “training public servants for improved communication” (based on the new consultation principles). Both commitments were initiated as part of a project implemented by the Open Government Institute together with the E-Government Center of Moldova and the e-Governance Academy of Estonia.7
The implementation of any initiative requires both human and financial resources. Therefore the national action plans on open government have to be formally approved by the government, and resources allocated as part of the national Budget.
Moldova’s case has clearly shown that to address this aspect in a much easier way, the action plan should not be a stand-alone project, but rather part of a bigger initiative. In 2013 the government took a different approach to develop its second action plan on open government by making it part of the Governance e-Transformation Action Plan for 20148 (covering January-December 2014) which lays out steps to implement technological solutions for improving governance. Promoting the principles of open government is one of the pillars of the Moldovan governance e-transformation agenda and actions for 2014 related to open government are integrated within the e-government action plan.
Civil society monitoring of the implementation of open-government-related commitments
One of the key challenges associated with the monitoring process lies in the strong dependence of Moldovan CSOs on foreign aid. CSOs usually monitor the implementation of specific government-related initiatives that are supported by small grants, or bigger initiatives which are supported by the donors. Even the civil society report on the implementation of the first action plan on Open Government was conducted by the Association for Participatory Democracy (ADEPT)9 with funding from the Soros Foundation.
To conclude: CSOs do not voluntarily monitor or evaluate, which is why once funding is not available, data about the government’s performance in some sectors/areas are also not available. Sole reliance on government self-assessment reports does not provide a comprehensive picture of the situation. CSOs also need to embed a culture of open and participatory governance and engage meaningfully in the monitoring process at different levels.
Do civil servants have the capacity to respond to the ambitions of the open government agenda, or is there a need for a new culture in government?
This is probably one of the most important and yet complex issues, given that the human factor has always played a critical role when it comes to ensuring the quality of the services delivered to citizens. When it comes to open government, public servants need to have the capacity to inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower citizens so that they can engage meaningfully in debates, discussions on matters that are important to them, be it nationally or locally.
Unfortunately, many citizen engagement efforts, at least in Moldova’s case, are constrained by the fact that few are coordinated with reforms that would encourage or build on the government’s capacity to respond to debate. One of the main reasons behind this is that Moldova is new to open government as a philosophy and as a way of managing government-citizen relations, and this is a legacy of the Soviet era during which citizens had no voice in decision-making processes of any kind. This mentality is, unfortunately, still in the system and maintained, particularly, by the preceding generation of public servants. A year ago, attempts to generate open government commitment for the 2014 Action Plan with the participation of public servants from a number of sectors failed. After a couple of hours dedicated to discussions about “what is open government’, “how open government works in practice”, “why have citizen engagement?”, and how a particular ministry or department could enable citizen participation in decision-making, a number of public servants reacted by asking that if they were going to follow all the principles of an open government, when would they do their own day-to-day work/tasks?
On the one hand this is an indication of how difficult it is to “infuse” something into the system that takes public servants out of their comfort zone. On the other, this shows how difficult it is to arm public servants with the skills necessary for engaging with citizens, as well as put in place mechanisms to institutionalise the open government agenda.
Actually, Moldova has a very clear legal framework related to ensuring transparency in the decision-making process (very much in line with one of the core pillars of open government), which is the Law on Transparency in the Decision-making Process, 13 November 2008.10 The degree to which public authorities are putting this law into practice has been questioned over the past few years, particularly by CSOs. Often, public authorities would limit their “transparency”-related activity/tasks to publishing decisions and strategy papers online. This does not necessarily imply a comprehensive citizen engagement process, with public authorities being unaware that online publishing of important documents is just the first step in the engagement process.
An interesting example of a consultation platform put in place by the government of Moldova (the State Chancellery) is the www.particip.gov.md platform, which was expected to generate a lot of feedback from the broader community on different matters exposed to public consultations. However, the platform is still largely used as a mechanism for informing citizens rather than consulting, due to the nature of the posts and the ways in which the language and the invitations for comments are being framed. In November 2014,11 during a meeting with more than 80 public servants discussing transparency issues, a number of challenges emerged, which are set out below.
- The law on transparency envisages a number of different consultation mechanisms/models. However, when it comes to practical implementation, resources are always an issue, which is why central public authorities are limited to posting information online.
