Sub-Saharan Africa: undemocratic regimes undermine anti-corruption efforts

This year’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) presents a largely gloomy picture for Africa – only eight of 49 countries score more than 43 out of 100 on the index. Despite commitments from African leaders in declaring 2018 as the African Year of Anti-Corruption, this has yet to translate into concrete progress.

Seychelles scores 66 out of 100, to put it at the top of the region. Seychelles is followed by Botswana and Cabo Verde, with scores of 61 and 57 respectively. At the very bottom of the index for the seventh year in a row, Somalia scores 10 points, followed by South Sudan (13) to round out the lowest scores in the region.

With an average score of just 32, Sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest scoring region on the index, followed closely by Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with an average score of 35.

Corruption and a crisis of democracy

Sub-Saharan Africa remains a region of stark political and socio-economic contrasts and many longstanding challenges. While a large number of countries have adopted democratic principles of governance, several are still governed by authoritarian and semi-authoritarian leaders. Autocratic regimes, civil strife, weak institutions and unresponsive political systems continue to undermine anti-corruption efforts.

Countries like Seychelles and Botswana, which score higher on the CPI than other countries in the region, have a few attributes in common. Both have relatively well-functioning democratic and governance systems, which help contribute to their scores. However, these countries are the exception rather than the norm in a region where most democratic principles are at risk and corruption is high.

Improvers

Notwithstanding Sub-Saharan Africa’s overall poor performance, there are a few countries that push back against corruption, and with notable progress.

Two countries – Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal – are, for the second year in a row, among the significant improvers on the CPI. In the last six years, Côte d’Ivoire moved from 27 points in 2013 to 35 points in 2018, while Senegal moved from 36 points in 2012 to 45 points in 2018. These gains may be attributed to the positive consequences of legal, policy and institutional reforms undertaken in both countries as well as political will in the fight against corruption demonstrated by their respective leaders.

With a score of 37, Gambia improved seven points since last year, while Seychelles improved six points, with a score of 66. Eritrea also gained four points, scoring 24 in 2018. In Gambia and Eritrea, political commitment combined with laws, institutions and implementation help with controlling corruption.

Decliners

In the last few years, several countries experienced sharp declines in their CPI scores, including Burundi, Congo, Mozambique, Liberia and Ghana.

In the last seven years, Mozambique dropped 8 points, moving from 31 in 2012 to 23 in 2018. An increase in abductions and attacks on political analysts and investigative journalists creates a culture of fear, which is detrimental to fighting corruption.

Home to one of Africa’s biggest corruption scandals, Mozambique recently faced indictments of several of its former government officials by US officials. Former finance minister and Credit Suisse banker, Manuel Chang, is charged with concealing more than US$2 billion dollars of hidden loans and bribes.

Many low performing countries have several commonalties, including few political rights, limited press freedoms and a weak rule of law. In these countries, laws often go unenforced and institutions are poorly resourced with little ability to handle corruption complaints. In addition, internal conflict and unstable governance structures contribute to high rates of corruption.

Countries to watch

Angola, Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa and Kenya are all important countries to watch, given some promising political developments. The real test will be whether these new administrations will follow through on their anti-corruption commitments moving forward.

With a score of 27, Nigeria remained unchanged on the CPI since 2017. Corruption was one of the biggest topics leading up to the 2015 election and it is expected to remain high on the agenda as the country prepares for this year’s presidential election taking place in February.

Nigeria’s Buhari administration took a number of positive steps in the past three years, including the establishment of a presidential advisory committee against corruption, the improvement of the anti-corruption legal and policy framework in areas like public procurement and asset declaration, and the development of a national anti-corruption strategy, among others. However, these efforts have clearly not yielded the desired results. At least, not yet.

With a score of 19, Angola increased four points since 2015. President Joao Lourenco has been championing reforms and tackling corruption since he took office in 2017, firing over 60 government officials, including Isabel Dos Santos, the daughter of his predecessor, Eduardo Dos Santos. Recently, the former president’s son, Jose Filomeno dos Santos, was charged with making a fraudulent US$500 million transaction from Angola’s sovereign wealth fund. However, the problem of corruption in Angolan goes far beyond the dos Santos family. It is very important that the current leadership shows consistency in the fight against corruption in Angola.

With a score of 43, South Africa remains unchanged on the CPI since 2017. Under President Ramaphosa, the administration has taken additional steps to address anti-corruption on a national level, including through the work of the Anti-Corruption Inter-Ministerial Committee. Although the National Anti-Corruption Strategy (NACS) has been in place for years, the current government continues to build momentum for the strategy by soliciting public input.

In addition, citizen engagement on social media and various commissions of inquiry into corruption abuses are positive steps in South Africa. The first commission of inquiry, the Zondo Commission, focuses on state capture, while the second focuses on tax administration and governance of the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Given that previous commissions of inquiry produced few results, the jury is still out on whether the new administration will yield more positive change.

Another example of recent anti-corruption efforts in South Africa is the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report on corruption in the Gauteng Department of Health. While the report never saw the light of day under previous administrations, under President Ramaphosa it exposed several high profile individuals, including members of the ruling party.

In both Kenya and South Africa, citizen engagement in the fight against corruption is crucial. For example, social media has played a big role in driving public conversation around corruption. The rise of mobile technology means ordinary citizens in many countries now have instant access to information, and an ability to voice their opinions in a way that previous generations did not.

In addition to improved access to information, which is critical to the fight against corruption, government officials in Kenya and South Africa are also reaching to social media to engage with the public. Corruption Watch, our chapter in South Africa, has seen a rise in the number of people reporting corruption on Facebook and WhatsApp. However, it remains to be seen whether social media and other new technologies will spur those in power into action.

Recommendations

Governments in Sub-Saharan Africa must intensify their efforts and keep in mind the following issues, when tackling corruption in their countries:

  • Demonstrate visible commitment to anti-corruption from political leaders, notably in Burundi, Congo and Mozambique.
  • Protect human rights defenders, political analysts, anti-corruption activists and investigative journalists and enable them to speak out on corruption issues.
  • Improve the health of democratic institutions. This includes supporting participation, transparency and trust, along with necessary checks and balances.

This article was originally published on the Transparency International website

Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 shows anti-corruption efforts stalled in most countries

The 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released in January 2018 by Transparency International reveals that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis of democracy around the world. “With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe – often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies – we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” said Patricia Moreira, Managing Director of Transparency International.

“Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption.”

The 2018 CPI draws on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). To view the results, visit: www.transparency.org/cpi2018

CPI highlights

More than two-thirds of countries score below 50, with an average score of only 43. Since 2012, only 20 countries have significantly improved their scores, including Estonia and Côte D’Ivoire, and 16 have significantly declined, including, Australia, Chile and Malta.
Denmark and New Zealand top the Index with 88 and 87 points, respectively. Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria are at the bottom of the index, with 10, 13 and 13 points, respectively. The highest scoring region is Western Europe and the European Union, with an average score of 66, while the lowest scoring regions are Sub-Saharan Africa (average score 32) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (average score 35).

Corruption and the crisis of democracy

Cross analysis with global democracy data reveals a link between corruption and the health of democracies. Full democracies score an average of 75 on the CPI; flawed democracies score an average of 49; hybrid regimes – which show elements of autocratic tendencies – score 35; autocratic regimes perform worst, with an average score of just 30 on the CPI. Exemplifying this trend, the CPI scores for Hungary and Turkey decreased by eight and nine points respectively over the last five years. At the same time, Turkey was downgraded from ‘partly free’ to
‘not free’, while Hungary registered its lowest score for political rights since the fall of communism in 1989. These ratings reflect the deterioration of rule of law and democratic institutions, as well as a rapidly shrinking space for civil society and independent media, in those countries.

