Open Government Partnership: Afghanistan is missing the opportunity for reform

Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director

Open Government Partnership (OGP) is about governance reform through transformative commitments “co-created” by governments and civil society organizations. However, the Afghan Government, so far, has failed to use this opportunity for reform and has instead opted for an old strategy of symbolic representation of civil society and a box-ticking approach in the development of reform commitments.

The OGP Multi-Stakeholder Forum is supposed to bring reformers from the government and the civil society to steer the OGP process. The OGP co-creation and participation standards require that civil society should have their own selection and rotation process, independent of the government. However, the government has manipulated the selection of civil society representatives and has deliberately left out many of the mainstream civil society organizations who have the capacity to influence the process. In addition, the government has imposed its own chair, a deputy chair (a civil society representative), and a secretary for the forum without any consultation with the civil society organizations while the standards suggest that the civil society should be allowed to select their own co-chair. The standards also require governments to jointly develop with civil society representatives the terms of reference, decision-making processes, and conflict management rules for the forum. The terms of reference were developed by the government and were pushed through without any substantive changes during a forum meeting.

The OGP Multi-Stakeholder Forum is supposed to develop transformative commitments that form the National Action Plan for governance reform. The OGP standards require the government to discuss with other members of the forum its priorities for commitments and the feasibility of including civil society priorities. However, the government completely ignored the commitments proposed by the civil society organizations although the proposed commitments were developed through a wide-range of consultations at central and provincial level. The government instead pushed through a set of very weak commitments that had already been prepared by the government. Unfortunately, most of the commitments are either very vague or have already been under implementation or are not transformative. For instance, one of the commitments is to create councils to engage police with the public without clarifying at what level such councils would be established (i.e. district, provincial, or central level) and if the police would be accountable to such councils. Another commitment is about establishing special courts in 12 provinces to eliminate violence against women while the government had already committed to establish these courts in 34 provinces by end of 2018. Other commitments, such as declaration of assets by 100 government officials, are not transformative since such processes have been in place for many years but have not resulted in any prosecution or recovery of stolen assets. Unfortunately, the government has not only ignored civil society recommendations, it has not provided any feedback on why the proposed commitments have not been taken on board.

Nevertheless, there is still time to rectify many of the shortcomings if there is a genuine will on the part of the government to make OGP the vehicle of governance reform in Afghanistan. The government should immediately take the following actions: (1) Ensure government leadership’s close engagement in the process including periodic meetings of the forum with the President; (2) Include only reform-minded officials in the forum; (3) Ensure independence of the OGP Afghanistan Secretariat by brining independent individuals to lead the secretariat and stop using the secretariat to influence the process; (4) Engage in a real dialogue with the civil society to revisit the current commitments and to develop transformative commitments to be included in the National Action Plan.

If the government is really committed to transform the fragile Afghan state into a stable and prosperous one, it must put its institutions on the right track of reform. With the Presidential Elections due in less than two years, the government should make maximum use of the opportunity the OGP presents.