Meeting up in Prishtina yesterday, the partners in the project ICEDA (Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda) in cooperation with the host-partner from ICEDA Open Data Kosovo, within the framework of the regional dialogues on the digital agenda, discussed the topic of “Digital Governance in the Region through Open Government Partnership and Other Initiatives”. Today two public sessions will take place on this topic, reported Portalb.mk.
Participants from 5 Western Balkan countries: North Macedonia, Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia shared their national digital transformation experiences through Open Government Partnership (OGP).
It was stressed that the countries аre mainly dealing with similar challenges in their transformation. Trends were discussed, along with priorities and activities that needed to be undertaken for faster effects in favor of the citizens.
Representatives from North Macedonia were Mila Josifovska Danilovska from Metamorphosis Foundation, journalist Fisnik Xhelili from Portalb.mk and Darko Antic from the Association for Emancipation, Solidarity and Equality of Women. Рepresentatives from both partner organizations and state institutions from the other Western Balkans countries were also present.
During the discussion, the news that the Government of Kosovo adopted an National Action Plan (NAP) of Open Government Partnership (OGP) was shared with the participants. This country was the only one from the region that had not adopted such a Plan.
What is Open Government Partnership (OGP)?
How does the global initiative Open Government Partnership (OGP), a large partnership of entities from national and local levels working together to develop action plans with specific steps – commitments – for a wide scope of issues work? From 2011, the OGP promotes the idea that open governments are accessible, more responsible and accountible to the citizens and that the improvement of the relations between the citizens and their governments has long-term, exponential benefits for all.
Working in the wider context of democratic regression, the closing of civic space and the rise of authoritative and populist politics, this mature partnership of 78 members, including a growing bigger number of local self-government units and thousands of civil society participants, enabled more than 4.000 governmental reforms and most of them expressed significant influence.
Among national members in this initiative are the Western Balkan governments such as Albania (2011), Bosnia and Herzegovina (2014), Montenegro (2011), North Macedonia (2011) and Serbia (2012), while Kosovo is the only country that is not part of this process despite its efforts to join.
The Parliament of the Republic of North Macedonia is the only legislative power body from the Western Balkan countries that is part of this global initiative. For the very first time the judiciary of North Macedonia became part of the last National Action Plan of OGP (NAP) for the purpose of improving its openness and transparency for the public.
With a smaller or wider focus, especially the plans created during the COVID-19 pandemic, the governments of the Western Balkans drafted their NAPs with digitalization in various sectors setup as priorities.
One of the main components in the last NAP 2020-2021 of Albania is the digital governance focused on increasing services of e-Government, expanding the open data portal аnd improving the delivery of public services within the centers and offices for integrated services. Concerning the first issue, Albania recently digitalized all public services, thereby meeting the commitment. However, several obstacles sprang to the surface in practical implementation – mainly because of the abrupt closing of the offices where the citizens requested support.
Digitalization of public services turned into an obstacle for marginalized groups with insufficient skills and digital infrastructure as noted by specific members of the Roma community. In addition, due to recent cyberattacks, the Albanian National Agency for Information Society was forced to close down online public services and governmental websites.
The latest NAP of OGP 2021-2023 of North Macedonia contains commitments related to transparency, accountibility, proactivity and inclusion, prevention of corruption and promotion of good governance, delivery of public services, access to justice and environment and climate change. All these commitments include the component of digitalization or digital transformation mostly focused on the design of new innovative digital solutions and facilities, open data, delivery of many e-services etc.
Within the framework of the same NAP, the Parliament of North Macedonia put a strong stress on the advancement of its ICT infrastructure,e thereby improving its outreach to the citizens. In that direction, some of the commitments of the Parliament include the development of several digital platfoms and solutions (new website of the Parliament, online open data portal, platform for proposals and suggestions from the citizens to the legistative government, a software facility for monitoring the legislative process by the public, opening the e-archive software for public search), procurement of the required digital equipment (cameras with adjacent equipment for screening the sessions on the Internet, software solution for translating speech into text) and securing digital security through digital signatures for the MPs and the Parliament staff.