More generally, countries with high levels of corruption can be dangerous places for political opponents. Practically all of the countries where political killings are ordered or condoned by the government are rated as highly corrupt on the CPI.

Countries to watch

With a score of 71, the United States lost four points since last year, dropping out of the top 20 countries on the CPI for the first time since 2011. The low score comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power. Brazil dropped two points since last year to 35, also earning its lowest CPI score in seven years.
Alongside promises to end corruption, the country’s new president has made it clear that he will rule with a strong hand, threatening many of the democratic milestones achieved by the country. “Our research makes a clear link between having a healthy democracy and successfully fighting public sector corruption,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International. “Corruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and, as we have seen in many countries, where undemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage.”

To make real progress against corruption and strengthen democracy around the world, Transparency International calls on all governments to:
• strengthen the institutions responsible for maintaining checks and balances over political power, and ensure their ability to operate without intimidation;
• close the implementation gap between anti-corruption legislation, practice and enforcement;
• support civil society organisations which enhance political engagement and public oversight over government spending, particularly at the local level;
• support a free and independent media, and ensure the safety of journalists and their ability to work without intimidation or harassment.

The Great, Unexplored Potential Between Media Development and Social Accountability

I once worked on social accountability and now work on media development for the Center for International Media Assistance. When I bump into former colleagues, we update each other enthusiastically on our work, comment approvingly on the importance of our respective efforts, and part ways without the slightest clue as to how to collaborate.

After the Global Partnership for Social Accountability Global Partners Forum in Washington DC in October 2018, however, I’m convinced that we can no longer part ways without a plan, and that there is a mutual interest to do so.

Effective social accountability work makes good use of media, and effective media institutions are themselves both a platform for social accountability and a social accountability actor in their own right. Yet when media outlets are corrupt, captured, or unprofessional, they can equally be a hindrance to social accountability and a risk to engage with. But even quality journalism and social accountability initiatives are not likely to form a seamless union. Journalists value their independence and may be suspicious of being drawn into a “development” agenda. Furthermore, the civil society organizations committed to defending and strengthening the media frequently (with some notable exceptions) work in isolation from groups focused on the social accountability agenda. The relationship between media development, media, and social accountability is fraught, complex and still neglected. Some social accountability parlance is quite useful here for describing the untapped potential.

The Making All Voices Count Project (borrowing from more rigorous frameworks elsewhere by Anu Joshi, Jonathan Fox, and others) describes social accountability initiatives as ranging from functional to instrumental to transformative. Those categories can actually be applied to the limitations on how social accountability has engaged with media development.

Usually, social accountability initiatives engage with the media in functional and instrumental ways, but could pursue a more transformative agenda. A social accountability initiative that makes some effort to communicate with and through the press, and through new digital media platforms, could be said to have a functional relationship with the media – the bare minimum. A few move beyond this. At the GPSA, a multi-donor partnership managed by the World Bank, we heard two examples of projects that do so: Hivos’ “Open Up Contracting” program, and the Social Accountability Media Initiative, a project of the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications in Nairobi.

The Open Up Contracting Program has built strong relationships with dedicated journalists, including by training them how to scrutinize and report on the government contracts that have been made public through the project’s efforts. This approach – treating the media as an autonomous actor – is likely to be more effective than purely functional social accountability projects that treat the media as a mere channel of dissemination. Still, the Open Contracting project does not have a remit to promote media development in its own right, and because of that its media engagement could be considered instrumental.

Social Accountability Media Initiative (SAMI) has a broader mandate. It also engages with journalists over the long term, bringing them together with farmers, school committees, and others engaged in social accountability projects without imposing an agenda or angle on the journalists. At the GPSA Forum, we heard about how SAMI has partnered with media outlets to ensure a community meeting with a provincial mayor in Rwanda – the results of local civil society mobilizing – was broadcast and covered in the local papers. Every SAMI activity also includes a “tripartite roundtable” with media, CSO, and government reps for “frank exchanges on obstacles to and opportunities for greater collaboration.”

So what does this all say about what a transformative approach to media development and social accountability looks like? In a transformative approach, civil society organizations not only bring the press to their community meeting, but ask the journalists about the challenges they face in their job and how civil society can help support the cause of the media freedom. Transformative means support to local media outlets that allows them to cover the relationship between government and civil society actors independently: for instance, by ensuring that the local government’s fiscal constraints are covered along with the activists’ demands. Transformative means all three institutions – local government, local civil society, local media – understanding each other’s limitations and challenges while slowly building shared values and mutual respect in their efforts to overcome them.

To be sure, there are still risks of co-optation in transformative approaches to partnership. Journalists are served well by their instinct to be skeptical, and social accountability actors will need some help to truly understand journalistic independence. Governments must also accept that critical public scrutiny comes with the territory of collaboration.  But it’s a conversation well worth continuing.

Originally published on the GPSA website

Written by: Nicholas Benequista is Research Manager and Editor at the Center for International Media Assistance, an initiative of the National Endowment for Democracy.

*Photo description: Muyira, Nyanza, Rwanda, 17 October 2018. Reporter Regina Gacinya of Izuba Radio found eager interviewees at a community debate on agriculture practices. Credits: TR Lansner, AKU-GSMC

Lessons in Social Accountability: Katanga Province increases education budget after community lobbying

Gaspard Kasongo Mukeya is blunt: “It’s no secret that DRC has mining wealth and the Congolese are so poor. It’s a scandal.” The Adviser to the Chief of Administration for the Southern DRC province of Katanga, doesn’t like pretence. For Mr Mukeya and other state officials, it’s also no secret that the share of national resources, legally divided as 60 per cent to the central government and 40 per cent to the provinces, is insufficient for basic health and education services. This is aggravated by demands from the centre that provinces send their full revenues, when legally they can retain the 40 per cent, to the centre on the promise the 40 per cent will be returned. The province says it is either returned too late, below the threshold or doesn’t turn up at all.
DRC has the lowest spend on education of any of the sub Saharan states. Against this background citizen lobbying for a 10 per cent increase would seem an unrealistic goal. However, this is what community representatives of Likasi achieved in the 2018 Katanga Provincial budget. More surprising was the source of the increase. To find the funds, Mr Mukeya explained, the province reduced the expenses of the Members of the Provincial A ssembly.

A significant factor to convince the president and his administrators to push the assembly members to approve the increase was a visit to meet school students, teachers and parents in Likasi, about 1.5 hours’ drive from Katanga’s capital of Lubumbashi. Likasi has been a centre for copper mining and wealth in DRC’s Katanga province since the 12th century, but the municipality struggles to provide basic services.  Where there has been political will, this has been blocked by a complex mix of patronage politics, elite capture, overlapping administrative functions, low funding and poor revenue management. In this context, promoting citizen-state engagement can be fraught.

Over two years the communities in Likasi audited 21 schools in Kikula commune against government standards, participated in community services scorecards, developed a report on the state of their schools and lobbied for more funds for teachers and textbooks. Since the report contradicted government reporting, the president and his entourage made a visit to the schools to see the conditions students faced. They discovered that there were three students sharing one school desk and more than 100 pupils a class had been charged illegal fees to attend.

Mr Mukeya spoke directly to the students. He said the visit had convinced him and other government officials the government had to act.

“It has helped us to see those realities, that our children are studying in a bad condition,” he said. “It allowed us to have a dialogue which was very important. We were concerned to improve the conditions. We need this collaboration. If there is no dialogue we are not going to develop. Anyone who is not learning is becoming poor.”

This is an excerpt from a report published by World Vision on its Citizen Voice and Action (CVA) programme implemented across a number of countries.

