Coronavirus pandemic and socio-economic as well as political crisis associated with it has become one of the defining and biggest challenges of our time. In order to prevent the spread of the virus, most states continue to live in a lockdown. Although strict quarantine regulations and restraints to normal economic, civil or political activities in frames of the state of emergency reduce infection rates, “this virus will be with us for a long time” World Health Organization (WHO) says.
Today, when entire international as well as local resource has been directed to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, data openness and public access to relevant information has obtained even more of an essential importance for protecting life and health of individuals. While most governments have introduced emergency measures, integration of open governance principles and approaches within policy-making process has faced even more challenges. However, state practice proves that ensuring maximum openness is the key to achieving effective results in terms of combating disinformation and raising social trust.
Effective country response against the large-scale spread of COVID-19 requires mobilization of significantly larger state resources. Public authorities have expanded their powers, on the one hand to have a wide range of opportunities to strengthen healthcare system and ensure rapid response mechanisms in times of crisis, and on the other hand, to take measures and provide essential socio-economic assistance to the population affected by the pandemic.
Against the background of the crisis, in the context of the increased powers of government institutions, it is important to enhance democratic principles and ensure the accountability of the elected officials. The openness and transparency of the measures taken by the government, the regulations introduced and the actions taken, in this case, serve not only to the purposes of protecting democracy, but also to safeguarding the life and health of populations. Hence, the importance of openness and the public data dissemination has particularly raised today.
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is launching a response campaign to the crisis created by the Coronavirus pandemic. Under the name of Open Response-Open Recovery, the campaign is aimed at building trust between government and citizens and at developing a joint, successful strategy to overcome the post-pandemic challenges effectively. An open letter has been issued by the OGP Steering Committee concerning the launch the campaign. The letter is addressed to member states, it describes the practice of adhering to the principles of openness within the frames of pandemic, and urges them to reinforce a high standard of open governance and transparency while introducing post-crisis measures.
The objective of the campaign is to encourage OGP-member states to integrate Open Government Approaches within the response actions against COVID-19-'s. At the same time, the OGP's Steering Committee aims to facilitate the development of a long-term public reform plan within the framework of the open governance.
Open Response, Open Recovery Campaign highlights the most important questions, illustrating clear examples of high social trust and open governance while fighting against the pandemic, as follows:
- Transparent and clear disclosure of regulations and directives by the states;
- Raising public awareness concerning regulations, helping encourage social responsibility and prevent the spread of the virus;
- Granting the government the authority to declare a state of emergency, mobilize mass medical services, and use other necessary and proportionate restrictions by the citizens;
- The readiness of the government to act jointly, to take into account the principles of open governance, to enable supervision and monitoring from the civil society representatives and to abolish the state of emergency and all its accompanying powers as soon as the pandemic ends.
The campaign outlies concrete and practical ways to demonstrate the importance of the principles of openness as well as citizen engagement and civic oversight through developing a policy of post-pandemic response. The Open Government Partnership Steering Committee identifies three important stages while overcoming the crisis followed to the Coronavirus: 1. Rapid response to the pandemic, 2. Socio-economic Recovery and 3. Long-term reform; committee also emphasizes that openness and citizen engagement support the effectiveness of crisis management methods.
Different practices are observed in different countries of the world in terms of openness of measures taken to prevent coronavirus. A research conducted by the Open Government Partnership clearly shows that the actions taken by the authorities in accordance with the principles of openness and transparency have led to more positive results in the fight against and prevention of pandemics.
Actions directed to preventing the spread of COVID-19: on the early stages of the spread of the virus, lack of political will to enable public access to the relevant information in China and Iran, resulted in the outbreak that actually endangered the lives and health of the population. South Korea and Taiwan on the contrary, have chosen a different approach by providing full access to proactive, transparent and credible information about the measures aimed at stopping the virus.
The good governance practice of the OGP member states and accountability of public authorities is also emphasized by the steps taken to provide the population with up-to-date information on a permanent basis. Evident example of accountability and full access to real-time data are the informational dashboards, available in various states, reflecting accurate data on infections, deaths, locations, press briefings and conferences as well as recommendations on daily basis.
