OGP-Armenia National Action Plan 2016-2018
The Republic of Armenia joined the movement of the Open Government Partnership (hereinafter referred to as “the OGP”) as heralded by the letter of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia addressed to the co-chairs of the OGP Steering Committee. In his letter dated 17 October 2011, the Minister noted that Armenia welcomes the idea of the Open Government Partnership, which must lead to the creation of a unified platform for countries, establishing governments that best address people's needs. In 2016, five years after the letter was addressed, we can firmly state that the Open Government Partnership is a success and that it has transformed from an idea to being one of the most effective instruments promoting democracy for over one-third of states in the world. Our State also values and appreciates this success, and evidence of this is the development of the Third National Action Plan.
The OGP ideology and instrumentation are definitely in line with the goals of a country like Armenia, which is small but is firmly and consistently implementing reforms and which has included in its agenda the objective to raise the level of effectiveness of the public administration system. Lacking the possibility to gear vast resources towards the solution to this problem, we have adopted another, yet more fundamental policy that is aimed at applying an open government doctrine for improvement of the administration system. The doctrine implies that access to information, increase in accountability and promotion of participatory behavior will lead to the shaping of societies that will be more mature, intelligent, developed and responsible. As a result, this will raise the level of effectiveness of the administration system and increase the level of intolerance towards defective phenomena such as corruption, injustice and ineffective use of public resources. These objectives derive from the 2015 constitutional amendments of the Republic of Armenia, the plan of the current Government, as well as from universal and sector-specific strategy papers, for the implementation of which target measures and projects are being undertaken.
Open government itself does not mean raising the level of effectiveness of governance, but it does provide the opportunity to introduce new instrumentation for oversight, raise accountability and make the activities of government agencies transparent. This will enhance the power of the people which, in its turn, will lead to effective governance. Based on the above, Armenia continues bringing the OGP principles to life with greater commitment, and this brings honor to each democratic state in the 21st century. What is also important is that a new culture of citizen-state partnership is being reinforced, ensuring citizens’ active participation in decision-making and policy-making processes.
STEPS UNDERTAKEN BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA TOWARDS OPEN GOVERNMENT
Between 2011 and 2016, the Republic of Armenia has implemented tangible reforms through its two Open Government Partnership (OGP) National Action Plans in major sectors such as the budget system (i.e. program budgeting), the mining industry (i.e. the process of accession to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)), healthcare, education, local self-governance, freedom of information, public procurement reforms, law-making activities, access to information, etc. Through more than 20 commitments, targeted actions have been undertaken to meet the main OGP challenges, improving the provision of public services, the effective management of public resources, the promotion of public confidence, as well as the creation of safe communities.
Working even outside of the scope of the OGP Action Plan in a style that is in line with the OGP principles has become an approach that Armenia has already adopted. A brilliant example of this is the continuity of commitments that were assumed through previous Action Plans. The commitments assumed through previous Action Plans are continuously carried out, regardless of whether those commitments will be included in the next OGP Action Plans or not. Thus, for instance, the Mail-Armenia system has already been introduced and operates through the e-Citizen portal, and personal e-mail addresses are provided to citizens of the Republic of Armenia. Works are underway for sending official notifications through that system as well. The commitment of Ensuring transparency of the activities of local self-government bodies in communities will be implemented for Armenian communities with a population of less than 20 000. Increasing the level of effectiveness of activities of community administrations, exercising of the powers vested in local self-government bodies (hereinafter referred to as “the LSG bodies”) (heads of communities and members of the Council of Elders) will also continue through the opening of new offices for provision of services to citizens, as well as through training courses for the heads of communities and members of councils of elders. Armenia will complete the ongoing process of accession to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.
Moreover, commitments assumed through the Second Action Plan and not fulfilled within the prescribed time limit due to objective circumstances, will also continue and be fulfilled, regardless of whether they will be included in the Third Action Plan or not.