The full report can be accessed here

From Citizen Voice and Action Scaling Social Accountability copyright © 2019 World Vision International, used by permission

How Ugandans are improving procurement with data and dialogue

Silas Okumu leads the parent teacher association at a primary school in Kisenge, a small community just 600 meters from Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. In October 2018, he travelled six hours by bus to the capital, Kampala, to talk to the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), a non-profit that works on contract monitoring, about a construction project at the school where his four children are students.

Recounting the details from neat handwritten papers, he explained that new classrooms and an administrative block had been built (with support from the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank), but the community had unresolved concerns: there weren’t enough classrooms for all the students, the school lacked teachers’ housing, a fence and electricity, and the new classrooms weren’t furnished.

AFIC’s staff had visited Kisenge primary school when construction was underway, checking the quality of building materials and following up when things weren’t going well with the contractors. When Okumu told them about the community’s other requests, they advised him to write the details down and promised to inform the relevant authorities. Okumu had come to Kampala to deliver his letter in person, so AFIC could share it with various government offices and follow up to ensure action was taken.

Demanding accountability: a network tracking public contracting across Uganda

AFIC is part of a network of passionate Ugandans who dedicate their time to tracking public contracting processes across the country, helping citizens like Silas Okumu to ensure their communities get the goods, services and works they need, and public officers have the information and resources they need to purchase those items at the fairest price. The group is diverse, but shares a common goal: “value for money, value for many.” They believe this occurs most effectively when people understand the contracts that affect their communities and participate in decisions made about those deals — from companies wanting to do business with the government to citizens who benefit from the services.

Before open contracting was established, citizens made complaints and requests about contracts on an ad-hoc basis, they didn’t know whether any action was taken, and there was often little clarity about which government office was responsible for what processes.

The strength and collaborative nature of this group has helped them to advocate successfully for the government to adopt open contracting — a best practice approach designed to improve the management and performance of public contracting through open data and public engagement. It’s an ambitious project — corruption is endemic in Uganda, especially in public procurement, the anti-graft laws are poorly enforced, freedom of speech is often restricted, and government agencies are under-resourced. Unreliable IT infrastructure and technology make setting up stable digital resources a challenge.

But there are early signs this network’s efforts seem to begin paying off. The government has used open contracting to begin making its public procurement portal more useful for a wider range of people. Civil society has created their own platform that displays procurement information in a way that’s easy for community monitors to understand, drawing on open data extracted from the government’s portal and supplemented by FOI requests. The public procurement agency is using open contracting data to identify potential irregularities in procurement processes. Public access to contracting documents has improved since open contracting reforms were introduced, as have communication channels between citizens, civil society and public servants. Meanwhile, the government is drafting an amendment to the procurement law, the PPDA Act, that would improve transparency and accountability in the sector. There have also been notable improvements reported in some procurement policies and practices; in particular, public officers say contracting data has helped them to plan and budget better, and open contracting has been embedded in anti-corruption reforms within the country’s largest procuring entity.

Towards a new, more collaborative and open approach to public contracting

AFIC’s executive director Gilbert Sendugwa recalls reporting anomalies to the national procurement oversight body, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), as early as 2011, when he was the chairman of a board of governors overseeing education development projects in Rushenyi county. He says the PPDA didn’t respond to him directly, but speaking to beneficiaries sometimes revealed that complaints had been addressed.He continued to share information with the PPDA informally, before they signed a formal agreement with him. When a coalition of procurement monitors was established, PPDA began hosting their meetings and training them on the agency’s processes. Now “we work very warmly and very openly in a strong partnership,” Sendugwa says

In 2015, the PPDA launched the Government Procurement Portal (GPP), an online platform to systematically publish contracting information. But despite its good intentions, civil society groups found it difficult to use. The platform featured data on procurement plans, tender notices, winning bidders’ names, awards, contract status and suspended suppliers. But many procuring entities didn’t publish their data, and contracting processes lacked unique identifiers so they couldn’t be followed through different stages of the procurement cycle. Important data were also missing — such as detailed bidder information, award criteria, implementation milestones and amendments, and procurement plans for local district governments (see detailed data mapping) — and the data formats weren’t user-friendly.

The Ministry of Health’s latest procurement plan on the Government Procurement Portal (GPP)

AFIC began advocating for open contracting with the Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) five years ago, as a way to make information about contracts more accessible, useful and timely. With the help of fellow transparency advocates from Nigeria and elsewhere, AFIC used open contracting mapping tools to assess the quality of the procurement agency’s data against international standards, and how the GPP could be improved to allow better monitoring by civil society. In 2016, they compared a sample of GPP data against the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), a universal schema for organizing the most important information about contracting processes, from the planning stage to award and implementation.

The OCDS made gaps in the data apparent, such as planning and implementation milestones, bidder enquiries, and tender updates. After hearing AFIC’s findings and recommendations, the procurement agency asked the civil society group to expand their assessment to cover all the portal’s data and agreed to redesign the portal in line with the OCDS. The PPDA was convinced because they could see the benefit of open contracting to their work — improving disclosure, public participation, and public sector responsiveness would improve their capacity to monitor public procurement, and create better practices among procuring entities, who often had a reputation for failing to follow procurement rules, in some cases awarding contracts based on personal or political preferences rather than value for money. Now, PPDA data shows 402 procuring entities are registered on the GPP, 202 of which disclosed procurement plans for the 2017/18 fiscal year, compared to 97 entities registered in 2015/16 before the redesign. Each contracting process has a unique identifier across the procurement cycle and data is in accessible and reusable formats (Excel and JSON).

Edwin Muhumuza, performance monitoring manager at the PPDA shares: “… for citizens to be engaged in promoting accountability for effective service delivery, they must have information related to the contracts that are being implemented in their localities. Our commitment to open contracting is also intended to leverage the capabilities of other stakeholders such as civil society organizations in monitoring public contracts. Making public procurement information accessible to the public also enables us to take advantage of the civil society organizations’ networks that can supplement and complement our efforts in contract monitoring. We have seen the fruits of such collaboration, and they have encouraged us to promote open contracting.”

Putting open contracting data to use: Identifying red flags

With open data, the PPDA has enough complete records to flag and investigate anomalies, such as incorrect award methods, overpricing, and time overruns. For example, an officer at the PPDA noticed that the bid process was restricted for a valuable contract for supervisory services at the Kabaale International Airport. Normally Uganda would run an open competitive procedure for a 21.3 billion shilling (US$5.7 million) contract, according to Edwin Muhumuza. But after making further enquiries, Muhumuza told us, the PPDA found the direct award was legal, because it was requested by the international funder and international agreements take precedence over other procurement legislation (the PPDA Act).

AFIC has extracted data from the GPP to build their own tool specifically designed for civil society and citizens, Budeshi.ug, which it released in October 2018. The GPP data in Budeshi is further supplemented by contracts and information obtained through Freedom of Information requests. The tool is an adaptation of one developed by AFIC’s partners in Nigeria, the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC). Like the Nigerian platform, Budeshi.ug offers powerful analyses focused on information of interest to citizens and civil society in particular. It allows users to search projects by procuring entity, contractor, procurement method, project type, and year, and run basic analyses on the aggregated data. AFIC also plans to upload other data sets, such as budget and spending data, to perform further analysis. This cross-referencing of data sets can lead to powerful insights. For example, Emanuele Colonnelli, an academic and researcher collaborating with the PPDA, said he requested Uganda’s tax registry data manually and combined it with GPP data to reveal 45% of firms doing business with government never pay taxes (study yet to be published).

