Improve the state of play for open government in Jordan

Turning commitments into results: The process towards a culture of open and inclusive governance

Jordan’s membership in the Open Government Partnership

Despite the challenging political, economic and security context in the neighbouring region, Jordan has been engaged in a gradual democratisation process for more than a decade. While considerations to safeguard stability have always been dominant in the political agenda, the country was the first in the Arab world to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and pass an access to information law. The objective to increase popular participation and strengthen transparency and accountability mechanisms can build on a strong link to Jordan 2025 and previous achievements, in particular the progress made as a member to the Open Government Partnership.

Jordan 2025 does not include a direct commitment to fostering open government, but it seeks to advance key principles, including participation, transparency and accountability. In line with the recommendations of the National Integrity Strategy, Jordan 2025 states that the transparency and accessibility of government information shall be reinforced, and that public consultation mechanisms shall be institutionalised. It also acknowledges the need to improve the communication of government decisions and regulatory changes, and to address prevailing practices based on engrained attitudes, such as wasta and favouritism towards equal opportunities and merit-based decisions. As outlined in Chapter 1, strategy places citizens at the heart of the development process and lists concrete deliverables that should be implemented (e.g. platforms to facilitate citizen engagement with government; National Honours Programme to reward Jordanians for their contribution to society; civics component in the school curriculum). The vision underlines the need to institutionalise mechanisms for public consultation in the development of future plans and strategies across the government.

Jordan 2025 resonates with Jordan’s commitment to foster more open, transparent and accountable governance through the Open Government Partnership. The validation of the third National Action Plan 2016-2018 coincides with the approval of a series of strategic policy documents and milestones in Jordan’s democratisation process. In parallel to the beginning of the implementation phase of Jordan 2025, the plan draws on key recommendations developed in the Comprehensive National Human Rights Plan 20162025, and seeks to integrate the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals, in particular goal 16. The approval follows the 18th Parliamentary elections, in which candidates ran under a new Elections Law and the scrutiny of the Independent Elections Commission.

The National Action Plan is placed in the context of the decentralisation process and the government’s commitment to expand the process of popular participation by allowing “citizens to identify their needs and priorities and to develop their areas and communities, thus enlarging popular participation in the decision making process”. Commitment five binds the government to issue the required regulations and instructions to implement the Decentralisation Law and hold governorate council elections in 2017.

In the preparation of the National Action Plan, a working group was established with representatives from: government (Ministries of Planning and International Co-operation [MoPIC], Political and Parliamentary Affairs [MoPPA], Public Sector Development [MoPSD], Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, General Budget Department), the AntiCorruption and Integrity Commission, civil society (i.e. Hemam, National Center for Human Rights), women (i.e. Jordanian National Committee) and youth organisations (We are all Jordan Youth Commission), and the Jordanian Businessmen Association. The increasing involvement of non-governmental stakeholders in the preparation of the plan was ensured by dissemination activities (e.g. publication of the draft plan on MoPIC’s website and advertisements in daily newspapers), an electronic questionnaire and two consultation meetings with civil society organisations (CSOs) on 25 September and 16 October 2016.2 In the plan, the Government of Jordan commits to work jointly with CSOs in the implementation of its commitments through a “systematic approach based on transparency, disclosure and open dialogue.”

Box 4.2 presents the commitments of the third action plan. The National Action Plan presents a qualitative improvement on the two previous strategies as it defines a lead implementing agency, others actors involved and milestones to track progress, as well as

additional information (status quo, objective, description, relevance and ambition) for each commitment.

Box 4.2. Jordan’s third National Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership

  • • Commitment 1: Strengthen the legislative framework governing access to information.
  • • Commitment 2: Strengthen the facilities available for persons with disabilities to access the justice system.
  • • Commitment 3: Strengthen the framework governing the freedom of the media.
  • • Commitment 4: Launch and enhance the complaints registration system and follow-up mechanisms to deal with complaints in a serious manner and to refer them to the judiciary:
    • - Complaints and grievances related to violations committed against citizen.
    • - Complaints related to governmental services and the surrounding environment of its provision.
  • • Commitment 5: Issue the requisite regulations and instructions to implement the Decentralisation Law and hold governorate council elections in 2017.
  • • Commitment 6: Develop healthcare services and automate the healthcare sector through electronic linkages.
  • • Commitment 7: Develop an interactive observatory forum for citizens to monitor the implementation of the government’s plans and progress.
  • • Commitment 8: Adopt the principle of budget disclosure in accordance with international standards and promote transparency and financial disclosure.
  • • Commitment 9: Develop transparent and participatory policies regarding climate change challenges.
  • • Commitment 10: Implement an open data sources policy.

