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Public Debate on Open Government Partnership Held

 On 31 January 2012 the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs organized a public debate entitled “Open Government Partnership”. The conference was held in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Embassy of the USA, with EU financial support under IPA 2009 Project “Strengthening The Capacity of The Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs for Building Effective Partnership with Civil Society Organizations in the Fight against Corruption” implemented by PARTICIP GmbH.

Namely, the Republic of Croatia confirmed its participation in global international initiative – Open Government Partnership in August 2011. The purpose of the initiative is to ensure concrete progress in the areas of transparency and openness in the work of public authority bodies; involving and empowering citizens and civil society; fight against corruption; and using new technologies for the improvement of the quality of services which public administration provides to citizens.
Bearing in mind that all countries participating in the initiative assumed the obligation of drawing up their national action plans by the end of March 2012, the aim of the public debate with civil society and the interested public was to discuss the proposals of priority measures and activities of the Croatian Action Plan for the Open Government Partnership, which pertain to fiscal transparency, access to information, using information technology as well as citizen and civil society participation.
Opening addresses at the public debate were given by Mr. Igor Vidačak, acting Head of the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs, Mr. Joško Klisović, Deputy Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Mr. Paolo Berizzi, Deputy Head of EU Delegation to Croatia, Mr. Hoyt B. Yee, Deputy Chief of Mission – U.S. Embassy in Croatia, and Mr. Željko Jovanović, Minister of Science, Education and Sport.
Mr. Vidačak presented the project within which the public debate was organized and pointed out that the objectives of the Open Government Partnership initiative excellently complement Croatia’s efforts in the process of joining the EU. He also announced the following steps in the drawing up of the Action Plan for the implementation of the Open Government Partnership initiative as well as the consultations with civil society as part of the process. Furthermore, he emphasized that open and transparent government is the common interest of the citizens, civil society and the state administration bodies.
Mr. Klisović, Deputy Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, emphasized that good governance is the common objective for all stakeholders and its realization requires exchange of opinions, that is to say it is necessary to include the citizens. He especially underlined that in the area of the fight against corruption the new Government was going to give prominence to prevention, which also included citizen participation in supervision. In his view it was necessary for this purpose to work on strengthening the citizens’ trust, which would be positively influenced by involving the citizens in the process of public policy decision making.
Deputy Head of Delegation of EU to Croatia, Mr. Berizzi pointed out that transparency and openness were important in the context of Chapter 23 – Judiciary and Fundamental Rights and underlined the need for civil society to participate in enacting laws.
Mr. Yee, Deputy Chief of Mission – U. S. Embassy in Croatia, highlighted that the Open Government Partnership initiative could result in transformation potential and pointed to the fact that open governments bring prosperity stressing the correlation between openness and economic success.
Science, Education and Sport Minister Mr. Željko Jovanović referred to the initiative from the point of view of his field and pointed out the important role of knowledge in the prevention of corruption. In this context, he emphasized the need for introducing democratic citizenship education in schools.
Mrs. Ivana Jakir – Bajo from the Ministry of Finance, Mr. Tomislav Vračić form the Ministry of Administration, Mr. Hrvoje Vindakijević from the Personal Data Protection Agency, Mrs. Katarina Ott, Director of the Institute for Public Finance, Mr. Marko Rakar, IT specialist, and Mrs. Vanja Škorić, Legal Advisor with GONG took part in the discussion on priority measures of the Action Plan for the implementation of the Open Government Partnership initiative in Croatia.
All participants agreed that there was a need for the Government to work transparently and openly and that it was necessary to involve the citizens and use information technologies as purposefully as possible, especially with reference to fiscal issues, i.e. the budget.
Mrs. Jakir – Bajo pointed out on the behalf of the Ministry of Finance that they would endorse giving additional information to citizens about the budget in all budgetary phases in a way that is accessible and understandable to them.
Mrs. Ott added on the behalf of the Institute of Public finance that such documents needed to be objective, comprehensive and relevant as well as published together with the document which they elaborated. Moreover, they needed to be widely distributed to citizens.
In the process of opening the government on all levels, information and communication technology have an important role which was pointed out by both Tomislav Vračić from the Ministry of Administration and Marko Rakar, IT specialist from Vjetrenjača (Windmill) Association. Mr. Vračić said that he considered integrating the Central State Office for E-Croatia in the Ministry of Administration a positive development and added that Moja uprava (My Administration) web portal had been extended to digital TV, which made it an information service available to almost all Croatian households, where it was possible for all public bodies to publish information. Mr. Rakar thought that the integration of the Office in the Ministry was a step back. He pointed out that in the majority of developed countries there was a special office or Ministry in charge of society informatization. He underlined that it was necessary to make electronic signature widely available for the purpose of improving the communication between citizens and the state, i.e. administration and access to information.
As far as the right of access to information is concerned, Mr. Vindakijević from PDPA pointed out that the fact that documents could be classified by law as well as general acts was a problem and that it should be stipulated so that the classification was possible only by law. He also thought it was an additional problem that there were no subordinate regulations stipulating what the Catalogue of Information should look like. He underlined that the current understaffing of the Agency dealing with work in connection with the right of access to information was a special problem. On the other hand, Mrs. Škorić from GONG said that too much emphasis was given to asking for information whereas more attention should be paid to proactively publishing information. She welcomed the fact that the Action Plan envisaged steps in this direction.
Towards the end of the discussion the participants agreed that the political will to include the citizens was significant; and that it was necessary to ensure funds for this purpose (EU funding was pointed out as an opportunity here); to clearly define who is competent for which of the envisaged measures to be achieved;  to make the information provided to citizens simple and in a way appealing to them; and to include the citizens in the early phases of drawing up documents, acts and other regulations, in general to involve them in early discussions on public policies.
Before the very end of the discussion Igor Vidačak from the Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs outlined the next steps concerning the Open Government Partnership initiative. He pointed out that the Office expected to hear proposals and opinions in connection with the Action plan in the following two weeks (deadline for submitting is 13 February, a document to be used as a basis for discussion can be downloaded here). Thereafter, all the received contributions will be given consideration and the draft Action Plan will be drawn up and submitted to the initiative’s Council by the end of February or beginning of March. Everything that was or was not included in the Action Plan will be published at the Office’s web site with explanations.
More information about the Open Government Partnership initiative is available at: http://www.uzuvrh.hr/stranica.aspx?pageID=198
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