Budeshi.ug and key visualizations

A shared mission for better procurement: building relationships between civil society and government

Members of civil society from AFIC and UCMC have repeated their evidence-based advocacy approach to earn the trust of other institutions who had been unresponsive, even when the civil society groups invoked access to information laws. Their monitoring work serves several purposes: to increase communities’ understanding of individual projects — looking for signs of common problems like potential fraud, collusion, diversion of funds, or inflated costs — and to motivate government agencies to engage more actively in open contracting, which in turn increases the amount and quality of data on the GPP.

Through this work, we have seen that proactive disclosure and collaboration have improved among district governments where civil society monitors contracts and the PPDA has trained procurement officers in using and uploading data to the portal.

Before their first monitoring report was finalized, AFIC shared their draft findings and recommendations with the relevant agencies and incorporated their input in the final report. They invited elected officials who have an oversight role, accounting officers and the heads of departments. This helped to improve accountability, but it also gave different stakeholders a chance to raise concerns about capacity or resource needs.

“Initially in these districts they were not cooperating, giving us information and contracts,” said Sendugwa. “We had to get some of them through the PPDA. But after our first report, when we shared results, that’s when it opened doors to establish formal relationships.”

Shortly after, three districts signed MoUs with AFIC to share their contracting information. Six months later, when AFIC conducted their second round of monitoring, they gathered more than three times as many contracts (98 contracts, 37 of which were accessed via the GPP, compared to 29 contracts in 2017, all accessed via FOI request) and all five districts’ procurement plans (three via the GPP). The other two districts signed MoUs after the second monitoring period. After this improvement in data disclosure, PPDA registered 43 additional procuring entities to the GPP and trained 86 officers from these entities on using the open contracting data portal.

The PPDA and Ministry of Finance also adopted AFIC’s recommendation to enshrine open contracting in the procurement legislation. An amendment to the PPDA Act is currently being drafted by the First Parliamentary Counsel.

Road work in Uganda. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

At the agency level, open contracting has been embedded in important measures to address endemic corruption in the largest procuring entity, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) (a commission of inquiry in 2016, for example, found the agency had misappropriated more than 40% of its road construction budget over seven years). According to the PPDA, the entity has begun publishing additional procurement information, such as procurement plans, via digital platforms and traditional media, and engaging more with contractors and other stakeholders. This has helped potential bidders to plan better and make more competitive offers, according to the UNRA’s Procurement Director John Omeke Ongimu. Several people interviewed from government and civil society also said bids per tender at the UNRA have increased and come from a wider range of firms and countries. Reported improvements like these represent an encouraging first step in the right direction, and the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) hopes to conduct a quantitative evaluation of them in the near future.

Better planning and budgeting

Officers from central government agencies and district governments told the OCP that compliance has improved and procurement processes are more efficient and transparent since the GPP was updated. For example, timelines and automated notifications of delays help them to track processes; the list of blacklisted suppliers helps them evaluate proposals; and bid notices can be printed by providers, rather than collected in person after being prepared manually.

Procurement plans have become more realistic and within budget, according to the government officials interviewed. A procurement officer at the Ministry of Education, Richard Ahimbisibwe, said the ministry’s budgeting has improved, because they and the PPDA can monitor actual spending against procurement plans more efficiently. When the ministry’s initial procurement plan for the 2017/18 fiscal year was over budget by 200 billion shillings, the PPDA followed up with the procurement unit, who took a second look and found they were able to remove some unnecessary items and cut costs of others to bring the plan within budget.

Construction of new classrooms at St. Matia Malumba Primary School. GPE/Livia Barton

Civil society has observed improvements in procurement planning, too. Only 21 percent of the contracts obtained by AFIC for their first monitoring reportin October 2017 were included in the government’s approved procurement plans (6 out of 29 contracts), which could indicate a diversion of funds. Their second report, in April 2018, revealed a significant improvement — 86 percent of contracts were in the plans (32 out of 37 contracts analyzed). AFIC has added information on the contracts obtained via FOI request to the Budeshi monitoring platform.

Between the two monitoring periods, PPDA trained procurement officers in the districts and updated the planning template in the GPP to ensure a link between planned contracts and those being awarded and executed. Now, if a contract is not in the procurement plan, it cannot be entered in the GPP. And government has a better understanding of who in government buys what, from whom and when.

Next steps and embedding a change of culture

While the story so far shows the promise for open data and open contracting in Uganda’s public procurement, it’s also very volatile. The GPP was down for half of 2018 and a new e-procurement system is in development, which could derail some of the progress, as it’s unclear to what extent it will integrate open contracting and the work already invested in the GPP.

At the institutional level, major weaknesses in the enforcement of legislation and procurement processes continue to allow for corruption and impunity, according to representatives of both government and civil society.

“Government has made progress in disclosing contracting information,” said Sendugwa. “Several investigations and commissions of inquiry have been made in procurement-related scandals. However, these efforts are undermined by lack of action against the big fish when [they] are involved in corrupt practices.”

The PPDA’s Executive Director Benson Turamye has expressed similar concerns, noting in a statement for Uganda’s 2017 Anti-Corruption Week that despite procurement reforms having some success, “serious challenges persist including corruption, non-compliance with the procurement act and regulations, un-standardized procurement processes across procuring and disposal entities, continuous delays in delivery of supplies and services, and wastage of resources through uncompetitive and closed purchases.” He also mentioned a 2015 PPDA survey that found almost 60 percent of bidders said they had paid a public official to influence the outcome of a tender.

Uganda is working now on redesigning the GPP so that it can hold large amounts of data and remain stable. But where we really need the investment, according to Gilbert Sendugwa, is in promoting use of data by different stakeholders.

“[We want] those who are mandated for oversight to be able to use this data to empower their decision making, [along with] those who are involved in service monitoring…and those who implement contracts,” says Gilbert Sendugwa.

Citizens particularly need more information about what happens to the complaints made, as they develop more confidence in requesting contracting documents and dealing with officials.

What a lively schoolyard can look like. A primary school in Kampala, Uganda. Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

The persistence of Silas Okumu, who had been calling AFIC every day, is paying off for Kisenge primary school. Staff absenteeism was a problem because teachers lived far away, so the community asked to repurpose iron sheets from the school’s construction site to build teacher housing. AFIC informed the Ministry of Education who decided that iron sheets at all similar World Bank project sites should be given to the communities for teacher housing. Unaware that the community knew about this decision, contractors started removing iron sheets designated for Kisenge primary school staff accommodation. Okumu immediately called Gilbert Sendugwa, who contacted the district government. He asked them to stop the contractors since they had a letter from the Ministry of Education explaining that the materials were for the community. They didn’t cooperate, so Sendugwa called the local police commissioner. When the contractors continued to take the materials, Sendugwa told the commissioner that he was reporting the situation to the Inspectorate of Government and would inform them that the commissioner was following up to help. After about an hour after the call, Chairman Okumu said the iron sheets had been returned to the school.

“I found it very interesting, but also humbling — the power of information by the community,” said Sendugwa. Open contracting in Uganda is still a work in progress but thanks to the efforts of AFIC, the PPDC and committed local activists, the journey has begun.

This article was originally published by Open Contracting here

 

Additional resources:

Making public contracts work for people: Experiences from Uganda

Enhancing performance and accountability of social service contracts in Uganda Project: Monitoring contracts on health and education works in Uganda

Eyes on contracts: Citizens’ voice in improving the performance of public contracts in Uganda

Uganda open contracting and procurement data use scoping study report

Listening to the people who think we are wrong

Authored by Larry Kramer on the 10th of January 2019

Among the most corrosive developments of recent years—one that predates the election of Donald Trump—has been a breakdown in our ability to debate and reason with others with whom we disagree. The term du jour, “tribalism,” replaced the earlier “polarization” precisely to capture the added ingredient of animosity that has made even conversation across partisan divides difficult. Mistrust and hostility have been grafted onto disagreement about ideas.