Source : MoPIC (2016), Jordan’s Third National Action Plan 2016-2018 under the Open Government Partnership Initiative, Ministry of Planning and International Co-operation, www.opengovpartnership.org/countrv/iordan/action-plan.

Table 4.1 provides a comparison of key features of the open government agenda in Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco and OECD member countries. It illustrates that Jordan shares many of the common features for implementing open government commitments in practice. Recently, OECD and OGP member countries have extended the scope of their open government agenda and activities to other (non-executive) actors and the subnational layers of government. For instance, Costa Rica is moving towards an "open state" by including the legislature, judiciary, independent state institutions and subnational governments in the national open government agenda (OECD, 2016a). Almost half of all OECD member countries have consolidated scattered initiatives aimed at increasing transparency, citizen participation and accountability into a single national open government strategy to strengthen coherence and impact.

Table 4.1. Tools and mechanisms used to implement the open government agenda in Jordan, selected Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries and the OECD

Item

Jordan

Tunisia/Morocco

OECD

Access to information law

Yes

TUN: Yes, MOR: No

97%

National document for citizen engagement

No

TUN: No, MOR: Yes

46%

Office in charge of horizontal co-ordination of open government

American Relations Division (MoPIC)

TUN: Yes (E-Government Unit), MOR: Yes (Open Government Secretariat)

77%

Open government national strategy

No

TUN: Yes, MOR: No

49%

Funding mechanism of open government initiatives

Yes (Allocated by a single central institution)

TUN: Yes, MOR: Yes (both: allocated by institutions responsible for implementing each project)

89%

Monitoring of open government initiatives

Yes (ad hoc)

TUN: Yes (National Committee), MOR: Yes (Steering Committee)

86%

Evaluation of the impact of open government initiatives

Yes (through OGP self- assessment/IRM)

TUN: Yes (through OGP self-assessment/IRM and independent CSO assessment, MOR: No

56%

Source: Based on the answers provided to the OECD survey conducted for OECD (2016a), Open Government: The Global Context and the Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264268104-en.

The decentralisation reform provides an opportune moment to reflect about what contribution government and local non-governmental stakeholders can make to achieve the commitments stipulated in the 2016-18 National Action Plan. An analysis of the two previous National Action Plans reveals that open government commitments have almost exclusively been dedicated to the national level so far. In Colombia, open government reforms have been extended to the subnational level, in particular in the province of Antioquia. The province holds accountability hearings in all 125 municipalities, with the large-scale participation of citizens (see Box 4.3).

Box 4.3. Open government at the local level in Colombia’s second OGP Action Plan

In 2015, Colombia presented its second OGP Action Plan for the period 2015-17. The plan entails 18 commitments and provides 2 new aspects. The country has worked towards enhancing transparency and accountability in the judiciary, and it is also extending open government reforms to the subnational level. As laid down in Commitment 9, the province of Antioquia commits itself to developing a transparent and responsible government. The department (departamento) already leads in the Transparency Index of “Transparency for Colombia”, and the Governor of Antioquia promised to further advance the open government agenda in his department. The department aims to adhere to the principles of the OGP by holding accountability hearings in all 125 municipalities of Antioquia. In these hearings, in which a total of 12 000 citizens shall participate throughout the two years, the municipalities will report on the compliance with the departmental development plan, the results of the Transparency Fairs on contracting, as well as the results of Public Agreements signed by the mayors of the municipalities of Antioquia.

Source: OECD (2016a), Open Government: The Global Context and the Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264268104-en.

The two previous National Action Plans submitted by Jordan to the OGP have provoked mixed reactions from civil society and other non-governmental stakeholders, partly because of their exclusive focus on the central level, but also regarding their impact. Despite some notable achievements, the implementation of some previous commitments has been delayed or has not materialised. For instance, the third National Action Plan stresses that 7 of 14 commitments from the second plan were fully accomplished, while further work was necessary to complete the remaining 7. Evaluations are undertaken through the self-assessment and independent reporting mechanism (IRM) assessment, and the results are publicly available, as required for any OGP member. However, no independent monitoring or evaluation mechanism exists.

In Tunisia, civil society organisations play a significant role in the elaboration of the action plan, and they also assume a critical role in exercising scrutiny over the implementation progress, supported by an institutionalised mechanism (see Box 4.4).

Box 4.4. How to institutionalise non-governmental organisation (NGO) participation in the open government agenda: The example of Tunisia

Tunisia joined the Open Government Partnership as the second MENA country in 2014. In the process of formulating the first National Action Plan, a steering committee was established featuring an equal share of government representatives and non-governmental actors.