The judiciary of North Macedonia is also an essential part of the NAP that will focus its efforts on improving the electronic judicial portal, the electronic system for basic and continuous training of judges, the public relations of the courts and the quality of accessible data and information related to the operation of the Judicial Council.
The same as the previous two countries, the Serbian OGP NAP 2020-2022 mentions digitalization as part of the technological innovation initiative. Technology and innovation need to increase openness and responsibility by promoting new information-sharing technologies and public participation.
In the meantime, the new NAP for Montenegro will be completed towards the end of the year and it should secure better access to public services, greater involvement in policymaking for public finance as well as inclusion of less represented groups in policy development. In addition, the NAP is expected to include activities in accordance with the digital transformation within the framework of the public sector and e-services. About the previous NAP 2018-2020 , on one ocassion, the senior research officer Andreas Pavlou said that the efforts invested in this plan resulted with limited benefits in the areas mentioned above.
Since Kosovo was not a member of this initiative, the situation on its side was somewhat different when talking about formalities. Its effort to bring the government closer to the people however, is still valid. In 2013, the Kosovo Government decided to begin the membership procedure in this multinational initiative, but received a negative reply. However, with the help of Open Data Kosovo, Kosovo developed its own information platform securing all important documents and other relevant information related to its second attempt to become part of the initiative. In addition, Kosovo is working on the development of its own NAP 2022-2024 with the key pillars: anti-corruption, digital governance, open data and civic participation and decision-making. Judging from the developing NAP, Kosovo intends to apply for OGP membership once again towards the end of 2022.
Civic sector (not) included in the co-creation of NAP of OGP
While in some countries the civil society sector was included to a greater extent and directly in the development and implementation of the NAP of their country, in others the sector was not involved at all. Civil society organizations in Serbia were not directly involved in the activities of the NAP of OGP, but they monitored the work of the Government and wrote reports on their activities, while the recent co-creation process of the NAP of North Macedonia, 86% of the participants in the process were CSOs and the rest 14% were from the institutions.
This joint creation process consisted of 3 online information and training meetings, 12 online meetings for identifying the needs and issues, analysis, setting priorities etc. and over 60 individual meetings. Metamorphosis Foundation and Rural Coalition, as part of the ICEDA network, devoted themselves to the process and managed to intervene in some of the commitments securing focus on open data, openness of institutions and transparency and digitalization of public services in various areas.
North Macedonia is also the only country in the region with a specially designed platform for e-participation in the NAP that enabled the working groups to develop the NAP together, to inform and be informed about the process and the progress of each component of the NAP. This platform aimed at presenting the process of implementation of the commitments and accomplishments of the current NAP in an interactive and detailed manner in order to secure smooth monitoring of its implementation. Also, a visual presentation of the NAP and a description of the implementation status on the basis of success indicators set for every achievement of the specific obligations in defined priority areas was available. The platform was created by Metamorphosis Foundation within the framework of the Civic Engagement Prоject support by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
In Kosovo, the National Coordination Committee for development of the NAP of OGP for Kosovo 2022-2024 consists of governmental institutions, civil society organizations, media and other relevant stakeholders. Open Data Kosovo, as a CSO, is a member of the Committee and contributes in the development of the NAP thereby securing information on topics related to the Digital Agenda.
One of Andreas Pavlou’s remarks about the Montenegrian NAP 2018-2021 was that Montenegro met the minimum requirements for cooperation between the Government and CSOs. In Montenegro, the OGP’s contact person within the Ministry of Public Administration, Marija Jankovic, shared the fact that there were many challenges in the implementation of the NAP of OGP, and one of those challenges was the operational team and the timetable of its meetings, visibility and the manner in which monitoring of the previous NAP was done.
She also shared that the four-year term of the operational team was ending and that the Ministry started the consultations on the way the next operational team should look like, its structure, its tasks and how to create an efficient environment for developing the new NAP, including its implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the effects. Jankovic also shared that the Ministry for Public Administration was organizing a series of consultative stakeholder meetings to define the obligations for the next cycle of implementation of OGP of Montenegro and the development of the new NAP.