Political scientists differ about how widespread the phenomenon is—some seeing it shared broadly across American society, while others believe it confined to activist elites. I lean toward the latter view, though the disease seems to be spreading awfully fast. The difference hardly matters, because activists drive and shape public debates. And, either way, the resulting take-no-prisoners politics threatens the future of democratic government, which presupposes disagreement and depends on willingness to work through and across differences from a sense of shared community.

We need to do better.

LISTENING WITH EMPATHY

I was a law professor before coming to the foundation. Asked about the educational mission of law school, most of my former colleagues would probably say something about learning fundamental legal concepts, coupled with the analytic moves needed to “think like a lawyer.” But I have long believed that the most important skill we teach young lawyers is how to appreciate an opposing argument in its strongest light: how to hear it with tolerance and see it as it appears through the eyes of the person making it. Put simply, we help law students understand how an argument that seems completely wrong to them can seem right and reasonable to someone else.

Let’s call that “listening with empathy.”

Learning to listen with empathy matters for a number of reasons. An advocate needs to see an opponent’s argument in its strongest light, not only to counter the position effectively, but also to fully understand his or her own position—its weaknesses as well as its strengths—and so be properly prepared to defend it. Nor is this the only reason, because adversarial advocacy is only part of what lawyers do. Most legal work involves bargaining among conflicting interests and finding ways to settle disputes. Good lawyers know how to negotiate and cooperate; they know (in the phrase made famous by Roger Fisher and William Ury) how to “get to yes”—something made vastly easier if one fully and fairly comprehends both sides of an issue. There is a reason lawyers have historically constituted such a disproportionate share of our legislators and executives, and it’s not because they know how to argue. It is because they know how to find common ground.

Not that compromising is always the right thing to do. Without doubt, there are matters of principle too important to relinquish, and instances in which an adversary is too inflexible or too extreme to accommodate. In today’s public discourse, moreover, outright fabrication has become, if not quite acceptable, increasingly common. But one cannot know if or when these are the case unless and until one has examined the other side’s position honestly and confronted the weaknesses in one’s own position fearlessly.

There is no contradiction or incompatibility between caring passionately about an issue and taking the time to understand an opposing argument…

And why not do that? There is no contradiction or incompatibility between caring passionately about an issue and taking the time to understand an opposing argument, and nothing about doing so necessitates changing one’s mind or position. If that becomes more likely as a result of listening with empathy—or, more realistically, if doing so makes one more disposed to find ground for mutual accommodation—that’s a good thing that has happened for the best possible reason, namely, a fair and rational assessment of the strength of the respective claims.

Listening with empathy is not the unique province of lawyers. It is not a specialized skill, nor something that requires extensive technical training. It is a mental discipline that calls for self-conscious effort, but that anyone can adopt. I say self-conscious, because attending dispassionately to ideas we abhor is neither easy nor natural. It requires discipline and self-honesty: an exercise of mental muscles that, like any muscle, need regular use to stay fit and strong. But if we are to make progress as a society, few things are more important than keeping these particular muscles healthy—and this is true whether what’s at stake is naming a falsehood, prevailing in a contest of will or political power, or finding room to compromise. In every case, taking the time to make sure we understand the best version of our opponents’ position will not only make us more effective, it also will likely lower the temperature and increase the chances of reaching a suitable outcome. Indignation and outrage may still be called for on occasion, but if we listen to each other attentively and fairly, the situations in which that turns out to be true are likely to be fewer, and more appropriate.

Listening with empathy is, for all these reasons, a responsibility shared by every citizen in a democracy. But, most especially, it is a duty for the political, social, and intellectual leaders whose behavior is supposed to model expectations for the rest of us.

LISTENING WITHOUT HEARING

Yet as tribalism has intensified and spread, listening this way has all but disappeared from today’s social and political discourse. We have increasingly become a society in which no one listens to the other side, not really. We do not ignore each other exactly; people on different sides of issues pay attention to opposing viewpoints. What we do is worse. We scoff and sneer and insult each other. We treat people whose ideas differ from ours in ways that make understanding seem like the last thing we care about. Then we surround ourselves with people who think like we do and luxuriate in our shared anger and contempt. For all the talk of “filter bubbles” and “echo chambers” on social media, these are hardly limited to the internet. And our leaders are failing worst of all.

Three techniques in particular pervade the practice of paying heed to an opposing argument without condescending to meet it:

  • First, there is the “straw man” method—a tried and true practice that involves taking the weakest or most extreme or least plausible argument in favor of a position and acting as if it were the only argument for that position; a variation of this method takes the most extreme and unattractive advocates for a position and treats them as typical.
  • Second is the practice of attributing bad motives to one’s opponents. Those employing this approach assume that people who take a contrary position know in their hearts that they are wrong and make the arguments they do for some inappropriate reason, such as racism or self-interest, that makes it easy to ignore what they have to say.
  • Third, a relatively new entrant, is what might be called the identity excuse: “We don’t need to listen to them because they are [blank].” Then fill in the blank with whatever identity you think warrants dismissal: a white male, a Black Lives Matter supporter, a Trump voter, a Democrat, the oil industry, a union, someone who received money for their work, and so on.

Often these moves come in combination, for they are easily blended. What they share in common is that all become pretexts not to address the merits of an argument one dislikes.

You undoubtedly will have noted the absence of examples in this description of techniques. That was intentional on my part, because I don’t want disagreement over my particular picks to distract from the central point, which is that use of these dodges has become commonplace. Instead, I invite you to think of your own examples—confident that no one will find this difficult. Now, a tougher challenge: see if you can produce a second set of examples, but this time coming from people with whom you agree. If you cannot do so, you are not being honest with yourself. Because while blame may not be shared equally, people on all sides regularly use these devices to counter arguments they reject; and if one side has been worse than the other, still both have been bad enough.

I accept that it may be a lot to ask elected officials or candidates for office to always stick to the merits this way, especially now that political campaigning has become a continuous activity. It may be a lot even to ask of journalists, ensnared as they are in their challenged industry’s competitive fight for survival. It is not, however, a lot to ask of people working in philanthropy, who benefit from all those advantages that supposedly make us independent. With access to any intellectual resources we need, freedom to choose our issues and pursue them over whatever time frame we like, and no need to worry about attracting customers or alienating voters, what possible excuse is there for funders to take shortcuts or fail to engage substantively with people who take opposing positions?

The answer may be none, but we are part of the same society, immersed in the same culture, and it would hardly be shocking if we fell victim to the same provocations and frustrations. In fact, listening to discussions and presentations at conferences and in meetings, including in my own organization—listening to my own conversations, for that matter, my voice included—I fear this is exactly what is happening.

One very public sign is the favorable reception accorded in philanthropy to Anand Giridharadas’ provocative new book, Winners Take All. To the apparent delight of foundation staff across the country who are avidly reading and sharing the book, Giridharadas takes a group of highly visible philanthropists out to the woodshed for a good old-fashioned spanking. This has made him an industry darling and go-to headline speaker.

Giridharadas’ thesis is straightforward: A new generation of philanthropists that earned its wealth through market activities is engaged in a misguided effort to address social ills through the same mechanisms, when it should be asking more fundamental questions about the system that produced its wealth in the first place. I happen to agree with this view, which is why I have in speeches and writings questioned the mania for impact investing, and why the Hewlett Foundation is actively exploring how to supplant the reigning neoliberal philosophy that Giridharadas derisively labels “MarketWorld.”

Unless we can hear our opponents and make them feel heard (and they us), we stand little chance of maintaining our democracy.