The Georgian government has launched a special website, stopcov.ge, which provides constant updates on the measures taken by the state, restrictions imposed within the state of emergency, the renewable data of infection and death rates, the recommendations of the World Health Organization and the Ministry of IDPs from the occupied territories, labour, health and social affairs of Georgia.
Procurement of emergency medical supplies: While it is difficult for states to provide open procedures through the state of emergency for procurement of deficient emergency medical supplies around the world, ensuring high standard of transparency raises public trust towards public authorities. For example, anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine require mandatory proactive disclosure of the procurement contracts signed in frames of the state of emergency by the government in an open data format. Thus, representatives of the civil society are enabled to track the state procurements and monitor the price differences of COVID-19tests relevant medical supplies.
In accordance with the Decree No 164 of 28 January 2020 of the Government of Georgia ‘On the Approval of Measures to Prevent the Possible Spread of the Novel Coronavirus in Georgia and the Emergency Response Plan for the Cases of Novel Coronavirus Disease’, the procurement of services/goods necessary to ensure the measures specified in this Decree shall be performed in the case of urgent necessity and/or through simplified procurement.
IDFI carried out an assessment of the simplified procurements of the Ministry of IDPs from the occupied territories, labour, health and social affairs of Georgia for the purpose of preventing the possible spread of the Novel Coronavirus in Georgia. According to the study, the Ministry has implemented 33 simplified procurements to fight against coronavirus since March 18, with a total value of more than 10 million 520 GEL.
Providing relevant assistance to the vulnerable groups: The main principle of open government is transparency in the management of budget funds and accountability of government bodies to the public. Due to the crisis created by the pandemic, it is evident, that needs of the vulnerable social groups increase, that call from the states provide fast response assistance by means of social assistance, stimulation of subsidiary programs, and so on. Within the state of emergency, as a rule, targeted funding for emergency measures might be provided in accordance with the emergency response budget approved by the parliament.
Compliant with Georgian law, Parliament of Georgia may approve an Emergency Response Budget submitted by the Government of Georgia if and when an emergency or hostilities arise in the throughout or within the country to finance the measures aimed at the mitigation of such circumstances. However, the package of relevant legislative amendments has not yet been presented to the parliament.
Georgian government had not announced anti-crisis plan aimed to counter the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic until April 24, 2020. In the circumstances of absence of an emergency response budget, it is difficult to state what kind of resources had been distributed for the provision of products and financial assistance to the vulnerable groups and those at high risk of becoming infected with the virus.
It should be noted, that the OGP member states have undertaken obligation to ensure the transparency of the procedures for the management of budgetary funds allocated for social assistance through the post-pandemic crisis.
Stimulus Packages: The integration of open governance principles through the implementation of state policy is able to contribute to raising public trust towards targeted management of public funds. The openness of state contracts allows citizens to supervise public procurements and expose violations in the event of such cases. In Ukraine, for example, the introduction of such practice ensured to save $1 billion over 2 years and reduced corruption by 82% in the entrepreneurial sector.
Public access to the information about the owners of companies also raises the level of targeted disposal of state funds and contributed to the openness of public fund management. Similar practice has been introduced in the United Kingdom and Slovakia. The transparency of data on the lobbying of private companies (Ireland, Chile) also reduces the risks of disposing of state finances by making purchases in favor of politically motivated and state-owned entrepreneurial entities.
Management of International Financial Assistance:to the extent that states receive increased international financial aid to overcome the crisis created by the pandemic, it is important for donors and civil society representatives to be provided with the mechanisms of monitoring the targeted disposal of such funds. For example, Italy initiated establishment of an online platform illustrating detailed description of projects and allocation of the 100 billion euros received from the EU. Such online mechanisms, on the one hand, promote a mass information campaign and, on the other hand, allow each citizen to monitor the implementation of any project or initiative executed under international assistance.
It is important towards the openness practice, that several EU member states, in particular Denmark, Poland and France, declared that the companies registered in offshore tax havens will be refused to seek financial aid from state coronavirus bailout packages.
It should be noted that offshore companies represent a big challenge for the European Union. According to the study by the Tax Justice Network, similar multinational corporations collectively cost governments around $500 billion per year in lost corporate tax revenue as tax havens allow them to avoid paying their fair share of tax.