In addition to the above-mentioned, it should be stated that the Government has expressed willingness and is determined to work jointly and assist in the implementation of the proposals received during the development of the Action Plans and not included in the Action Plans due to their incompliance with the OGP format which, however, may help raise the level of effectiveness of governance.
The fact that the efforts of our country are being noticed and appreciated both by the civil society of Armenia and the international community is inspiring. In particular, in September 2015, the Staff of the Government of the Republic of Armenia was granted the Golden Key Award at the 13th annual Golden Key and Rusty Lock Award ceremony initiated by the Freedom of Information Center non-governmental organization for best implementation of the commitments of the National Action Plan of Armenia within the scope of the Open Government Partnership international initiative. The results of the annual international award ceremony for the initiative were summed up within the scope of the global forum of the OGP initiative held in Mexico City, United Mexican States in October 2015. During the global forum, Armenia, which had submitted an application for participation for the first time, was granted a high award, winning first place and receiving the so-called Regional Champion title in the region (Asia-Pacific). Armenia had introduced the Creation and introduction of community governance information systems within community administrations of the Republic of Armenia initiative during the award ceremony. The initiative was referred to as “Smart Municipality” during the competition. The project is aimed at raising the level of effectiveness of the activities of LSG bodies in Armenia and improving the provision of public services that they provide to the people of the community through open governance.
ACTION PLAN DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
The unprecedented experience that was gained after developing and implementing the two previous Action Plans, the international network of the OGP and the proposals for the Independent Reporting Mechanism (hereinafter referred to as “the IRM”) became the cornerstones based on which the Government of the Republic of Armenia started the process of developing the Third Action Plan, in association with the civil society, international partnering organizations and, this time, with individual citizens and representatives of the private sector as well. Currently, guided by the conviction that a plan developed through multilateral cooperation and comprehensive discussions will lead to the achievement of qualitatively greater and more tangible outcomes, the OGP Third Action Plan (hereinafter referred to as “the Plan”) was developed according to this very logic. This means that importance was primarily attached to the issue of conducting the stage of Plan development in line with the OGP fundamental principles and that there should be a chain of influence on the whole process of implementation in the course of the next two years.
Call for Ideas and Open Competition
The stage of Plan development was launched back in January 2016 when the sequence and the timeline of the steps for developing the Plan were defined in advance. It was also submitted and discussed during the February 15 wide-format session of the working group coordinating the works of the initiative in Armenia (hereinafter referred to as “the working group”). During the session, the Government of the Republic of Armenia announced the start of the Plan development process. As a result, the day after the session, the agreed timeline was sent to the parties engaged in this process and posted on www.ogp.am. Then, the defined format for submitting commitments and the Armenian version of the guideline on the main criteria to be followed while developing the Action Plan commitments were published. The guideline contained information on four OGP fundamental principles and SMART standards. It was also announced that, in addition to complying with the OGP principles while developing the Open Government Partnership — Armenia Third Action Plan, preference would be given to the proposals which, besides complying with the specified Open Government Partnership principles, would also be targeted at the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals approved by the United Nations Organization and would be in conformity with the Anti-Corruption Strategy of the Republic of Armenia. The guideline had initially stated that proposals implying a requirement for drafting and adopting a draft law, as well as making amendments to existing laws would not be included in the Action Plan (the fulfillment of this requirement is beyond the scope of powers of the Government of the Republic of Armenia). Moreover, for the purpose of preparing the Plan, calls for proposals were sent to the civil society representatives who are members of the working group via e-mails, and relevant assignments were given to the government agencies. The NGOs actively engaged in the process have actively circulated the draft and the announcement on submitting proposals among other partnering NGOs and citizens.
The Government of the Republic of Armenia, with the support of Kolba Innovations Lab of the UN Development Programme, developed a new crowdsourcing online tool for the purpose of providing the opportunity of making proposals with regard to the OGP Plan to potentially wider circles such as citizens, businesspeople, companies, regardless of their legal and organizational form. As a result, an open call for ideas was announced, and 18 proposals were submitted through this tool.
