In 2016, The OGP Local Program was launched in 2016 with the goal of spreading the values and principles of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) at the local government level. The program, in its essence, serves to unite the Partnership member municipalities, as well as local and regional self-governments, around the main goals of the OGP, which aims primarily to increase local government openness, accountability, and inclusiveness. It should be noted that the Tbilisi City Hall joined the program in 2016 along with 15 pilot cities (out of 45 participating candidates). Currently, the Tbilisi City Hall is in the process of developing its third Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan. Within the framework of the membership of the Tbilisi OGP Working Group, the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI) has actively participated in the process of initiating and implementing certain commitments by the City Hall. With the direct involvement and recommendation of IDFI, the commitment of electronic petitions and its further implementation was included in the action plan. Furthermore, with the involvement of IDFI and with the support of the USAID project "Democratic Governance Initiative in Georgia" (USAID GGI), the Tbilisi City Hall developed and approved a concept of an open data portal, which was also one of the commitments in the hall's Open Government Initiative (OGP) action plan.
The municipalities of Akhaltsikhe, Ozurgeti, and Khoni were selected as members of the local Open Government Partnership program in the fall of 2020 as part of its largest-scale expansion. New members were selected through a competition that was announced on May 26, 2020, and consisted of two stages. Out of the 112 applications received, the selection committee chose 56 members based on pre-defined criteria, comprising 64 local governments from 32 countries. The selected municipalities were distinguished by innovative initiatives in the field of open government and successful cooperation with civil society. The administration of the Government of Georgia took an active part in the process. The municipalities received significant support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Workshops and conferences are held intensively at the local government level in different countries in order to strengthen the principles of open government within the framework of the local program. Program members are given the unique opportunity to participate in a thematic as well as a problem-based training course while studying examples of the best international practices.
In July 2021, the action plan developed within the framework of OGP Local was presented by the municipalities of Ozurgeti, Akhaltsikhe, and Khoni, with the deadline for the action plan set for November of the same year. The Action Plan covers, in addition to the commitments made by local governments, challenges in their jurisdiction (territory) and their long-term and medium-term objectives.
Within the framework of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) local program, a working group has been set up in the Ozurgeti Municipality to coordinate the process of developing and implementing the action plan. The working group consists of representatives of the Ozurgeti Municipality, its subordinate legal entities, civil advisors, and the Gender Council, as well as civil society.
As stated in the Strategic Vision of the Action Plan, Ozurgeti aims to establish itself as an open government-oriented model of self-government, which is to be achieved through the introduction of digital governance, improved service delivery, citizen participation, and access to information. Given the local context, the Ozurgeti Municipality has made the following commitments:
1. Eliminate corruption risks and strengthen anti-corruption mechanisms at the local level;
2. Strengthen city involvement and ensure an inclusive decision-making process;
3. Improve service delivery and ensure equal access to public services for marginalized groups;
4. Improve public financial management at the local level.
The strategic document developed by the Ozurgeti Municipality includes medium-term goals that are in line with the long-term strategic vision of the municipality and respond to the challenges of open governance, among them:
- Providing inclusive, citizen-oriented, and transparent public services and increasing the accessibility of public services available to marginalized groups by studying their needs;
- Institutionalizing a corruption risk assessment system at the local level;
- Strengthening civic engagement and improving public financial management through the development of priority municipal documents and program budgets.
The strategic vision of the action plan developed by the Akhaltsikhe Municipality states that the municipality is fully prepared to raise the standards of transparency, accountability, and good faith in order to strengthen democratic governance. Improving the existing system begins with creating tools for quick and effective response to corruption risks and improving the anti-corruption standards in the institutions under the City Hall. In addition, the priority of the municipality is to increase public confidence and improve service delivery, which will be achieved through more openness and inclusive approaches.
Within the framework of the action plan, the Akhaltsikhe Municipality has undertaken the following two commitments:
1. Improving the corruption risk management system in the Akhaltsikhe Municipality;
2. Improving open data management practices at the Akhaltsikhe City Hall.
The first commitment is to improve the corruption risk management system by developing and approving a corruption risk assessment methodology. Identifying corruption risks through the practice of detecting and responding to risks will have a positive impact on raising citizens' trust.
The second obligation involves the development of a standard for the production, processing, and publication of public information in a unified, open format, which will benefit all stakeholders (civil society, the private sector).
