From: Shqipe Gjocaj
Open institutions are among the essential indicators of a representative democracy. Without open data, without proper tools for good information, without effective services, and especially without citizen participation, democracy cannot exist in practice.
The Assembly of Kosovo, which consists of various political groups and exists to represent and protect the rights of women, men, and minority groups, should be among the most open institutions for the public. An open parliament means not only an institution that ensures transparency and access to public information, but also interactivity between citizens and legislators.
According to evaluation of Open Data Kosovo (ODK), the Assembly of Kosovo has made progress towards opening up to the public as an institution. This assessment by ODK is based on the four principles of the Regional Open Government Index such as transparency, access, integrity and awareness. In order to make the assessment in question, ODK has also taken as a basis the ease of access to information on the institution’s official websites, the quality of the legislative framework for the relevant topics, additional public sources of information, and the questionnaires submitted to the institution.
The ODK assesses that the open work of the Assembly has improved over the years. In 2019, the Assembly of Kosovo was assessed with an overall result of 80.5% (compared to 60% in 2016). In 2021, the overall result marks 86%.
Once the question is raised whether an institution is accessible, the first thing that comes to mind is access to information and public documents. But, of course, only access to information or official documents is not enough, but easy and quality access is required. Quality access enables women and men as citizens, researchers, members of civil society and stakeholders to receive timely and up-to-date information that must be usable and interpretable.
However, it is still not possible to speak of a quality approach as long as the Assembly of Kosovo practices the archaic approach of publishing documents in closed PDF formats. It is not enough that the official website of the Assembly and the official Facebook page are regularly updated. It is the minimum that an institution can do in the age of digitalization.
That an institution is democratic and open also depends on the relationship that institution cultivates with civil society. The relationship between the Assembly and civil society remains good and this can be attributed to the Rules of Procedure of the Parliamentary Committees, as well as to the Forum for Parliamentary Transparency where civil society representatives are involved with equal roles and responsibilities decision-makers like the deputies and other members of the Forum
The Assembly is also evaluated by the report with experts from different fields. In addition to the fact that parliamentary committees have continued to seek advice and information on certain issues from external experts through evaluations and consultations, their involvement in open sessions and informing the public about changes related to the activities of the Assembly that have an impact in their daily lives, have continued as well.
Thanks to the Code of Conduct in order to fight corruption, MPs continue to declare their wealth, assets, income and debts. In addition, the list of assets for members of the Assembly that includes updated information on assets, sources of income, amount of income and liabilities is monitored by the Anti-Corruption Agency. This strengthens the integrity of the Assembly as an institution.
ODK and other organizations in the country and region are proposing solutions that they are evaluating as important not only in terms of increasing transparency and accountability, but also in the context of digital transformation efforts.
An opportunity that would improve citizens’ access to the Assembly, but continues to be underestimated by legislators, is the electronic petition. The electronic petition enables citizens to express their needs, protect their rights, and most importantly, propose new policies.
Petitions can be signed by women and men, minority groups or stakeholders on a specific issue, asking the government or any specific institution to take measures or any concrete action.
Moreover, the electronic petition is more effective than collecting physical signatures, saves time and is inexpensive. The electronic petition in Kosovo is enabled by the Law on Electronic Identification and Trusted Services in Electronic Transactions.
Despite the progress achieved, the Assembly of Kosovo must continue to work so that legislative transparency has meaning and tangible results. This should be done by enabling more open communication with citizens and by identifying the most appropriate forms of communication. The Assembly should take very seriously the possibility of electronic petitions, the development of electronic services, and the publication of the “citizen’s budget” for the sake of fiscal transparency.
Furthermore, the Assembly of Kosovo should act more quickly in the adoption and implementation of regulations, such as the one for lobbying rules, the adoption of the Code of Conduct for proper monitoring of the implementation of the Code of Ethics for MPs and actions in case of violations of the standards.
Such actions, at the level of regulations, digital services, and open communication with citizens, civil society, media, and other actors, will enable the Assembly to legitimately stand out as a transparent, accessible, conscientious institution, and with integrity.