In April 2016, for the first time in the history of the OGP process in Armenia, the Government also organized regional meetings for the purpose of engaging regional and specialized non-governmental organizations, as well as raising awareness about the OGP initiative and development of the Third Action Plan outside of the capital as well. The awareness campaign was launched with a meeting at the UN office in Yerevan, and the other meetings were held in Gyumri, Vanadzor, Dilijan, Armavir, and Goris, according to the previously announced timeline. In addition to the members of the working group, representatives of civil society and international partnering organizations also participated in the meetings.
New ideas have been generated in the form of ambitious commitments during meetings and discussions organized with experts from different fields.
As a result, more than 70 proposals have been received and developed. The Staff of the Government of the Republic of Armenia has submitted the summarized package of proposals to the members of the working group for discussion. The received proposals have been discussed in several stages. First, the vast majority of those proposals has been circulated among government agencies for the purpose of obtaining expert opinions. Then, the Staff of the Government of the Republic of Armenia has organized a number of meetings and discussions with the authors of the proposals and representatives of relevant government agencies. The government agencies’ proposals have been discussed individually.
On 11-12 June 2016, Aghveran hosted a wide-format outgoing session of the working group titled Workshop on the OGP Action Plan for 2016-2018 with the support of the UNDP. For the purpose of discussing the proposals, the participants were divided into two sub-groups comprised of representatives of civil society and state bodies. Each group discussed the package of proposals individually. The sub-groups had to assess the proposals and decide to include (if they complied with the OGP criteria and principles) or not to include them (if they did not comply with the OGP criteria and principles) in the OGP NAP. Based on that, the sub-groups prepared shortlists that were acceptable for them. A general and consolidated shortlist was prepared through the combination of those two shortlists. The proposals that were included in the shortlist of only one sub-group were also discussed, and some of them were also added to the consolidated shortlist. It should be mentioned that, in addition to the members of the working group, representatives of other NGOs, international organizations, representatives of government agencies not acting as members of the working group, as well as highly reputable experts of a number of sectors were also participating in the activities of the sub-groups and in the general meeting.
The final version of the draft Plan was discussed and approved during the wide-format session of the working group held on 20 June 2016.
Overall, about 70 proposals were submitted, 8 of which were selected, complying with the OGP principles and format. Each commitment included in the Plan is goal-oriented and selected after comprehensive discussions.
When developing the OGP Third Action Plan, the Government of the Republic of Armenia was guided by the principle of incorporating relevant commitments aimed at meeting the OGP challenges, OGP principles, and the Action Plan development format available at www.opengovpartnership.org, as well as by the Sustainable Development.
Goals approved by the United Nations Organization and in the National Anti-Corruption Strategy.
A summary on the proposals received and not included in the Plan was prepared, stating the reasons and clarifying why they were not included in the Plan. The summary has been submitted to the members of the working group and posted at www.ogp.am for public access.
The Government of the Republic of Armenia highly appreciates the efforts of all the parties, particularly representatives of government agencies, civil society, international organizations, and the private sector, as well as experts and citizens engaged in the process of developing the OGP Third Action Plan. The organizations and individuals presented in List N1 have been engaged in the mentioned process.
Based on the proposals made in the report of the researcher of the Independent Reporting Mechanism (hereinafter referred to as “the IRM”) for the Second OGP-Armenia Action Plan, the Government of the Republic of Armenia made significant adjustments in the process of developing the Plan. Thus, for instance, the timeline for developing the Plan and the guideline in regard to the criteria for commitments in the Plan were drafted and published; more NGOs and, for the first time, citizens, were engaged; several regional awareness campaigns and meetings were held; several interesting discussions were organized, and experts of various sectors and representatives of the private sector were engaged. For the purpose of raising the level of public awareness about the process of developing the Plan, a TV program was taped and broadcast. The listed materials have been posted on and are available at www.ogp.am.