Yet while I share Giridharadas’ outlook, his presentation of it has conspicuous shortcomings. Giridharadas overstates the importance of the philanthropy he criticizes, which is really a quite small part of the field, while overlooking hundreds of funders and thousands of NGOs doing valuable and important work even by his standards. He offers no evidence for the improbable claim that these market-oriented philanthropic interventions have blunted the prospects for more radical reform—a failure better attributed to opposition from a rather large and effective conservative political movement. And he ignores both the difficulty of articulating a suitable alternative to neoliberalism—which is considerable—and a substantial literature critical of the more conventionally liberal solutions he periodically offers in asides.

But these failings are not the reason I find the book’s uncritical approval by people in philanthropy so disheartening. The chief problem—and the reason I mention the book here—is that at no point does Giridharadas make a serious effort to understand the arguments or reasoning of the people he is criticizing. Instead, he has written a 263-page putdown that could serve as a textbook for the avoidance techniques described above. In Giridharadas’s telling, the inhabitants of MarketWorld believe as they do for flimsy, straw-man reasons; or because they are privileged (mostly) white elites; or because they are intellectual cowards, conning themselves into believing they are doing good when really they are just self-interested.

Would that it were so simple. In truth, much can be said for the neoliberal system that Giridharadas dismisses, which has undeniably played a crucial role in lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. And while that system may have run its course, understanding why—and, more important, figuring out what should replace it—is a complex matter that requires more than a contemptuous backhand. Sharing Giridharadas’ position, I might be able to make the arguments for him. But I should not have to—and neither should those he is attacking or those who support them. Asking people to listen with empathy means asking them to view opposing arguments in their best light, not to generate the arguments themselves or imagine what they might be.

If you already agree with Giridharadas’ thesis, you may find the book fun to read. He is a talented writer—skilled at ingenuously mocking his targets and using rhetoric to drum up a very pleasurable sense of indignation. But you won’t actually learn anything. If you disagree with him, you will find a caricature of yourself, a funhouse mirror version that never attends in a serious way to the underlying beliefs that animate you. But you won’t learn anything either. And if you are new to these debates, you will learn that the author is really angry about a world view he thinks self-evidently wrong, but you won’t learn anything about why he is right, why the people he criticizes are mistaken, why they might nevertheless believe as they do, or what the substantive arguments are on either side.

It’s easy to preach to the choir, and even easier to be part of it. It’s easy to surround ourselves with people who think as we do and to dismiss everyone who disagrees as stupid or corrupt. It’s especially easy to act this way when our political leaders—led or goaded by the president, with his outsized megaphone—relentlessly fan the flames of discord and contempt. Adopting a tribal mindset when everyone else seems to be doing so is more than just easy. It’s satisfying.

Which makes it all the more important not to fall prey to this way of thinking. We must instead discipline ourselves to argue with opponents empathetically, and not only because this could make our efforts to overcome them more effective. We must do it because, unless we can hear our opponents and make them feel heard (and they us), we stand little chance of maintaining our democracy—not in a society as complex and diverse as this one, comprised of people with so many different, intensely-held interests and passions and beliefs.

THE HEWLETT FOUNDATION’S COMMITMENT

The best way to develop the discipline needed to listen empathetically is simply to do it: to make ourselves hear and earnestly engage our critics’ best arguments. Going to the gym can feel like a chore, but we do it anyway to stay healthy. So, too, listening with empathy. To that end, the staff of the Hewlett Foundation will spend focused time in the coming year hearing from—and listening to—people who question our work and our strategies.

We’ll begin by dedicating a week to studying the underlying psychology of tribalism, its consequences for how we reason, and what we can do to overcome it. In the months that follow, each program will then invite speakers who fundamentally disagree with the program’s strategies to present their reasoning and arguments. Afterwards, the team will hold a second meeting on their own to discuss what they heard and what they learned.

The staff of the Hewlett Foundation will spend focused time in the coming year hearing from—and listening to—people who question our work and our strategies.

For this to work, much depends on finding the right speakers. We want people who disagree with us in ways that are meaningful and challenging, but not outlandish or wholly implausible. Were we funding historical work on World War II, I would not invite a Holocaust denier. There is no point in having someone whose position is wholly at odds with proven facts and expert consensus. The same will be true, frankly, for climate denial. Inviting speakers whose views fly in the face of a consensus supported by overwhelming evidence fairly interpreted would be counterproductive and would, most likely, just confirm the sense some have that spending time listening to opponents this way is pointless.

But neither will it serve our purposes to hear only from speakers whose disagreements with us are peripheral or incidental, and so unthreatening. The trick is to identify genuinely challenging positions—which may be to our left, to our right, or both—and then see what we learn by grappling honestly and conscientiously with people who advocate them. It will be up to each program to do this for itself, but I trust them to identify the points of greatest vulnerability in their thinking, and I believe they will learn just by asking the question.

The exercise will be a start, but it can’t be a one-time occurrence. We need to cultivate a regular practice of engaging with people who think we are wrong as part of our ordinary operations. That I went to the gym a few years ago won’t keep me healthy today; I need to keep exercising. This is, if anything, even more important when it comes to justification and analysis. Arguments and ideas and ways of attacking and defending them are continually evolving, and it’s necessary to remain actively engaged with the full range of thinking in a field to remain effective.

Central to the process of rational argument is the idea of skepticism—skepticism about our own self-evident truths most of all.

We live at a time when many of our most cherished values are under attack or eroding (a painful reality highlighted by just how tired and banal that observation sounds). Among the most endangered ideals are a cluster of principles associated with the Enlightenment philosophy that inspired the founding of our nation and have exemplified it at its best: toleration, rationality, freedom of conscience and the free exchange of ideas, belief in empiricism and reason. Central to these principles, and to the process of rational argument itself, is the idea of skepticism—skepticism about our own self-evident truths most of all. John Stuart Mill put it thus in On Liberty:

“Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.”

Living that paradox as regular practice can be difficult, especially in challenged times like these. It’s so much easier to take shortcuts, to stop asking, to believe what we want to believe and surrender to the myriad ways our minds are programmed to be irrational. But (another cliché) no one said it would be easy. And for those of us privileged to work in philanthropy—privileged to steward resources, with the responsibility to use them as best we can to make the world a better place—taking the more demanding path is an inviolable duty.

Original post available here

Award-Winning Social Accountability Journalism

Three SADC journalists each received a 2018 Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting on Thursday 29 November at Rhodes University, Makhanda, South Africa.

Presented during the gala awards dinner at the 22nd annual Highway Africa conference, the world’s largest gathering of African journalists, recipients Winston Mwale (Malawi), Derrick Chityamba (Zambia) and Josephine Chinele (Malawi) earned first, second and third place, respectively, for their outstanding contribution to investigative reporting on social accountability in the Southern Africa region.

Award winners from left Derrick Chityamba from Zambia, Josephine Chinele of Malawi and Winston Mwale of Malawi.

Presented by the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance and Highway Africa, the awards recognise journalists in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia for investigative reporting that contributes to improved services in public health and agriculture, particularly in the areas of HIV and sexual reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and food security.

Currently in its second year, the awards further aim to promote social accountability coverage in the region considering the challenges to good governance, as well as the threat to individuals who dare to report on such issues.

“Information flows are necessary factors to strengthening social accountability practice,” said Lindelwa Nxele, Programme officer of the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM). “Media…disseminate and distribute news that do not only inform the general public of current events, but also investigate issues that affect the state of the nation.”

The third prize story by Chinele, ‘Sexual rituals put Nsanje girls in harm’s way’ puts much needed spotlight on the forced prostitution of young girls to elderly men for sexual cleansing rituals. The front-page article was published on 23 September2018 by The Sunday Times Malawi.  “The story stands out because Chinele also questions the traditional authority about what they are doing to stop it,” said Julie Middleton of ActionAid and adjudicator for the awards.

