The nearness of citizens and the government triggers engagement but also structures citizens’ perception of the government. Last week, civil society organizations (CSOs) actors under the Open Government Partnership (OGP) met to report on the progress of the implementation of OGP commitments under the National Action Plan (NAP IV). Through the partnership, CSOs have committed to work with the government and push where necessary in implementing the said commitments. Simply put, OGP is a global call to action to curb distrust in government by promoting direct collaboration between citizens and governments. This proactive collaboration will in turn promote a participatory culture in local communities. Bottom line OGP demands for transparency and accountability in government through sharing of information in friendly and usable forms.
Governments and local governments that have heeded to this call have restored the dimly trust between the government and the people. People distrust the government when they are not involved. They fail to own decisions by the government despite being the primary recipient of the consequences emanating from those decisions, either positive or negative. This wedge between the people and government has negative consequences in governance, from collection of revenue to service delivery.
Where people are involved, they own the government and transformational changes in the way accountability is exercised and normalized in governance. A good example of what OGP can do is Makueni county. The county has become a poster child of transparency and accountability since the leadership therein decided to domesticate OGP requirements. The county proactively shares public information with citizens and has further infused innovative ways which citizens can participate in decision making. In Makueni, public participation mechanisms are decentralized further to the remotest of villages in the county. This level of openness has brought about benefits to the county such as implementing relevant and priority projects to the people, and more importantly, it has also saved money by curbing avenues of corruption.
Implementation of OGP commitments also demands formulation and enactment of laws that encourage and guard a constitutional right to seek, secure and use information. Laws that obligate access to institutional spaces and processes to participate and effect planning, budgeting and auditing of public services have shown significant change on lives and livelihoods. Nationally, Kenya is lagging behind since laws such as the Public Participation Bill, 2018 and the regulations to operationalize the Access to information Act 2016 have not been passed. This delay may be an indictment of political good will among the political class. Yet these laws will be crucial if OGP was to be fully domesticated and operationalized in Kenya’s national government and replicated in counties.
Sharing of information may not be effective and efficient without technology. It is a truism that technology improves efficiency in sharing and outreach of information. It is of essence that the government of Kenya becomes a hundred percent e-government. Staying manual may lock out people from accessing information and thereby participating in governance. To date, so many counties are yet to digitize their records. Considering that a huge chunk of Kenya’s population are youth, digitizing records and processes will go a long way in bringing the government close to the people. The government also has a task of providing infrastructure to create an enabling environment for digital growth. Without proper internet connection a good number of people will be locked from accessing government websites. In today's world, ICTs are shaping democratic discourses. Need we say that policy changes, protests and even revolutions have been triggered via social media?
Finally, in this culture change in the way citizens and government relate, the government staff need not to be left behind. They must see citizens as their priority client in their daily business. Government staff are an integral part of this change. Without their change of attitude then action will delay.