Armenian NGOs note “formal” commitment of authorities to Open Government Partnership initiative

Representatives of non-governmental organizations who have carried out the monitoring of the Open Government Partnership program believe that Armenia has met the commitments undertaken as part of the program mainly formally, while there are serious shortcomings in terms of their application.

Armenia joined the Open Government Partnership initiative in September 2011. As many as 60 countries are members of this initiative that seeks achieve improved governance based on active involvement of civil society, as well as enhance public management efficiency through increased level of transparency, mutual trust and accountability in State-citizen relationship.

The initiative is coordinated by an intergovernmental committee consisting of eight founding nations: the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Joining the initiative, Armenia assumed a number of obligations, including the promotion of open governance through e-government, revision of regulations (the Guillotine Program), improvement of the public sector internal audit system, ensuring improved public procurement procedures and budget planning and reporting systems, promotion of access to information, promotion of transparency and objectivity in public administration, fight against corruption, etc..

Armenia is now completing its first Action Plan and developing the next for 2014-2016.

Varuzhan Hoktanyan, director of the Transparency International Anti-Corruption Center, one of the NGOs that has conducted the monitoring, said during a Tuesday meeting with reporters that the government of Armenia has followed only one principles of open government – it has increased the availability of new technologies, ensuring accountability.

And Asparez Journalists’ Club president Levon Barseghyan said: “I have the impression that the government is reluctant, it does not have serious faith in the ideas that it has started realizing. Then he added, however, that on a scale from zero to 10, where 10 is the highest, he would evaluate the government’s work in the past two years as 7 or 8.

The Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression (CPFE) has reviewed three directions: transparency of declarations of property and income by senior officials, standardization of contents on official websites of government agencies, development of public officials’ knowledge and skills on freedom of information.
CPFE head Ashot Melikyan said that the declarations of more than half of high-ranking officials are absent from the website ethics.am.

“Of the 131 members of the National Assembly only 42 have presented declarations on the website. I would advise that journalists often enter this website. It provides rich material for the preparation of investigative articles,” said Melikyan, emphasizing that they also consider the contents of the declarations, in particular the extent to which they reflect the real size of officials’ property, to be a serious problem.

With regard to the government’s official websites, according to the CPFE studies, their average level of transparency is 42 percent. Melikyan also said that officials’ knowledge on freedom of information is “not so great”.

“We have sent 86 letters to various government agencies. Only in 31 cases we got responses that corresponded to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Law,” said Melikyan.

Representatives of non-governmental organizations also voiced concerns over the 2014-2016 Action Plan. They said that almost all of their proposals had been rejected. Hoktanyan said he had the impression that Armenia wants to focus only on deepening e-government.

NGOs are going to develop an alternative plan and submit it at the upcoming summit, during which the next actions are endorsed.