Chityamba’s second place story takes a similar stand as it calls the Zambian government to book for the newly introduced e-voucher solutions system, along with the various challenges it has posed for farmers and agricultural production this year. Chityamaba took the role of co-producer on this in-depth radio piece which aired on Oblate Radio Liseli on 8 August 2018.

Receiving first prize win is radio journalist Mwale.  The story looks at a controversy in the Mchinji district of Malawi, where community members accuse the supervisor of a maternity ward construction project of diverting materials to build his own house in the same area.

Highway Africa applauded Mwale at the ceremony, describing his coverage on the diversion of public resources for personal use as a prime example of the vibrant reporting to come out of Zodiak Broadcasting Station. “Within Malawi Zodiak has played a critical role in political transition. It stood firm with all sorts of threats, but they’ve stood strong. And as a veteran, Winston demonstrates a similar resolve”.

All the winning stories can be found at http://copsam.com/regional-media-award-finalists-taking-on-accountability-in-africa/

Partnership for Social Accountability Alliance is led by ActionAid International together with Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF), and SAfAIDS, and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

For more information visit http://copsam.com/psa/. PSA is on Twitter and Facebook at @psaalliance.

Regional Media Award: Finalists taking on accountability in Africa

The 2018 finalists for the Southern African Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting have been announced. The award, in its second year, is hosted at the annual Highway Africa conference in partnership with the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) alliance. The award recognizes that communication and information flows are necessary factors to strengthening social accountability practice. Media are a tool to disseminate and distribute news that do not only inform the general public of current events, but also investigate issues that affect the state of the nation.

Journalism however can be a challenging endevour, especially when dealing with the management of public resources. With shrinking civic spaces and various issues that threaten the well-being of individuals who dare to report on social accountability issues, the PSA alliance deemed it necessary to introduce an award for regional media in order to promote social accountability reporting and coverage in the region.

The aim of the award is to promote high-quality investigative reporting on issues of social accountability, specifically on HIV / Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and food security in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. The 1st Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability was presented in 2017 during a gala awards dinner held at the 21st annual Highway Africa conference, the world’s largest gathering of African journalists, at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.

The PSA alliance is planning on presenting their second award at the 2018 Highway Africa conference gala dinner to be held at Rhodes University, South Africa. Three awards will be offered to the successful entries for 1st, 2nd prize and 3rd prize (USD 450 for 1st prize • USD 200 for 2nd prize • USD 100 for 3rd prize).

The three final stories in the running for the awards inspire us all to be much more vigilant about issues concerning the management of resources, but not only that, they also provide valuable information that could be used by other social accountability actors to advocate for change. The award is to honor the work that these journalists do and show the appreciation for the information and knowledge they distribute to their respective communities. Here are details of the stories selected as finalists – these are in no particular order – the winner will be announced at the gala event on the 29th November:

  1. The harm being done to young girls in the Nsanje district in Malawi as a result of sexual rituals was investigated by journalist Josephine Chinele in her report in the Sunday Times. Her story included information from the District Hospital, youth in the area and the district commissioner. The full article authored by Josephine Chinele is accessible on https://www.times.mw/sexual-ritauls-put-nsanje-girls-in-harms-way/
  2. Food security is a serious challenge in most African countries. Derrick Chityamba produced a news report investigating the management of initiatives targeting farmers in Zambia. The government implemented a project which aimed to assist local and small business farmers to better access their supplies. To partake in the programme, farmers had to contribute a fund to the government and then receive a card which, once activated, would allow them to procure their supplies from the supplier of their choice. The delays in the roll-out of the project highlights issues with the activation of cards, farmers not being able to procure the resources they need and missing their farming seasons. The news report talks to various stakeholders including farmers, government officials, farmer’s association, and suppliers to understand how these problem affect those involved and the plans to mitigate the challenge. The news report can be accessed below:
  3. This news report investigated by Winston Mwale started when community members in Malawi reported suspicious activity to the government officials and requested assistance. The community members suspected the foreman of a construction company that was hired to build a maternity ward at a local clinic of embezzling the resources to build his own house. They were mainly concerned for the integrity of the structure of the buildings that were supposed to be constructed. The reporter interviewed a number of individuals who reported seeing the foremen moving material and human resources from the clinic to his site. The foreman and the company denied the accusations, however, stating that there was no misuse of resources and ensuring the community that the structure at the maternity ward was not going to be compromised. The reporter also interviewed an ActionAid representative who works with the community to empower them to monitor the use of public resources. He stated that it was a progressive step, because the community was able to monitor the problem and followed the necessary steps to ensure accountability. The full news report can be accessed below:

In its inception, the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) alliance ensured that media was one of their five target groups, as well as a beneficiary. The PSA is a partnership between ActionAid International, PSAM, ESAFF and SAfAIDS, who were awarded a tender by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) to implement the first three-year phase (2016-2019) of a public resource management (PRM) project in Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique.

The main aim of the project is to “to improve public service delivery in agriculture (food security), and health (HIV/AIDS, sexual and reproductive health and rights). This is done through strengthening the oversight and social accountability roles of five target groups in the SADC region, specifically: selected parliamentary committees, relevant government departments, issue-based civil society organisations (CSOs), smallholder farmer organisations, and the media”

What is civil society for? Reflection from one of Tanzania’s leading CSO thinkers

A recent civil society and government jamboree in Tanzania prompted some interesting reflections from Aidan Eyakuze, Executive Director of Twaweza.

 

This article was originally published on the ‘From Poverty to Power’ blog.

 

Who needs civil society organizations (CSOs)? If government does its job well, responding to citizens’ needs, delivering good quality services, safe communities and a booming economy, then what is the purpose of the diverse range of NGOs, trade unions, religious groups, community groups and others that make up civil society?

I was one of more than 600 people at CSO Week 2018 in Dodoma (Tanzania’s capital). We were there to both celebrate and debate the role of civil society in Tanzania. Lots of speakers from within and outside government spoke with almost universal praise for the role civil society plays. But not far below the collegial surface lurked a significant divergence of views.

The most important was conflicting views on the primary purpose of civil society. Government officials acknowledged the positive role of CSOs, but with a strong whiff of ambiguity about their value and scepticism about their integrity.

Government ministers and senior officials revealed a clear preference for CSOs focused on uncontroversial service delivery activities (providing healthcare or education or clean water), over those working on raising citizen voices and advocating for better policies. They said that CSOs that focus on service delivery are supporting the government as the people’s legitimately elected representative. They are giving people the help they need, and can attract additional aid dollars into the country for development. However, those CSOs that monitor and critique government, advocate for civic space and promote human rights, may in fact be pursuing foreign agendas or wasting resources by working in areas that do not resonate with citizens’ needs, such as public services and livelihoods.

I also heard many CSOs worrying that limiting their activities to providing services makes them little more than handmaids to government and reduces citizens to mere subjects. Championing the causes of social justice, equality, shared responsibility and rewards has them working to ensure people are free citizens.

But this is a simplistic, though long-standing distinction, and I think it misses the point. For the ‘uncontroversial’ services to be delivered well to those needing them most, civic space must, crucially and contentiously, be open.

Without freedom of information and expression, people will not know what they are entitled to. Nor will they be able to voice their opinion on the quality of services or bring other problems to the attention of decision makers. Without freedom of assembly and association, the gap between a distant and powerful government and an atomised population becomes almost unbridgeable. Without citizen participation, services rarely meet citizen needs and citizens feel increasingly powerless and disconnected. Without inclusion, marginalised people are left even further behind. Without human rights and the rule of law, citizens have little protection from corrupt or bullying officials. Those who no longer trust that the game is fair stop trying to play and withdraw to the fringes.