Medium-term goals within OGP Local in the case of Akhaltsikhe Municipality were defined as follows:
- To the purposes of improving anti-corruption mechanisms and practices at the local level, as well as increasing the transparency and accountability of the municipality, the Akhaltsikhe Municipality plans to improve its open data management system.
The long-term strategic vision of the action plan developed by the Khoni Municipality within the framework of OGP Local envisages the expansion of open governance principles at the local level. The following are the commitments made by the municipality:
1. Improving the delivery and accessibility of municipal services, especially for marginalized groups;
2. Addressing the needs of people with disabilities in urban development policies, projects, and other decision-making through institutionalized practices of involvement of the Municipal Council of Persons with Disabilities.
In order to fulfill its obligations, the Khoni Municipality plans to introduce services in (remote) areas pre-defined by the municipality on a “single window system” basis in order to provide quality services tailored to vulnerable groups. In addition, the municipality ensures the involvement of the Municipal Council of Persons with Disabilities in the process of planning relevant infrastructure projects and urban development policies by adopting relevant municipal legislation as well as initiating the rehabilitation and adaptation of the Central Park.
In response to the challenges identified in the process of developing the strategy, the Khoni Municipality has set the following medium-term goals:
- Introducing inclusive, citizen-centered and transparent mechanisms for service delivery. Improving access to services for marginalized groups and rural residents;
- Taking into account the needs of people with disabilities when making urban development policies, projects, and other decisions;
- Raising and promoting awareness of OGP values, principles, and practices in the region through the institutionalization of the entire platform and/or its mechanisms.
All three municipalities have come a long way before joining the OGP Local program. Innovative initiatives in the field of open government and successful cooperation with civil society were the main preconditions for their selection.
The Ozurgeti Municipality is recognized by both local and international organizations as one of the outstanding municipalities in terms of transparency and e-government at the local level. The municipality was involved in the OGP Georgia national process back in 2016 and has made 2 commitments to strengthen open governance at the local level.
One of the commitments was to create an electronic mechanism "Plan the Municipal Budget" and introduce it on the relevant websites, as well as to develop a citizen's guide to the municipal budget. At the same time, one of the performance indicators was the development of the program budget in the format of the municipal budget. Together with the Municipality of Ozurgeti, the municipalities of Kutaisi, Batumi, and Akhaltsikhe undertook the implementation of the latter, with the USAID project "Democratic Governance Initiative (GGI) in Georgia" making a significant contribution in the process. According to the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) 2016-2018 final report, at the time of the mid-term evaluation, the Ozurgeti Municipality Council, unlike the other three municipalities, did not have a program budget due to the fact that the Ozurgeti Municipality did not benefit from the GGI. Independent compilation of the budget in the program budget format was difficult for the Ozurgeti Municipality due to a lack of competence and coordinated approach. However, according to the IRM, at the time of the final assessment, the program budgets of all four municipalities were published on their websites. As for the electronic mechanism "Plan the Municipality Budget" and the Citizen's Guide to the Local Budget – the Ozurgeti Municipality was not able to implement/develop the abovementioned products within the framework of the Action Plan for 2016-2018.
The second commitment in Georgia's 2016-2017 OGP Action Plan would have the Ozurgeti Municipality broadcasting live City Assembly hearings and posting full video recordings on the Ozurgeti Municipality website. According to the final report of the IRM, the Ozurgeti Municipality has introduced a live broadcast service of Sakrebulo sessions - "Manage from Home", which allows citizens to follow the decision-making process at the local level. In addition, the Ozurgeti Municipality, in accordance with the commitment, created a service of short text messages (via SMS) for meetings and various news and introduced an electronic survey service on the website of the municipality. However, in 28 administrative units of the Ozurgeti Municipality, the activities for establishing public involvement centers and equipping them with modern digital technologies were only partially implemented. At the time of the final assessment, only 5 centers were operating at full capacity in the municipality. Although buildings were already in place for the remaining 23 centers, due to a lack of financial resources in 2016-2018, the municipality was unable to supply them with digital equipment.
Within the framework of OGP Local, the innovative initiatives in the field of open government and successful cooperation with civil society were the basis for the selection of Ozurgeti. Examples of this innovation are the new online budgeting platform introduced in the municipality - "Be a Co-ruler", a form of participatory budgeting, which entails the involvement of citizens in the decision-making process by presenting initiatives and identifying priority projects. In addition, a visual budget has been introduced on the official website of the municipality, providing access to financial information through visualization.