- There is a need for a high-level commitment to transparency and a citizen engagement agenda. At present, this is only on paper and there is no comprehensive approach at the top level on ways this agenda could be further implemented.
- Deadlines for consultations have to be respected. Often, CSOs are provided with consultation documents the day before the government is due to discuss them.
- Central public authorities are not using or referring to existing reports, studies or analyses that cover the relevant issues, and waste time and resources producing new ones.
- There is a lack of response on the feedback mechanism which discourages further participation by those who have at least once declared an interest and provided feedback. Responding to what is going to happen as a result of feedback received increases the chances of keeping people motivated to engage again in the future.
- Not enough CSOs are engaging in the decision-making process. It is often the same “usual suspects” involved, and this does not lead to new input.
Addressing the above challenges will allow central public authorities to create new opportunities and generate more trust and collaboration among all stakeholders. The practice of citizen engagement in different countries shows a low participation (Buss, Redburn, Guo, 2006)12 due to lack of trust in government (be it central or local). To overcome that, central public authorities should:
Countries such as Moldova that have assumed ambitious agendas and commitments on paper should progress from “talking” to “doing”. Accordingly, it is important that the government acknowledges the following points.
When it comes to Moldova’s membership in the Open Government Partnership, it is crucial that it starts playing a more active role and is seen as a model for other countries, particularly in the Eastern Partnership countries. Being a small, landlocked country with limited natural resources, Moldova’s greatest potential lies in its people. Hence the government should radically change the way it interacts with its citizens and start enforcing all those ambitious commitments made as part of the OGP.
In the short term, the government should make information about its activities more easily available, support civic participation, implement the highest standards of professional integrity throughout national and local government, and increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability.13
In the long term, however, the following points are worth considering.
The government agenda needs to be cross-sectoral, with all ministries and central public authorities operating based on the principles of open government. This should stimulate more innovation and, as a result, sectors – be they education, health, environment or roads – will become more competitive.
Local public authorities should also play an active role in promoting open government, as they are closer to their citizens. Local municipalities and cities can adopt open government principles and become more engaged with the people. Open government philosophy should be embedded in the education system, thus preparing citizens who are able to make informed decisions and choices, and who are capable of distinguishing between a government that will keep its promises and those who are just making promises.
It is an open government that will consolidate the capacity of its citizens to become more open-minded and more open towards change – exactly the kind of citizens Moldova needs today.
1 Veronica Cretu is President of the Open Government Institute and a member of the civil society steering committee of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
2 OECD, 2011.
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5 www.egov.md/en (last accessed 6 August 2015).
6 http://opengov.si.md/ (last accessed 6 August 2015).
8 Government Resolution No.1096 dated 31 December 2013 on approving the 2014 Action Plan for the implementation of the Strategic Program for Technological Modernization of Governance (e-Transformation)).
/gd/raport-planul-actiuni-guvernare-deschisa-2012-2013-en.pdf (last accessed 6 August 2015).
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11 http://opengov.si.md/500-challenges-of-the-transparency-in-the-decision-making-processes-in-moldova/ (last accessed 6 August 2015).
12 http://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/author/terry-f-buss-f-stevens-redburn-kristina-guo/ (last accessed 6 August 2015).
13 One of the guiding principles of the OGP, as stipulated in the Four Year Strategy of the OGP 2015-2018.
V. Cretu and N. Cretu (2014), How to build local open government, ePSI Platform.
V. Cretu (2014), MA in contemporary diplomacy paper on “The role of diplomatic missions in Open Government”, with the University of Malta.
Open Government Partnership: www.opengovpartnership.org (last accessed 6 August 2015).
OECD Citizens as Partners: http://internationalbudget.org/wp-content/uploads/Citizens-as-Partners-OECD-Handbook.pdf (last accessed 6 August 2015).
Moldova Action Plan on Open Government 2014: www.opengovpartnership.org/country/moldova/action-plan (last accessed 6 August 2015).
Public Participation in Europe, 2009: http://www.partizipation.at/fileadmin/media_data/Downloads/Zukunftsdiskurse-Studien/pp_in_e_report_03_06.pdf (last accessed 6 August 2015).
Open Government Institute
Bd. Gagarin 3. of 2 (MD 2001)
Republic of Moldova
Phone: +373 67435000