Open Government Platform Launched in India

The Indian government, in collaboration with the United States, has launched earlier this year the project Open Government Platform (OGPL), where government data, documents, tools and processes are made publicly available in an open source format. This initiative is meant to allow analysts, media, academics and civil society to make use of public data more easily and to develop innovative tools and applications to better monitor the public administration. According to the National Informatics Centre (NIC), the government body in charge of developing this platform, the goal of this initiative is to democratise access to public information and to promote innovation and civic involvement, and at the same time contribute to increase the accountability and transparency of the government.

The rationale behind this initiative is that government collects and retains a large amount of information (such as surveys, census, planning, assessment and delivery of public services), yet a large part of this information is not accessible to the general public and the civil society through classical means of communication. The project was developed in conformance to the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP), which determined that all government departments shall release their datasets in open format for citizens and other stakeholders to freely use and reuse. In order to guarantee the feasibility of the implementation of the policy, the NIC was under the obligation of providing the necessary technology solution for the establishment of an open data portal.

The data portal, however, is only a part of the OGPL, which was devised to simplify the access and management of public data not only from the side of citizens, but also from the perspective of government agencies. The platform offers ministries and departments a common management system through which the data is uploaded and later processed to be presented in a standardised format to the public.

In addition to facilitating top-down communication between the government and the citizens, the platform also encourages horizontal networking and grassroots initiatives. Through citizen engagement modules, users are able to discuss online the kind of datasets that government should release and also what kind of applications could and should be developed based on these datasets. This interactive component is expected to provide firsthand information to the government and also to developer communities on the public demand for information and analytical tools, based on which these actors could better prioritise where to concentrate their efforts.

According to an article published by News Track India, OGPL has been developed as a result of the U.S.-India Open Government Dialogue initiated in 2010 by President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On the official website, the initiative is characterised as “an example of a new era of diplomatic collaborations that benefit the global community that promote government transparency, citizen-focused applications”. By the end of 2012, the platform will be available globally, and the features should also be available to other governments that might want to implement similar initiatives.

 

Shudhify Initiative Assesses Bangalore Public Services

A new citizen-led initiative from Bangalore, India, called ‘Shudhify’, offers local citizens a valuable map of selected government services and their respective ratings in different districts of the city. The data collected by the project tracks the quality of service provision, as well as the level of efficiency and corruption in the offices covered. The primary goal of the project is to contribute to change the common perception that corruption gets business done quicker. The project is supported by the World Bank Institute and Colgate University.

The local datamap developed by the project originates mainly from a nine-question survey conducted on site with users of government services in Bangalore. So far, the project has focused on collecting data on transport offices and police stations, and other branches of service shall be explored later. The project’s team has also collected documents on corruption cases archived at government investigation agencies and cases of bribery reported by another pioneering Indian initiative called ‘I paid a bribe’, all of which are used to compose the assessment of each selected office. The resulting information is available on the project’s internet portal (www.shudhify.org), where citizens can also rate public services themselves.

The project has been implementing a broad dissemination strategy through the press, academic journals, and other online platforms. Moreover, it organizes weekly ‘dares’ in partnership with theatre groups and colleges, in order to engage citizens, give additional visibility to the project’s results and increase public pressure on government officials to improve their performance. One of such dares, for instance, asked people to go to the most corrupt/least efficient unit of the Regional Transport Office (RTO), sing the national anthem and place in the middle of the building copies of the ratings produced by the project.

More detailed information about the project is available in a case study produced by the Global Youth Anti-corruption Network (GYAC). An interview with Srikar Gullapalli, one of the project’s initiators, is also available on the GYAC website. The article “Should I or Shudhify?“, available on the Colgate University’s Connect platform, also provides more information on the background story of the project. The illustration above, by Andrew Baker, is featured in the article.

 

Social Audits Help Fight Corruption in India

A system of social audits implemented by the Indian Ministry of Rural Development seeks to curb widespread corruption in the management of a large job guarantee program that represents half of the ministry’s budget. In the social program, beneficiaries are employed as civil workers for 100 days and receive minimum wage. However, fraud involving the payment of benefits is common and cases of ghostworkers and violations of procurement procedures abound.

In order to fight corruption in the program, the 2005 Rural Employment Act established mandatory independent groups of auditors in the villages, who are selected and trained by a social audit team. Public records of the works allegedly performed by beneficiaries of the job guarantee program are read at a public assembly in the villages, where citizens can raise questions and point out inconsistencies. When fraud cases are uncovered, the governments initiates procedures to punish those involved.

The problem that remains is that most Indian states have resisted to implementing such audits since 2006. A positive example comes from the state Andhra Pradesh, where the Society for Social Audit, Accountability and Transparency has been functioning well in the last years and has managed to remain autonomous from government influence. Since the beginning of the society’s activities, already 3,200 social audits have taken place and over 38,000 disciplinary cases have been initiated against officials under suspicion of corruption in the job scheme. Around $24 million in irregularities have been discovered and already one fourth of this amount has been recovered by the society.

Jairam Ramesh, Minister of Rural Development, is now pushing to extend this experience to other national welfare programs. The social audit process has already received the support of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. However, lack of political will should pose fundamental obstacles to replicating this successful experience in other social programs.

Read the article “Social audits in India – a slow but sure way to fight corruption” on guardian.co.uk. The picture above is also featured in the article and is credited to Gurinder Osan and AP.

Integrity Clubs Raise Awareness Among Students in India

The Central Vigilance Commission, an anti-corruption government institution in India, has called on schools associated with the Council of Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) to found student integrity clubs, with the objective of raising awareness among students about the need to fight corruption.

The Commission’s efforts to implement this project follows a successful pilot run in New Delhi. According to Gerry Arathoon, secretary at CISCE, the initiative is based on an idea to establish co-curricular activities that promote moral and anti-corruption values among students. Participants in the clubs should engage in activities such as visiting government offices and encouraging individuals to say no to corruption.

Many schools have welcomed the initiative and some have already engaged in activities, such as debates and discussion groups, to sensitize students about corruption and keep them informed about a debate that has gained much strength in India in the last year.

Read the article “Students turn anti-corruption champions” on dnaindia.com. The picture featured above is from bbc.co.uk and is credited to Prashant Ravi.

Most Countries Disrespect Their Own Freedom of Information Laws

A story published by the Associated Press (AP) last week revealed that most countries with Freedom of Access to Information laws do not follow them properly. In a test with over 100 countries with such legislation, more than half failed to provide the requested information and only 14 disclosed the data within the legal deadline.

The study was the first worldwide attempt to verify to what extent these laws are being effectively implemented. During an entire week in January AP journalists sent requests of information about terrorism arrests and convictions to 105 countries and the European Union.

In the small group of governments that processed the requests in a timely manner are, for instance, Guatemala, which sent the documents after 10 days, and Turkey, which needed only a week to reply. Canada and the United States, on the other hand, needed more that six months to provide the information, and in the latter case part of the data was censored. More than 40 countries never acknowledged the request or refused to provide the information on the basis of national security.

The results point out to a trend of countries’ adopting this kind of legislation as a result of pressure or incentives from international organizations, however without any intention of implementing it. In some countries, such as India and Uganda, there have even been cases of political persecution against individuals who tried to make use of right-to-know laws.

Read the full article AP Impact: Right-to-know laws often ignored on hosted.ap.org. More details about the results of the study can be accessed on AP’s Facebook page. The agency is also accepting suggestions for future information requests to be made in the next parts of their Freedom of Information project. The picture shown above is credited to AP.

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