2-8 December 2016 #835

Join the Open Government Partnership

Nepal might as well join this initiative, after all we have tried everything else to stop corruption
Pranav Budathoki
How many of us knew that Nepal is a signatory state to Outer Space Treaty? A country that cannot run a proper national airline has signed on to a treaty on ‘Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies’?

Why go to outer space. Back in terra firma, the union of South Asian nation states – ‘The Unmagnificient Seven’ otherwise known as SAARC -- is an abandoned Third World orphan in glad rags, decaying with each passing day in its Kathmandu secretariat. Yet we gloat ritually every few years and get the run of the mill leaders of South Asia together to hold hands and pretend all is hunky-dory.

Nepal signs on to just about anything when it comes to treaties and club membership. Yet, we are badly informed on something that has the potential to radically change the way government works for the Nepali people, make government actually deliver and check corruption while at it.

It is called Open Government Partnership OGP -- a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. While that may sound a bit philosophical, underneath is actually a solid plan to get the government and communities together to fight against chronic corruption that countries like Nepal currently reel under.

Signing on to the OGP (which is meeting this week in Paris) can ensure accountable and transparent governance to the poorest, where everything else has failed. Those pushing solutions and waxing lyrical on anti-corruption also fail us. Transparency International’s Perception Index latches onto the mood swings of the chattering class in the country. That global powerhouse of an organisation has been reduced to a coterie of misfits in Nepal whose only solution has been to publish the annual index and hold mind numbing conferences.

The government’s anti-corruption watchdog (CIAA) indulges in investigating petty bribes of government store keepers and junior hands amounting to a few hundred dollars while multi-million dollar scams involving the political class are conveniently ignored. Serves us right for thinking a planted thug with tribal instincts would solve our problems.

No amount of anti-corruption laws and treaties or policy prescriptions are going to change lives of those in the last mile. Those with power will continue to leech, and poorest of the poor will forever put up with it. But what if there was a way to effectively get the citizens to demand better services? What if we hyper-localised the spending information down to the last VDC ward, and inform the father how much the public school that he sends his daughter to is getting this fiscal? There surely must be a way to just inform a patient what medicines are available free of cost for her at the government health centre? Surely they would start asking questions and demand accountability?

We need to join OGP not just because we are eligible in the region - some are not - but it promotes a culture of innovation like these. Gone are the days of confronting the government and trying to achieve change. If you want the government to work for you, work with it, rather than against it. OGP is that collaboration vehicle, where everyone and anyone who has an idea to make governments work for the poor can do so, but without the usual sponsored criticisms.

A senior official within the office of the prime minister of Nepal reasoned: India hasn’t joined OGP, why should we? Well, neither has North Korea. Some countries are neurotic by nature, we don’t need to be one.

It’s time we plugged into the international goodwill that we as a country have, and start thinking about becoming a progressive nation state in South Asia. OGP could be a silver bullet, or it might not amount to much. Whatever it morphs into, we will never know if we don’t try.

Pranav Budhathoki is CEO of Local Interventions Group, a civic innovation company working at the intersection of data, technology and governance.


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