CSOs that work to protect and promote open civic space are also working to strengthen public services and improve people’s lives. We may be doing so indirectly, but our contribution is just as valuable and necessary.

I would go further to argue that even delivering services is a political undertaking. When people are healthier, better educated and have access to water, shelter and can make a decent living, they are more likely to ask for more and expect better. And delivering services has an impact on local power relations. A new well, for example, increases the availability of water for some, changes time allocation, especially for women, and alters patterns of ownership, income and social interaction in a village. Choices are inherently political.

So the question is not ‘are we for services or for social justice?’ The two are inseparable.

Bishop Stephen Munga, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT) and Chancellor at Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University expressed this point powerfully last week when he argued that “civil society gives rise to government itself.” “It is civil society that legitimately says whether government is good or bad, laws are good or bad. It is not for government or those in power to assess itself!”

His assertions were both attractive, and unsettling. Who assesses us CSOs? I confess to leaving Dodoma with a nagging feeling that, as CSOs, we did not engage in some important self-reflection. Are we well-placed to deliver a vision of a healthy, wealthy, wise and just Tanzania? Are we trusted by those who we claim to represent and speak for? Are we legitimate in their eyes? How much are citizens engaged in our work, in shaping our priorities and activities, or are we distant, disconnected and self-righteous? And how much are we really contributing to improving social justice overall? Could we do more?

These questions warrant really good answers. Such deep self-reflection can only be healthy for the sector, and for the wider community which we serve. We should not shy away from it.

It should come as no surprise that government and civil society have different views on what the sector should look like, or on the relationship between services and rights. It is only proper that a combination of tension and collaboration should exist, as one party seeks to maintain social order and the other to promote social justice. A society without such tension would slide into decline and decay.

So what is civil society for? It is to improve public services and people’s livelihoods. It is also to raise citizen voices and protect civic space. And it is even, on occasion, for disagreeing with government. I am sure that doing these things makes us all stronger. We will all be better off as a result.

This article was originally published here

Reclaiming civic space: global challenges, local responses

To reclaim civic space, there are three key drivers that organizations must focus on, and three critical issues affecting local responses.

This article was originally published in this form on the OpenGlobalRights website, written by: Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah & Mandeep Tiwana

From attacks on human rights defenders to limits on civil society’s work, we are facing an emergency on civic space. As evidence from the CIVICUS Monitor suggests, threats to civic freedoms are no longer just happening in fragile states and autocracies, but also in more mature democracies. While there has been growing attention on how to respond to this phenomenon, we believe there needs to be more attention on underlying drivers and on supporting local responses. Civic space can’t be “saved” from the outside.

Many of the current restrictions on civil society are knee-jerk responses, sometimes pre-emptive, to popular mobilizations, a sad and unexpected result of the initial hope of the so-called Arab Spring. Of course, this pattern is not the only cause of growing constraints on civic freedoms. Repurposing of the global security discourse to curb dissent, restrictions on international funding for advocacy groups by nationalist leaders, and retreat from the international human rights framework using flimsy arguments of state sovereignty are all ways by which the rights discourse is being undone. While there are several drivers of civic space restrictions, three in particular are worth paying attention to, due to their cross-cutting nature and deep impacts.

1. The business of civil society repression

The impact of of mega-corporations and market fundamentalism in undermining civic freedoms cannot be overemphasised. Private sector influences are particularly clear in the area of natural resource exploitation by extractive industries and big agri-businesses when local, often indigenous, environmental defenders face retaliation for protecting natural resources from grabs by corrupt business and political interests. The assassination of award winning Honduran activist Berta Caceres and restrictions on the right to peaceful protest for those opposed to the Dakota Oil pipeline in the United States are examples of how of these challenges transcend global North-South boundaries.

2. A toxic mix of extremist ideologies

Civil society is also being increasingly targeted by extremists aiming to divide societies around narrow interpretations of ethnicity or religion. Civil society emphasis on diversity and social cohesion is derided  as antithetical to nationalist cultural values and in some cases those speaking out against such projects are branded as operating at the behest of outside interests. In Europe, for example, civil society groups working on the rights of refugee and migrant populations are facing a backlash. In many parts of West Asia, women’s rights defenders have been attacked by armed groups seeking to impose puritanical religious doctrines on populations by arguing that gender equality is a Western construct. In South Asia, bloggers and journalists have been persecuted online and offline for opposing dominant cultural mores, while in Africa religious evangelists have linked up with like-minded groups on other continents to spur extreme forms of homophobia and attack defenders of LGBTI rights.

3. Retreat from democracy and multilateralism

We’re also facing a crisis of moral leadership on the international stage which has led to a retreat from universal human rights values and is negatively impacting civil society. Degradation of civic freedoms and the emergence of “neo-fascist” politics in Europe and the United States have emboldened despotic regimes in countries such as Bahrain, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and more, to attack dissenters and consolidate their power by manipulating electoral processes and state institutions. From the Philippines to Russia, Turkey and Venezuela, efforts are underway to silence dissent whereby repression against those who speak the language of human rights is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Despite these challenges, placing local responses at the heart of efforts to reclaim civic space is critical.  Based on conversations with civil society stakeholders on their present challenges, we have  identified three under-researched but critical issues:

a. Resourcing resilience, close to the ground

In an era of growing linkages between rights oriented civil society organizations and the donor/philanthropic community, financial resources have become a key area of contestation. Only a tiny proportion of development assistance actually goes directly to civil society in the global South. Fickle donor priorities and excessive deference to whims of governments that restrict international funding have caused several smaller organizations to fold up. At the same time, bigger ones, which are more adept at marketing and meeting sophisticated accounting requirements of donors, are expanding. The organized civil society firmament has already started to resemble the market with big franchises edging out locally owned and rooted businesses. For example, an organization run by Syrian refugees in Turkey says they have experienced difficulties accessing international funding despite having much more relevant local knowledge than the international organizations that attract global donors. International donors should be mindful of how their red tape excludes community organizations that possess local expertise and have significantly lower overheads.

b. Beyond accounts-ability

Across the world, the legitimacy of organized civil society is being challenged on several fronts, from politicians demonizing them as disconnected special interest groups to social movements that see traditional CSOs as arcane at best and co-opted at worst. The usual ways in which CSOs demonstrate their accountability—through compliance with regulatory requirements and donor reporting are proving insufficient to convince skeptical politicians or publics. We thus need to move beyond just “accounts-ability” to enhanced transparency and dialogue with communities, not for the sake of checking a box but because they are key to making meaningful change. This shift could include things like people-centred decision-making, real-time adaptation to stakeholder needs, and nurturing the next generation of social change-makers. This form of accountability is not only about financial reporting and transparency to donors but about meaningful dialogue with affected communities and stakeholders, and keeping an eye on big picture outcomes to drive organizational decision-making process.

c. Standing together

Lastly, an energetic, civil society-led, global response is needed to counter attacks on civic freedoms. Many of us have done a good job of ensuring that the reality of closing civic space is on the international community’s radar, but efforts to push back against restrictions are often duplicative and uncoordinated. We must make clear that the enabling of civil society rights is an essential part of the defense of democracy. To do this, we need to form and work in progressive alliances, bringing together substantial masses of citizens and connecting classic CSOs, protest movements, journalists, trade unions, youth groups, social enterprises, artistic platforms and many other parts of the civil society universe.

A robust civic space can only exist within a functioning democracy, and thus safeguarding civil society also involves re-imagining more participatory models of democracy, with citizens at their heart. Seen in this way, the over-arching challenge is not a technical, short-term one of pushing back on attacks on civic space, but a longer-term political one of re-imagining a more participatory landscape where substantive democracy thrives.

***This article is an extract of an essay published in the 26th edition of the Sur Journal of Human Rights.