15 October 2013

Ireland has published its Action Plan which is the primary membership commitment of the Open Government Partnership. Ireland is in cohort 4 (together with Australia, Malawi, Mongolia, Serbia, and Trinidad and Tobago) which New Zealand has the opportunity to join if it formally applies for membership by December.  Cohort 4 will be admitted to membership in April 2014 on submission of their action plans.

As Ireland has scale and governance similarities with New Zealand, the aspirations of the mixed government and civil society groups which developed its action plan may indicate the sorts of social changes OGP membership could stimulate in New Zealand.

The 62 commitments in the Irish action plan are collated as

9 Accountability goals,

22 Citizen Participation goals,

12 Technology and Innovation goals, and

19 Transparency goals.

These involve e-government focused activities which seem to many to typify open government –  publishing data sets, releasing spatial data under open licences and promoting the repackaging and republication of that data.  But the Irish also have an extensive list of measures to strengthen democracy and improve the quality of public services. These include

  • rebuilding public trust through measures that improve accountability in the financial sector
  • enhancing the Auditor General’s powers to tackle waste of public resources
  • strengthening openness of accountability institutions including the implementation plan for UNCAC membership, and promoting corruption prevention and education
  • reforming the Ethics Act and conflicts of interest controls for officials and politicians
  • publishing advice where the Attorney General advises that  there are legal impediments on implementing  recommendations of accountability bodies
  • legislating for corporate criminal liability so entities and their owners are subject to criminal proceedings
  • staffing accountability institutions with specialists who can build an integrated approach to accountability, requiring ethics declarations and scrutinising for illicit enrichment
  • doing away with the “loser pays” practice regarding costs of public interest litigation
  • strengthening the Lobbying Bill to regulate lobbyists and those who are lobbied
  • updating the  code of conduct for politicians and officials at national and local level;
  • publishing diaries of Ministers and their advisers and requiring disclosure of all organisations in contact with a Minister while developing legislation and policies
  • enhancing  participation by children and young people in the democratic process
  • reducing the voting age to age 16
  • introducing citizens’ initiatives
  • enshrining a commitment to sustainability in the Constitution
  • introducing public participation in budget allocation
  • conducting a referendum on a Bill of Rights
  • envisioning change to a more dynamic form of citizenship
  • adopting the G8 Open Data charter
  • disclosing when government spending exceeds specified levels
  • encouraging on-line participation in government
  • improving transparency and availability of data
  • imposing transparency of court decisions
  • publishing a list of all advisers to politicians and political parties
  • publishing consolidated material on public policy
  • increasing transparency relating to meetings of government

and so on. 

The composition of New Zealand’s open government commitments will be interesting to see. Much of what is planned by the Irish seems to be of considerable constitutional significance. For them, OGP will not be business as usual.