Openness as Prerequisite and Essential Pillar of Reforms in the New Uzbekistan
Openness and transparency are considered among the most effective tools in the fight against corruption and its prevention. Thus, the efforts instigated in Uzbekistan to secure the rule of law, introduce effective forms of openness and transparency, establish genuine public control over the activities of government authorities have been gaining momentum as decisive and steadfast in nature.
As a result, initiated by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, considerable positive strides have been conspicuous lately in the country in combating various forms of bureaucracy and corruption. In particular, new procedures have been established to ensure the openness and transparency of the activities of government bodies and organizations, so have the conditions necessary for effective public oversight. To this end, within a short period of time the system for considering appeals from individuals and corporate bodies has been radically redefined, the People’s Receptions, Helplines and Virtual Reception of the President were launched. Thus, the head of state demonstrated readiness for open communication with citizens. In addition, a functioning mechanism has been set up in each ministry and government agency to work with appeals in the form of ministerial helplines and virtual receptions or field receptions.
Moreover, the widespread use of digital and online technologies has helped bolster the government accountability before the civil society. In particular, the Open Data Portal (data.gov.uz), the registered database of legal entities and business entities (my.gov.uz) and other platforms play an important role in reducing and eliminating bureaucracy, as well as combating and preventing corruption.
The adopted regulatory acts of conceptual significance and other administrative reforms aimed at preventing corruption also bear fruit in ensuring the openness of government authorities and administrative bodies.
For example, in order to prevent theft of budgetary funds, the Public Procurement Law was adopted. Now, according to this normative act, all information on public procurement is posted on d.xarid.uz portal. Efficient mechanisms of public control have been created, and the newly launched Open Budget portal has allowed the population to be directly involved in the management of budget funds.
In accordance with the 22 September 2021 Resolution of President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, an effective system overseen by the local population and the general public was introduced for spending budget funds and surplus amount of the forecast of local budget revenues. The act also kick-started the Initiative Budget project.
In the first season of the Initiative Budget project in 2022, a total of 70 thousand initiatives were received from citizens, 2,215 of which won the contest. More than 6.7 million people took part in voting on these projects. Thirty-four percent of the winning initiatives were related to secondary school renovation projects.
In addition, a system was instituted whereby the sale of public property, real estate, land plots, vehicles, license plates, the right to build and install outdoor advertising facilities, those for speed cameras should be realized through open online auction (https://e-auksion.uz/).
Another example: a newly created system establishes mandatory public discussion of draft laws as well as draft regulatory acts to be adopted by the President and the government, with the launch of the portal regulation.gov.uz.
This, in turn, contributes to the transparency of important decisions planned for adoption, and the practical implementation of the principle of accountability to citizens.
One of the main achievements in this area is the improvement of press services that inform the public about the activities of government bodies and organizations. That is, all government bodies and organizations have press services, and the status of spokespersons has been raised to the level of advisers to the head of a government agency on information policy.
In addition, the maximum openness and transparency of statistical data for a wide range of domestic and foreign users has been ensured. Accordingly, open statistical data are posted on the Open Data Portal, including information on public procurement, registration of patents, medicines and medical products, public transportation, land use and other information.
Similar systemic and consistent reforms have significantly improved the position of Uzbekistan in a number of international rankings and indices, one of the main of which is the index of openness.
For example, as of 2020, Uzbekistan rose by 125 positions, to 44th in the Open Data Inventory Ranking. The introduction of the practice of disclosing indicators in 20 areas of state and public administration proved instrumental.
And, in the updated Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International for 2021, Uzbekistan climbed six positions compared to 2020, ranking 140th out of 180 countries.
As a logical continuation of the reforms, on June 16, 2021, the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan signed a decree envisaging additional measures to ensure the openness of the activities of government bodies and organizations, as well as the effective implementation of public control, which, according to both local and international experts, has become a truly groundbreaking document.
The decree approved the list of socially significant information to be posted as open data, and clearly defined government bodies and organizations that develop data, as well as procedure for publishing open data.
Committees on information policy and ensuring openness in government bodies under the Legislative Chamber and the Senate of the Oliy Majlis, as well as standing commissions on information policy and ensuring openness in local government bodies under regional, district and city councils of people’s representatives started operating.
The Anti-Corruption Agency is tasked with coordinating and constantly monitoring the openness in the activities of government authorities, expanding the list of open data, strengthening public control and cultivating in civil servants a culture of public accountability.
