The article has been cross-posted from the Asia Foundation's blog.
On June 29, 2016, Mongolians voted for a new parliament (the State Great Khural), which resulted in a landslide victory for the Mongolian People’s Party (MPP) over the ruling Democratic Party (DP). The overwhelming win came as a surprise to many, and clearly indicates the Mongolian public’s dissatisfaction with DP’s governance performance over the last four years and the desire for a fresh start in what has been a difficult period of economic downturn.
Local and international investors have also expressed optimism over the win, which could give the new majority MPP assembled Parliament and Cabinet the ability to conduct business without as many impediments from the opposing parties. Several news sources also pointed out that voters were fed up with what was a perceived lack of accountability and transparency from DP representatives. According to The Asia Foundation’s latest Survey on Perceptions and Knowledge of Corruption (SPEAK), for the first time since 2006, when the survey was first conducted, political parties topped the list as the most corrupt institutions.
Despite Mongolia’s economic and social successes since its democratic transition in the early 1990s, corruption and bureaucracy have thwarted the country’s development which has as a result been plagued by lack of transparency, accountability, and conflict of interest. Management of public resources and assets are ineffective and inadequate. In response to this, increasing transparency and accountability and improving public services and ensuring citizen participation have become essential to the government of Mongolia in its effort to improve governance.
In 2013, Mongolia joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP), an international platform for countries committed to making their governments open, accountable, and responsive to citizens. OGP fosters collaboration among countries to share emerging trends and innovative approaches to open government that can then be applied by respective member countries. Each participating country is required to submit a National Action Plan (NAP) that outlines its key commitments toward achieving these goals.
Mongolia just recently submitted its second NAP for 2016-2018, following the first one in 2014-2016 which highlighted 35 commitments primarily focused on increasing transparency, openness and improving services to citizens. For instance, it included a budget transparency mechanism in accordance with the Glass Account Law, passed in 2014 to make information related to the extractive industry, environment, foreign investment, and procurement open to the public.
However, according to the OGP Independent Reporting Mechanism conducted earlier this year, the completion rate of Mongolia’s commitments was 24 percent – significantly below the global average of 51 percent. Despite that sobering news, the report also found 43 percent of Mongolia’s commitments to be ambitious with potential of transformative change. For example, the government’s commitment to develop a public online database of mineral, oil, and real estate-ownership licenses which would make key foreign investment and major mining agreements transparent were featured as examples of transformative actions.
Following the passage of the Glass Account Law, one of the commitments that obtained a “star” rating was the one that required government agencies and legal entities with state involvement in Mongolia to make their budgetary information open and transparent to the public. Information has been disclosed through a single platform and clear reporting rules have been set to enable timely submission and disclosure of information. Municipal governments and other state entities have been active in their participation, and the overall compliance rate is now at 96.8 percent.
Based on the lessons learned and experiences of the first NAP, Mongolia is now moving to implement the commitments in the second action plan. There are some key differences – for example, it has fewer commitments focused on service delivery and transparency, and includes a charter for OGP National Council that will improve coordination and implementation of the action plan.
Yet, the question still remains how successfully the newly formed government will implement the approved 13 commitments. Many factors will influence the implementation including the national budget crisis, unwillingness to implement certain commitment due to conflicts of interests, and lack of pressure from the public to address important challenges.
Going forward, it is important to broaden the ownership of OGP commitments by including wider representation of sub-national governments, civil society organizations, the private sector, and media so that there is a greater voice in the consultation, implementation, and monitoring stages of the commitments. Strong assurance from all branches of the government, including the parliament and judiciary, is a must in the process. The government should aim to go beyond disclosure to accountability by creating effective citizen feedback channels and complaint systems to further hold public officials accountable and transparent.
Successful implementation and continuation of Mongolia’s OGP action plan now depends on the new government and, one thing is clear: with the majority of seats in the parliament belonging to the MPP, the party has no one to halt their agenda – for better or for worse. Let’s hope the MPP uses its newfound position to further the agenda for a more open and transparent Mongolia.