India chooses supremacy of Parliament over open govt

Govt drags feet on joining US-led initiative to empower people

The Indian estabishment has cited the need to maintain the sovereign power of Parliament, which indicates that is has serious reservations about joining the US-backed international Open Government Partnership, as it would require New Delhi to commit new initiatives to make governance more transparent before an international forum, not before Parliament.

The Open Government Partnership is set to be launched in New York next month. Though India was invited to be on the Steering Committee to prepare for the Open Government Partnership or OGP, New Delhi however decided to opt out from the panel, which now comprises US, United Kingdom, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines and South Africa.

New Delhi had earlier agreed to participate in the meeting co-chaired by Brazil and US, but had also conveyed that a formal decision on its participation would depend on the eventual structure, process and mandate of the OGP.

The Steering Committee however also comprises nine civil society organisations from different countries and they include India’s Mazdoor Kishan Shakti Sangathan too. The MKSS is led by eminent social activists like Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey and is not only known for spearheading mass movements for greater transparency in governance, but also played a significant role in conceiving the landmark Right To Information Act, which was passed by Parliament in 2005.

India is cagey about joining the OGP, primarily because its proposed framework would mandate countries to make new commitments on open government in the international forum, prescribe process for the government to formulate the commitments and require annual performance reports from the countries. The framework also envisages evaluation of a country’s performance by a panel of independent international experts and NGOs.

“The government had conveyed its concerns to the US and others that new and additional commitments on governance should be made before the national Parliament, and not in an ad hoc international forum, and that the decision making process for the government as also performance report and evaluation are also the prerogatives of national Parliament,” Minister of State for External Affairs E Ahmed told the Rajya Sabha in response to a question from an MP recently.

Over the past fortnight, the government had been citing the same argument of sovereign supremacy of Parliament to justify its reluctance to buckle under Hazare’s pressure to introduce Jan Lokpal Bill and withdraw its own draft. “We agree with the government that commitments should be made before national Parliament, not before any international forum. But participating in the OGP may not mean that India would have to make the first commitment before the international forum, and not before Parliament in Delhi,” Nikhil Dey of the MKSS told Deccan Herald.

Dey also said that India could lead the global campaign on open government, as it was much ahead of many other countries as far as taking initiatives for ensuring transparency in governance.

Open Government has been a cause close to the heart of US President Barack Obama. He signed a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government on his first day in the office. India and US launched a Dialogue on Open Government during Obama’s visit to New Delhi in November 2010.

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