The influence of Open Government Partnership in the region
Membership in this initiative and the implementation of NAPs of OGPs should not be a simple tasks of “ticking” the box of activities. It should be based on joint work dedicated by more stakeholders so that the efforts will bring about tangible results that will improve the life of the citizens and bridge the gap between them and the institutions.
Serbia noted 2 positive results from the completed NAP of OGP in the area of digitalization. In the course of 2021, the technical development of e-Consults portal was completed and the portal is now operational. All citizens can monitor and participate in the public process of decision-making. Another positive case was “I Protect You” – electronic application system as a response for monitoring violence against children as well as support for the victims – which has been established and started to develop.
In 2021, in competition with over 100 applications for an innovative tool, the commitment for a more transparent municipality in North Macedonia was awarded third place on European level for influencing the impovement of people’s lives and the quality of democracy. The awarded commitment was a group of tools created and put into operation in the last three years, contributing to the improvement of fiscal transparency on local level, enabling live screening of the sessions in 18 municipalities as well as direct involvement of citizens in the decision-making process in 24 municipalities.
The activities were implemented within the framework of the commitment “Establishing new tools for improving fiscal transparency and accountibility of local self-government units”, an obligation of the Ministry of Local Self-government.
On this occasion, the Minister for Information Society and Administration at the time, Yeton Shakiri, stated the recognition of the results shown through the Global Summit award was “a true and sincere acknowledgment of the joint efforts and partnership between the Government, the civil society and the donor community that secures effective and sustainable solutions for the challenges faced by society”.
Apart from North Macedonia, this honour was awarded to other Western Balkan countries as well. In the same category, Serbia was awarded second place in the sub-category Europe for Public Services for ePAPER, while Albania received second place in the category Awards for Local OGP Innovations, sub-category Europe, for its WhatsApp Counselor.
The report on transitional results of Montenegro 2018-2021 also noted several successes in the implementation of NAP of OGP such as the expanding of tools for online public participation, improving access to governmental information and open data, improving budgetary transparency and implementing the study on protection of whistle-blowers.
Other activities included the introduction of online identification document, payment of fees through the Internet and submitting tax-return forms through the Internet. However, due to political instability, implementation slowed down and the report stressed that “Although the Action Plan included potentially influential activities such as: online public participation (Commitment 2), the access to information (Commitment 3) and budgetary transparency (Commitment 6), the limited completion of these tasks prevented the achievement of significant results or changes in the way the Government operated”.
Today, on this very topic “Digital Governance in the Region through Open Government Partnership”, two discussions will take place which will also be open for the public.
This event will include a more thorough discussion of OGP from the viewpoint of Digital Governance that will consist of two sessions covering the main areas of digital transformation through OGP:
- Session I: Digitalization – Priority in the National Action Plans of Open Government Partnerships of Western Balkan countries (success stories)
- Session II: Civic policies in the centre – The role of civil society in the process of development of the National Action Plans of Open Government Partnerships.
Apart from physical presence, the event can be watched live through the ZOOM platform or through the Facebook page of the ICEDA project.
Each session will gather together representatives from local and regional authorities and non-governmental organizations, including grassroots, to share and discuss their individual efforts, and provide a wider outlook of the efforts invested by their countries in these subject areas.
The purpose of these discussions is exchange of knowledge between stakeholders (institutions and civil society orgranizations) from the Western Balkans and initiating a productive dialogue for better performance of problems related to digital transformation through a global initiative such as OGP.
The project “Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Agenda – ICEDA” is implemented by Metamorphosis Foundation (North Macedonia), E-governance Academy (Estonia), Movement Mjaft! (Albania), Partners for Democratic Change (Serbia), NGO 35mm (Montenegro) and ODK – Open Data Kosovo (Kosovo). The project is financially supported by the European Union and promotes better digital services in the region of Western Balkans.