In addition to five officials from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of the Interior, the General Direction of Administrative Reform and Future Studies, the E-government unit, Legal Counsel of the government; the committee is composed of three CSO representatives (OpenGov.tn, Association Tuensa, Association Al Bawsala) and one representative from the private sector (Arab Institute of Business Leaders) and academia. The committee jointly drafts the plan and meets every month to follow up on the implementation of its commitments. The committee was enlarged for the elaboration of the second National Action Plan, but still features an equal number of government and non-government representatives.

This institutionalised mechanism for the formulation and follow-up on open government commitments has increased the legitimacy of the process and the quality of its outcomes.

Source: Based on the answers provided to the OECD survey conducted for OECD (2016a), Open Government: The Global Context and the Way Forward, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264268104-en.

Jordan’s 2012-13 and 2014-16 OGP National Action Plans were linked to the broader democratisation agenda. The 2012-13 Action Plan lists 32 commitments in three areas (improving public services, increasing public integrity and the efficiency of managing public resources), and states the objective “to further strengthen the foundations for political inclusion, social stability, good governance, efficient public sector, improved service delivery, as well as the rule of law” (Government of Jordan, 2012). The plan points out that government initiatives to foster transparency, citizen participation and accountability preceded the country’s membership of the OGP (Box 4.5).

Box 4.5. Selection of open government achievements prior to Jordan’s OGP membership (2012)

Improving public services

  • • Creation of a centralised mechanism to administer citizens' complaints.
  • • Launching of a programme to simplify procedures at governorate/district levels (201113).
  • • Automation of departments and procedures (e.g. courts, Greater Amman Municipality [GAM], customs procedures).

Increasing public integrity

  • • Fighting corruption, good governance and promoting greater accountability.
  • • Enactment of the Financial Disclosure Law, the Anti-Money Laundering Law and the Anti-Corruption Commission Law (2006); amendment of the Associations Law (2009).
  • • Formulation of the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2008-2012).
  • • Code of conduct and ethics for cabinet ministers and government employees.
  • • Establishment of the National Center for Human Rights (2006), Ombudsman Bureau (2009).

Promoting transparency and access to information

  • • Enactment of the law on the Access to Information (2007).
  • • Creation of an electronic portal on the Prime Ministry's website for the periodic monitoring and evaluation of the action plans of individual ministries, within the context of the implementation of the Executive Development Programme (2011-2013)
  • • Anti-Corruption Commission publishes annual reports since 2011, Audit Bureau published its annual report for the first time.

Enhancing citizen participation in decision making, and citizen feedback on governance

  • • Enactment of Public Gatherings Law (2011).
  • • Creation of a National Dialogue Committee to draft laws for parliamentary elections and political parties.
  • • Forming a Royal Committee on Reviewing the Constitution to review constitutional reform and propose amendments (creation of Independent Commission for Elections, 2011).
  • • Website at the Legislative and Opinion Bureau/Prime Ministry for the public to express views on pending legislation, regulations, and policy issues.

More effectively managing public resources

• Publication of a “Citizen's Guide to the Budget”, and “Budget in Brief’.

Source: Government of Jordan (2012), The Open Government Partnership - Jordan: National Action Plan, www.opengovpartnership.org/sites/default/files/legacv files/country action plans/OGP%20Action%20Pla n-Jordan-Final-April%202012 Q.docx.

The 2014-16 National Action Plan was dedicated to support the Royal Committee for Enhancing the National Integrity System. Headed by the Prime Minister, the committee elaborated a National Charter to strengthen the integrity system, transparency, the rule of law, accountability, justice and equal opportunities.

As a member of the OGP, Jordan has made significant progress in turning commitments to foster open government principles into practice. By involving other state and non-governmental stakeholders from all layers of government in the process (including governorates and municipalities), Jordan could take a big step forward in promoting cultural change in the public administration, and hence contribute to delivering on the promises of the decentralisation reform. Stronger follow-up and accountability mechanisms will be as necessary as providing for adequate resources and awareness raising activities for public officials, civil servants and non-governmental stakeholders (OECD, 2016a). The results from the OECD survey for the members of the Civil Society Network bring further challenges to light: it finds that only 5 out of 17 CSOs are aware of Jordan’s open government policy. The comments received suggest that even among the more “knowledgeable” CSOs, a sound understanding of the concept and its implications is lacking (e.g. only “partially” understood; “not defined and not clear”; missing clarity “of executive procedures in the rules and regulations”).

The OGP National Action Plan is a strategic document that can facilitate the mainstreaming of open government principles across existing legal frameworks, guide institutions in their daily operations, and inspire innovative participatory approaches in practice. The subsequent sections will discuss to what degree the defining features of an open government agenda are in line with OECD standards and good practices in each area.

 
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