Interrogating power, information and distortion

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By Gabriella Razzano

The role of non-governmental organisations in advancing access to information is a vital one. Often, such organisations act as powerful advocates in the pursuit of information - particularly from the state - on behalf of citizens. However, this role is not necessarily as cut and dry as we would like it to be.

The Good Governance Learning Network has just released a fantastic publication entitled: "(Re)claiming Local Democratic Space: Perspective from civil society on local governance in South Africa".

And within this publication ODAC took the opportunity (from page 26 to 33) to critically examine the potentially profound role non-governmental organisations can play in accessing information, but also how they need to remain cognisant of the power they yield in such situations to prevent distortion. You can read more here.

 

Crime stats decision hailed

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Quarterly release of crime stats hailed

09 June 2016

The Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) welcomes the cabinet decision that crime statistics will now be released quarterly. South Africans are currently denied real-time access to information regarding the extent of crime in their neighbourhoods.

ODAC has always held the position that is not sufficient to have crime statistics released only annually and that information related to incidences of crime must be made available in real-time and available at local levels such as local police stations. Regular access to information on incidences of crime locally is critical in enhancing the people’s ability to take proactive steps to protect themselves from,  and prevent further occurrence of, those crimes. It will unlock the ability of the citizens to better understand the types and extent of crime in their local areas and therefore be able to support law enforcement agencies and community groups in fighting crime more effectively.  The challenge of creating and sustaining safer communities is not government’s challenge alone, but a challenge that should be tackled by government agencies working in partnership with communities they are meant to serve. The basis for such a partnership building trust and is a free flow of information is its cornerstone. 

While the cabinet’s decision on quarterly release of crime statistics does not provide the basis for availability of crime statistics in real-time and hyper-locally, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction.

Released by: Open Democracy Advice Centre

Contact: Mukelani Dimba

Cellphone: 082 699 6586

 

ODAC disappointed with the closure of the World Bank’s Access to Information Unit

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Cape Town, 7 June 2016

The Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) has expressed its disappointment with manner in which the World Bank handled the closing down of key departments that have been at the forefront of advancements on transparency and accountability in public institutions. According to ODAC’s executive director, Mukelani Dimba, “ODAC had expected the World Bank to walk the talk on stakeholder engagement and consultation before such a far-reaching decision was made”. Dimba also pointed out that it will be difficult for the World Bank to persuasively claim to be a partner in the fight against corruption while at the same time weakening its own capacity to support anti-corruption campaign work globally by felling these two important departments.

The Governance & Inclusive Institutions department and the Public Integrity & Openness department were very vocal and very present World Bank champions of the global campaign for transparency and accountability. They were a critical partner to the civil society campaign against secrecy in the conduct of public affairs and management of public resources. Failure to be open about the World Bank's plans to shut down these critical departments and lack of engagement with stakeholders that were likely to be affected by such changes is unfortunate given the World Bank's publicly stated support for civic participation and consultation. 

ODAC has called on the World Bank to review its decision and engage the transparency and accountability sector on its future direction for supporting the global campaign for access to information.

ODAC is a signatory to a letter written by the African Platform on Access to Information (APAI) to the World Bank President. The letter (you can read it here) calls on the World Bank to review its decision regarding the two departments.

For more information: Mukelani Dimba, ODAC – Transparency in Action at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Malawi and the OGP

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- By Gabriella Razzano

Since its inception in 2011, the Open Government Partnership has been held up as a progressive and visionary initiative for forwarding transparency. Participation has grown dramatically: the eight founding countries in 2011, are now with sixty-nine participating countries in 2016. However, with the focus on growth and building the institution as it has been, surprisingly little direct research has been done in asking a very simple question: How feasible is participation in the OGP for different country contexts?

ODAC, with the support of the Department for International Development, sought to explore this question in the context of Malawi: a country that has just completed and submitted its first National Action Plan. And in taking a step back to explore a more fundamental question about the OGP and Malawi, we were able to gain some interesting insights.

The first was that the 'strength' of a country's National Action Plan mustn't be understood in terms of what makes nice and neat indicators, but instead in terms of what that country's needs are if transparency is to be made real. Review mechanisms such as the African Periodic Review and others have highlighted the need for Malawi to build the institutions it already has in place; yet "institution building" doesn't necessarily look like the more 'exciting' open data focused projects other countries have chosen to highlight. This in fact, though, is where change needs to happen.

The second key point relates: if a country wants to change, the question should become: how can the OGP help create real change? It becomes clear that, for a country like Malawi, peer learning and exchange - an ambition central to OGP's ethos, but sadly sometimes not focused on - will be the main way that the OGP can assist Malawi in its transparency journey.

There were also lessons specific to the Malawi OGP context, such as how the government might improve the involvement of Parliament given some its legislative-type commitments; or how civil society should encouraged to use the OGP as a platform for its already fine work in the country. However, the most specific lesson was one that is perhaps obvious, yet frequently over looked - the OGP will only be useful for change when we consider the country context first, before engaging on any other activities that look outside before inside.

Click on image to download.

Access to information victory for Blikkiesdorp

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The value of reliable, timeous and pertinent information for the delivery of social and economic rights was affirmed last night in a meeting between the Mayor of Cape Town, and the Blikkiesdorp Joint Committee. The Mayor has been challenged by the Joint Committee over the last year as to the plans for the development of alternative housing for Blikkiesdorp residents. This struggle was captured in a documentary produced by ODAC.

 

In their demands for information, the community have been able to break the deadlock they have experienced between the City and the Airports Company. The Mayor has agreed that Blikkiesdorp must be dealt with separately from the airport development, and had delinked the two issues. The Mayor has demanded that her officials present her with a plan which will set out timeframes for the rehousing of Blikkiesdorp in two weeks time. The meeting was also attended by Benedicta van Minnen, the Mayoral Committee member for Human Settlements. The Mayor has also decided to do an audit of the residents of Blikkiesdorp.

 

The Mayor asked the Mayoral Committee member for the Safety and Security Directorate in the City, who also attended the meeting to assist the community to develop strategies to reduce crime in the area.

 

ODAC has worked with the Joint Committee for a year to support them in turning information into action. Again, the role of transparency in delivery of services is underlined. ODAC congratulates the Joint Committee on their dedication and service to their community.