In compliance with the EU regulations, the companies registered and published under the EU list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes, so-called “black list” and do not meet EU standards in terms of tax legislation, will not receive compensation allocated for overcoming the post-pandemic crisis.
For instance, Denmark provides $58.3 billion for this kind of assistance, which includes loans and bank guarantees for private companies. Furthermore, upon the decision of the Danish government, the period of compensation and assistance provided to the private sector as a result of the pandemic crisis will be extended until July 8 2020; however, there is a strict requirement for the legal entities to comply with the EU-recognized jurisdiction and pay taxes in accordance with the EU law and other international obligations.
Poland has undertaken similar measures in early April after the Polish prime minister declared that large companies and corporations that expect to receive direct financial assistance from the $6 billion fund were obliged to pay taxes in accordance with national law.
In France, 110 billion euros will be allocated directly to the business sector as the bailout through the crisis caused by the coronavirus, but companies registered in the offshore zone and / or corporations whose subsidiaries are subject to the similar jurisdiction will not receive financial benefits and assistance from the state.
It should be underlined that the recent practice of the EU states undertaking he above-mentioned measures towards offshore companies represents the example of good practice and contributes to the purposes of combating mismanagement of public funds, corruption and conflict of interest, money laundering and tax evasion.
The openness of the long-term reform for overcoming post-pandemic crisis
The most important part of the campaign launched by OGP is elaboration and implementation of long-term reforms by member states to overcome the pandemic-crisis crisis.
As the state of emergency expires, it is clear, that governments are obliged to roll back the restrictions imposed under the pandemic. Following OGP Open response-Open Recovery campaign, authorities should ensure full restoration of civil/political rights and the abolition of increased control mechanisms.
Implementation of long-term reform on the basis of open governance involves increased civic engagement and participation in the formation and implementation of public policy. In order to encourage member states to integrate open approaches within the policy-making processes, the following events are planned to be carried out within the framework of the Open Government Partnership Campaign: A Digital Forum is planned on May 4 and an updated Open Governance guideline covering open response and recovery after Coronavirus crisis will be introduced, particular attention will be paid to the countries that have expressed interest towards working on the topic by involvement of the governments and the civil society.
The pandemic and following processes once again proved that the only way to effectively combat the challenges facing the state is to ensure the openness of state institutions, implement reforms, and inform as well as engage citizens in the decision-making process.
Based on the post-crisis response actions from the OGP member states, it is highly recommended for Georgian state powers to follow the best practices. Introduction and sharing of best experiences would encourage and integrate Georgian policy-making process with the principles of the OGP’s Open Response-Open Recovery campaign and additionally, would enhance trust between the society and the public officials. In particular, following the recommendations of IDFI and in compliance with the best principles of OGP, the state authorities should:
- Publish detailed information concerning the social assistance / allowance / product provision within the framework of the pandemic; disclose data about the sources of the provided financial assistance;
- Ensure timely disclosure of the information on the services / simplified procurement contracts concluded by the state under the state of emergency in order to guarantee supervisory activities of the civil society representatives;
- Establish an inter-agency platform for development of a long-term socio-economic reform aiming to overcome the post-pandemic crisis; the platform should ensure involvement of the representatives of international organizations, private sector stakeholders and the civil society. Establishment of such platform would encourage dialogue between state authorities and civil society as well as create a basics for elaborating effective solutions to the problems caused by the pandemic;
- Bring the standard for proactive disclosure of information in line with the standing challenges of the pandemic and the needs of combating the crisis;
- Provide publication of the proactive data listthrough the websites of the public authorities
OGP's mission is particularly relevant during the standing pandemic. The challenges and objectives of the Partnership require undertaking effective response measures from the member state authorities which should be reflected in new action plans. The coronavirus and following processes identified not only the problems of the healthcare system, but also the specific issues faced by almost all countries in the world. It is important, that OGP has been working to combat recently actuated challenges since the day of establishment. Extending the period of submission of action plans is an opportunity that all member states should take advantage and use the provided time to find effective ways and fight challenges as well as come up with and implement future-oriented long-term commitments.
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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