In addition, within the framework of the commitments for the 2018-2019 OGP National Action Plan, on March 20, 2020, the Ozurgeti Municipality approved a strategy and action plan to increase transparency and good faith. Under the same action plan, the Municipality of Ozurgeti also undertook a commitment to introduce innovative methods of effective governance and citizen involvement, with the aim of establishing a system for evaluating the services provided to the population by the local self-government and measuring the degree of public satisfaction. According to the self-assessment report of the Open Government Secretariat of Georgia, within the framework of this commitment, a working group consisting of civil activists, NGOs, media representatives, experts, and public figures developed SMART indicators to monitor the delivery of municipal services in Ozurgeti. In order to promote the importance of self-government during the reporting period and to encourage the participation of youth in the decision-making process, the project "Self-Government for Education" was implemented, during which information-educational meetings were held, with volunteers actively involved in the process. In August 2019, a group of observers conducted a survey and interviewed 300 respondents in the area of Ozurgeti city and village Natanebi based on pre-compiled criteria. A report was prepared as a result of this activity, which reflected the recommendations regarding the monitoring indicators. Based on the analysis of the information received from the population survey, the existing indicators were reviewed and the management of a number of services was changed.
Similar to Ozurgeti, the Akhaltsikhe Municipality began implementing the principles of open governance in 2016 through its involvement in the OGP Georgia National Process. According to the final report of the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM), the commitment made by the Akhaltsikhe Municipality to establish an electronic mechanism, "Plan the Municipality Budget," has been fulfilled. The USAID Democratic Governance Initiative (GGI) project in Georgia made a significant contribution to this process. Under the GGI, the Institute for the Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI), in collaboration with the E-Governance Academy (eGA), created a new website that integrates a participatory budgeting mechanism. The Akhaltsikhe Municipality has also developed a Citizen's Guide to the Local Budget as outlined in the Action Plan, in compliance with the deadlines. Although the draft document was not published on the website, the municipality printed brochures regarding the information guide and also made a presentation .
According to the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) report, the commitment made by the Akhaltsikhe Municipality under the 2018-2019 Action Plan to strengthen open data collection, processing, and publishing capacity in the municipality has been fully fulfilled. The Akhaltsikhe Municipality carried out the activities outlined in the Action Plan in cooperation with USAID/GGI and the Institute for Development of Freedom of Information (IDFI). Situational analysis related to open data collection, processing, and publication was conducted during the reporting period. At the same time, recommendations were developed in order to improve the current situation. Based on these documents, an open data strategy and action plan were prepared.
As for the second commitment of the same action plan to increase the participation of and fully involve people with disabilities in political and public life, which was again supported by USAID GGI, the Akhaltsikhe Municipality carried out an infrastructural analysis of administrative buildings and prepared a draft technical proposal for the tender proposals. According to the IRM report, the technical assignment was prepared by an independent expert with the support of USAID GGI, although its implementation did not begin during the reporting period of the OGP Action Plan.
The Khoni Municipality has implemented several projects to strengthen open governance. Cooperation with civil society has made a significant contribution to the process, as in the above-mentioned municipalities. For example, in the framework of such cooperation, the City Hall Citizens' Reception started to operate on a single-window basis, and in order to develop the remote delivery of public services, a hotline was introduced and the official website of the municipality was updated. In addition, in order to fulfill the commitments made under the Open Governance Action Plan of Georgia for 2018-2019, the Municipality of Khoni has developed a strategy to increase transparency and good faith, with a corresponding action plan.
The level of activity of the municipalities and their readiness to carry out certain reforms within the framework of the Open Government Partnership is much welcome. It is important that the implemented changes, strategies adopted, or any reforms have proper political support and effective coordination from the municipal leadership. At the same time, it is necessary for the municipality to allocate financial or human resources for certain reforms or initiatives, as the sustainability of their results does not depend only on the support of external actors. At the same time, it is necessary to develop the capacity of public servants on the issues of newly implemented reforms so that the city halls can take on new responsibilities beyond the involvement of stakeholders, implement them in a timely manner, and put them into practice effectively.
IDFI hopes to increase the number of municipalities that are involved in the Open Government Partnership Initiative and that are implementing reforms aimed at increasing transparency and citizen involvement.
This material has been financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida. Responsibility for the content rests entirely with the creator. Sida does not necessarily share the expressed views and interpretations.
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