A new department for ensuring the openness in activities of government bodies and organizations has been created within the Agency structure.
Based on the information disclosed by government bodies and organizations, local media, including major media outlets, published about 140 news reports and journalistic investigations.
The Anti-Corruption Agency has established a system of continuous monitoring of the timely placement of socially significant information in designated resources as open data approved by the Decree.
For example, in January-February 2022, the Agency published on its official website reports on the study of the work done by 135 ministries and departments, local government bodies regarding the placement on its official websites and the Open Data Portal of the necessary information about its activities, in particular about public procurements, expenses for business trips of officials and for the reception of foreign guests, and others.
At the same time, from December 1, 2021, sessions of the Legislative Chamber and the Senate of the Oliy Majlis, Jokargy Kenes of the Republic of Karakalpakstan, regional, district and city Councils of people’s representatives are mandatorily broadcast live on TV channels and the Internet. The live broadcast of the sessions serves to raise the level of legal awareness of citizens and their direct acquaintance with the content and significance of the discussed legislative acts, as well as with the opinions of the experts who developed them.
Over the past period, the Agency submitted 26 statutory notices and 35 warning letters to ministries, departments and local governments to eliminate violations identified as a result of monitoring and analysis.
Now it is planned to work on this issue on an ongoing basis, to organize seminars with the involvement of experts from nongovernmental organizations working in this area. One of the main issues on the agenda is expanding the list of open data and raising it to a qualitatively new level, developing proposals for the further development of the area.
Over the past period, legislation on the activities of government bodies and organizations in the field of openness has been fully documented, reasonable proposals have been developed to fill existing gaps and improve mechanisms that do not give the expected results. In particular, three laws, one resolution of the President and three resolutions of the government and one departmental document aimed at regulating the openness were adopted.
For example, a draft law ‘On amendments to the Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan on administrative responsibility’ has been developed. According to it, the new Code of Administrative Responsibility is supplemented by a new article 2157, which provides for a fine of 3 to 10 reference calculation values for officials of government authorities who violate the requirements of openness legislation.
Another important issue is that in accordance with the Resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan ‘On additional measures to further improve the activities of the Anti-Corruption Agency of the Republic of Uzbekistan’, a Public Control Development Fund was established under the Agency.
From now on, the preparation of materials on the openness of the activities of government bodies and organizations, the financing of projects of NGOs, other civil society institutions to ensure openness in government bodies and organizations, as well as research in this area and a number of other areas will be implemented at the expense of the Fund.
Also, at the expense of the Fund, the work of a call center with a single short number ‘1253’ was established, which allows citizens to promptly report facts of corruption.
In addition, the Agency plans to form an Openness Index (rating) of government bodies and organizations and publish the rating based on the results of each year.
Most importantly, the Index allows to visually show the level of openness of any government body and organization to the public.
The Anti-Corruption Agency pays special attention to further improving the position of Uzbekistan in international rankings and indices by improving the efficiency of work in this area.
In particular, to improve the position of the country, a comprehensive analysis of the Open Government Factor, WJP Rule of Law Index, was carried out (Uzbekistan ranked 122nd out of 139 countries with the highest index over the past 6 years in terms of the Open Government Factor – 0.37 points in 2021). Based on the results of the analysis, a program of measures was developed to improve the country’s position in this international index. In addition, as of 2022, steps are being taken to further improve and update Uzbekistan rankings in the Open Data Inventory, the Rule of Law Index, the Global Open Data Index, and the Open Data Barometer.
If we want to achieve fundamental changes in the field of openness, we must, of course, meet the requirements of generally recognized standards through membership in international organizations. In this regard, Uzbekistan became a member of the International Open Data Charter last year. The Charter works to ensure openness and transparency of information from over 150 governments and organizations around the world.
The Agency established close cooperation with this organization and, together with the State Statistics Committee of Uzbekistan, with the support of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, developed recommendations and the Final Report on open datasets on combating corruption in Uzbekistan. The priority is to further expand access to open data, create an open data infrastructure based on international standards.
In a word, the policy of openness and transparency in Uzbekistan will now only gain momentum, the government will be even more open, greater transparency will be ensured, cooperation between citizens and authorities will continue to improve and develop. After all, openness and transparency are not only a requirement of the time, but also a prerequisite and essential pillar of reforms in the New Uzbekistan.
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