H.E David Usapashvilli, Speaker of the Parliament of Georgia;
Hon. Thea Tsouloukiani, Minister of Justice of Georgia;
H.E Ilir Meta, Speaker of the Parliament of Albania; and all other Members of Parliament present;
Hon. Guillermo Ceroni Fuentes, Deputy Bicameral Commission on Transparency, Congress of Chile
Ms. Laura Thornton, Senior Director, NDI Georgia
Mr Nieles Scott, Resident Representative, UNDP Georgia
Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to thank you for this opportunity to address you, representing the government of South Africa as Incoming Chair of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
A prevalent and constant theme this week as we approach the end of the Global Legislative Openness Week, one that I would like to focus on, is the role of the legislature in advancing open government.
The work undertaken by the Legislative Openness Working Group in the two years since it was launched is of notable success. The Group has brought together a network of reformers, committed to advancing legislative openness and to sharing ideas on how to reflect that in National Action Plans, without compromising the integrity and independence of parliaments.
The act of opening up the legislature is essential for any democracy, and is crucial to its proper functioning.
We gather today as a collective, seeking to advance this objective because we know that greater openness of the legislative process means that citizens have better access to information about laws under consideration and opportunities to engage in the policy-making processes.
The 2002 Declaration of Parliamentary Openness seeking to make our parliaments more 'Open' urges all parliaments to:
Since 1994, South Africa has been consistent with its participatory democracy actions including in parliamentary processes.
The importance of the citizen in the work of Parliament is enshrined in the Constitution which instructs Parliament to facilitate public participation in the law-making process, conducts its business in an open manner and to take reasonable measures for public access to its committee meetings and sittings of the House.
This is premised on Parliament's role to represent the people and ensure government by the people under the Constitution, an approach which is linked with the principles of the Open Government Partnership.
Our Constitution directs that we uphold the right of both the individual citizen and or a group of citizens in organised formations to participate in parliamentary processes. In the past 21 years of our democracy, we have witnessed as a country a growing culture of public participation especially amongst previous marginalised groups on specific community issues such as land reform, the management of natural resources, fisheries etc.
Our Parliamentary is made up of two houses, the National Assembly (NA) and the National Council of Provinces NCOP) made up of representatives from the Provincial Legislatures. In provinces we have Provincial Legislatures and at local level there are Local Councils.
In preparation for the Opening of Parliament and the State of Nation address, the President invites input from the public on matters that they want addressed by the President. Using various platforms and media our people directly interact with the Presidency throughout the process and some get invited as guests to the Opening of Parliament and the State of the Nation Address. One of our practices as part of involving the public in the Parliamentary process is through the annual State of the Nation Address.
As you may be aware, South Africa ranks number two (2) in the Global Budget Transparency Index. In terms of the budgetary process, citizens are afforded an opportunity to submit their written 'tips to the Minister of Finance' on what they think are the priorities that government should focus on in terms of spending.
Parliament has the overall responsibility for transparency of the entire budgeting process and such has to ensure that the budget is debated in Parliament with the involvement of organised interest groups and civil society, the media and the general public. The budget is formally debated with the organised interest groups through public hearings in which presentations are received from these organised groups representing different sectoral interests.
Our activist parliamentary committee system which allows unprecedented room for public participation is one of the hallmarks of South Africa's relatively young democracy. Unlike plenary sessions, committees provide a point of entry for the public.
In this sense, the shift towards more influential committees is in line with the shift away from a purely representative towards a more participatory model of democracy.
Through the committees members of the public can also participate in public hearings where they can make oral submissions on a legislation that is before Parliament.
The programme Taking Parliament to the People is also an innovation within the South African Parliament. Introduced in 2002 by the National Council of Provinces, the TPTTP programme gives our people an opportunity to make their voices heard. The programme provides communities with the opportunity of meeting face-to-face with their public representatives from both the legislative (Parliament, Provincial legislatures, and local councils) and executive arms of state.
An evaluation of parliamentary openness in South Africa was conducted by the People's Assembly (a South African nongovernmental organisation that provides information to the public about public representatives) using the openness indicators outlined in the parliamentary openness declaration of 2001. According to this evaluation report, South Africa achieved a moderate showing, satisfying most of the criteria necessary to call it an open parliament.
Whilst we are proud of the achievements we have made as a country, we have a full appreciation of the need to improve especially by leveraging on platforms such as the Legislative Openness Working Group.
A special focus needs to be on responding to legitimate criticism that our Parliament has not been able to achieve a sense of ownership of parliamentary processes by our people. Our people do not yet fully utilise the link to parliament through which they can engage Parliament directly on issues that affect them in their individual capacity through constituency offices, written petitions or as communities with community specific matters that need the attention of the National Assembly or National Council of Provinces.
We also need to move towards using social media platforms for two way communication rather than using them for information dissemination platforms as is currently the case.
As the Legislative Openness Working Group sets out plans for its third year of operation, I encourage you to look into ways of creating a synergy and seeking to ensure that the legislature becomes more involved in Open Government Partnership processes.
This two-day conference provides a platform for members of the group to develop a concrete strategy to getting the legislature more active and supportive to the processes of the OGP.
We know that parliament by its nature is a mechanism for accountability openness and transparency, as well as oversight on the work of government's and this therefore makes it more important to leverage on the work as we implement our National Action Plans.
As we approach the final stage of the Post 2015 Development Agenda discussion in the UN, it is critical that Parliaments play a role in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. I have observed very little parliamentary activism from my country at least and globally of around this issue.
My experience as well in the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) is that even though Parliaments are an integral part of this governance mechanism, very few parliaments and parliamentarians are actively involved.
This in my opinion is that has to change; our parliaments should not only focus on oversight over national programmes but also take an active role in international governance openness and transparency initiatives such as the OGP and in Africa's case the Africa Peer Review Mechanism.
The level of peer exchange evident in the Legislative Openness Working Group is a good practice that the OGP Steering Committee is keen to spread more widely.
Through the work that the National Democratic Institute and the Parliament of Chile has been pursuing in the working, we are able to demonstrate that this is one example of where OGP how OGP can be a useful platform for reform. We are particularly excited that this will feature prominently at the Global Summit in Mexico.
The Global Summit will also look into civic technology innovation and how it can transform citizen participation; how countries are harnessing data to support the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda; open government for integrity as a way to address corruption and accountability challenges; the importance of the open government in re-thinking privacy in the 21st century; and using open government to guarantee access to justice.
As the incoming Chair of the OGP Steering Committee, we are particularly looking forward to establishing a strategic partnership with the Legislative Openness Working Group at the Global Summit in Mexico and beyond.
We believe that within the OGP, Parliaments are more than anybody else attending the summit our most strategic partner. In your role as the legislative arm of state, you are the direct representative of the people through elections and therefore are the ONLY body that can claim to represent the voices and aspirations of the people.
As the 65 participating governments in the OGP, we are all enjoined by the constitutions of our countries to be accountable to citizens through our respective legislative arms of state.
Therefore, for the growth and continued sustainability of OGP, we each need to work with our parliaments together in the development of action plans that advance legislative openness; technologies that can improve transparency or opportunities for citizen participation; and international standards that can help support good practice, specifically in the area of legislative openness.
I look forward to your active participation in the Global Summit in Mexico and wish you successful deliberations during the course of this conference.
I thank you.