Transparency International (TI) Ireland made submissions for the third Open Government National Action Plan advocating for reform of the Electoral Acts and the implementation of a long-term Open Government Strategy.
TI Ireland advocates that section 22 of the Electoral Act be amended to limit the scope of its definition of ‘political purposes’ by removing the sweeping inclusion of activities carried out ‘in relation to a policy or policies or functions of the Government or any public authority’ and limiting the definition specifically to activities carried out in campaigning for a particular outcome in an election or referendum.
TI Ireland also submits that a commitment to developing and implementing a comprehensive, long-term Open Government Strategy is required if OGP commitments and wider systemic reform of transparency and accountability mechanisms are to be embedded effectively across government and the civil and public service. Among the objectives that should be considered in the course of devising the Strategy include:
- Statutory duty to make and retain official records: This would include a requirement that all public officials make and retain accurate records of all meetings and correspondence (including text messages) and store them for as long as they are required for accountability purposes. If records do not exist, then there should be a presumption that they have been destroyed or there was negligence or maladministration.
- Proactive transparency: This would require digitisation and proactive publication of all records held by government departments and noncommercial public bodies, subject to statutory data protection and commercial confidentiality requirements. This Information would include details of all procurement contracts awarded and progress toward their fulfillment; calendars and agendas of all office holders, including Chief Executives of Local Authorities; and records of meetings between lobbyists/interest groups and senior officials or Ministers.
- Legislative footprint: The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, in collaboration with the Standards in Public Office Commission, should consider creating a web-based ‘legislative footprint’ to allow the public to see the input of different groups and individuals in shaping laws. This would involve the cross referencing of information using hyperlinks to returns made by lobbyists recorded on the register of lobbying, as well as published submissions in response to public on the relevant legislation on the relevant Bills and Acts page of the Oireachtas website. It is worth noting that the government made a commitment to introduce a legislative footprint in its first Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.