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.

 

Corruption, Whistleblowing and the OGP

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- By Gabriella Razzano

Commonwealth countries joined together in London to discuss corruption and bribery at the “Tackling Corruption Together” meeting in Marlborough House. Discussions have obviously been animated, especially after David Cameron’s problematic statements prior to the meetings on the “fantastically corrupt” Nigeria. However, Nigeria used the opportunity to progress their corruption fight in a dramatic and upstaging way: by committing to joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

The OGP is growing steam on the continent, with a successful OGP Africa Summit hosted in South Africa in May.  Yet the London Summit has focused on an aspect of the transparency environment that has not necessarily seen as much attention as we would hope, and that is the promotion and protection of whistleblowers as vital agents in the fight against corruption.

Within the OGP there is whistleblowing sub-committee, but the improvement of whistleblower protections or projects that facilitate whistleblowing have been thin on the ground in the commitments actually made by governments (Ireland, the United Kingdom and Liberia do show some examples).  Part of this links to the need to get the private sector invested in OGP-type transparency, but it also links to the broader malaise in protection of whistleblowers by governments and private bodies.

In fact, at a previous OGP Summit the reality of the weaknesses of the whistleblowing environment in South Africa was reiterated by a speaker talking about the United Kingdom:

"The law that we have in the UK is employment protection and it can only get you so far. It only steps in when damage has already been done to the whistleblower."

The legal and political environments we find ourselves in neither encourage whistleblowing, nor protect whistleblowers once they disclose. Yet, what active steps can be taken on the back of the London Summit that might go some way to creating a better environment, and does the OGP have a role to play?

The truth is the law can create positive obligations for enforcement. When ODAC reviewed the OECDA Anti-Bribery Convention, we saw that one of the strongest elements of the mechanism is its focus on creating an enabling environment for development. And this institution does impact on the practice of private companies, with BHP Billiton noting at the Summit that they focus their business relationships with OECDA countries. OGP countries too have the freedom to develop commitments that focus on environmental change – such as whistleblowing protection. And they need to be actively encouraged to do so.

ODAC are developing a Code of Good Practice on whistleblowing that hopes to go some way to facilitating whistleblowing on a national scale in South Africa. The private sector can then encourage whistleblowing for the benefit of their entire organisation through implementing internal systems and proactively acting on disclosures. And while we believe this will be a game changer to a degree, there remains a broader need to bring whistleblowing to the fore of the transparency conversation both within the OGP, and the other mechanisms that hope to promote good governance.

Alide Dasnois - the importance of speaking out

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Did the dismissal of Alide Dasnois as editor of the Cape Times have a chilling effect across the newsrooms of the country? Journalists have said that it did.

That is one reason ODAC supported the Alide Dasnois case against Independent Newspapers. But perhaps more importantly for ODAC, the dismissal showcased what can happen when an employee and employer disagree about what the rights are of an employee to speak out, or even cause reputational damage to a business, or state institution.

Raising concerns in a workplace is not easy, and in many instances the instinct of the employer is to silence the one who is talking about the concerns they have, or making a public disclosure. In this instance the dispute was between and editor and media owner, pulling issues around editorial independence and media freedom into the debate. We feel that Dasnois, and media workers walk away from this case heartened by the concession by Independent on her editorial discretion, and withdrawal of accusations of racism.

However, after informing a court that Independent Newspapers agreed to end the dispute with Dasnois, they immediately recanted with a view to painting a picture of themselves as being vigorously opposed to any settlement and then being “vindicated” in court - when no such thing had happened.

The Code for members of the Press Council provides that allowing commercial, political, personal or other non-professional considerations to influence or slant reporting constitutes serious misconduct on the part of a news group and Alide Dasnois will be lodging a complaint with the Press Ombudsman. Read the full legal statement here.

ODAC will continue to raise concerns and awareness about the need to protect workers in the workplace from harassment and victimization when they speak out.