CITIZENS’ KNOWLEDGE AND PERSPECTIVES ON SOCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY INFORMATION ACCESS AND DISTRIBUTION IN GRAHAMSTOWN, A SMALL SOUTH AFRICAN TOWN

Grahamstown, with an estimated population of 82 060, is well known for being the home of Rhodes University and the famous National Arts Festival (Stats SA, 2016). Regardless, however, of the many successes the town enjoys with the Arts Festival and education institutions, the municipality has been struggling with serious administrative challenges. Makana Municipality was placed under administration[1] in 2015, following their inability to pay staff salaries, due to huge debts accrued (Maclennan, 2017). The 9 months intervention did not yield the expected outcomes, however. The town still suffers, amongst other issues, from debt, high rates of unemployment, and poor service delivery, particularly water and infrastructure. Water outages are consistent and almost every road in town has potholes due to lack of maintenance and mismanagement of the public resources (Maclennan, 2017). The local civil society organisations collective calling itself the Makana Unity League has started calling for administration again, however, others are concerned that getting outside intervention is futile, as proven by the previous experience (Penxa, 2017).

Grahamstown citizens have become accustomed to protests and marches, heading to the municipal offices to make their concerns known and demand answers for the poor state of the municipality. Research studies show that it is to the best interests of society to ensure that duty bearers manage public resources in an efficient, transparent, and socially accountable manner, as demonstrated in the protests and advocacy campaigns. In order to do this, the citizens need to understand how the various government processes work. Therefore, social accountability pertains to the citizens’ ability to hold the government accountable for its actions, through demanding explanations and justifications for their actions. Furthermore, the willingness and ability of the government to provide those justifications and explanations to civil society and take corrective measures (Halloran, 2015). The right to social accountability, therefore, promotes citizen’s engagement and transparency regarding the use and management of public resources (Ackerman, 2005).

In order to efficiently exercise their right to social accountability, citizens need to be informed about the operations of the public resources management system and the various channels to follow when interrogating the use of public resources. It was this reason that drove the Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM), a local social movement and the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM), a university-affiliated CSO, to want to understand accessibility of the social accountability information in Grahamstown. Social accountability information refers to information that can be used by citizens to monitor and demand justifications for the use and management of public resources.

The Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) is a university-based organization involved in social accountability monitoring. The Unemployed People’s Movement (UPM) is a community based social movement that assists the public deal with various issues in Grahamstown. The UPM and PSAM, working in the social accountability sector formed a partnership to conduct a research study to understand the accessibility of information to the Grahamstown community.

Due to limited resources and timeframes, only 30 people (15 females and 15 males) between the ages 18 and 69 years old were interviewed. The informants were from Joza, Vukani, Hlalani, Ethembeni, and Fingo, Grahamstown West and Central. Informants indicated that they had sufficient knowledge regarding the roles or the various public servants, however they needed information related the various government process that affect them as the public. Informants identified the social accountability related information they would like to receive as:

  • All sorts of information that concerned them as community members and civil society.
  • Basic rights and grants information.
  • Municipalities expenditure records and the mismanagement of resources where applicable.
  • The Integrated Development Plans (IDP), their budget allocation and how they are spent, as well as having access to the [municipal] 5-year plans and progress reports.
  • How the government advertises their posts and recruits officials?
  • Tenders and the criteria to accessing them.
  • Who gets the services and the various steps an individual needs to take to access adequate services and employment?
  • Water and sanitation issues, especially when they affect the community, like water shortages, etc. and be regularly informed about municipality affairs.
  • Who to approach or where to report when your rights are being violated?
  • Would like transparency concerning the management of resources.
  • What resources are there that the municipality can provide for the people?
  • How government officials ought to behave because I see that they are all corrupt starting from parliament to local and provincial, to me they are the same?

The informants wanted the resource management process to be transparent enough to allow the community to monitor and assess the use of funds and ensure that proper regulations were followed when spending. There seemed to be a clear understanding that the resources the government was working with were limited. Some members wanted to understand:

  • The process of editing [financial management within the municipality] and the nature of services being delivered.
  • The basis under which the needs [of the citizens] are identified and the strategies that inform service delivery.
  • What happens when the resources are not being managed adequately?

There were informants who explained that they did not want to depend on the government, but needed the government to assist them to start their own enterprise, as stated in the sentence below that they would like to know:

“Where we can go to get resources to start our own business and what help can we get from the government to have those businesses?”

Some informants stated that they have been kept in the dark by their government officials regarding the state of affairs in their local regions, and that it was the responsibility of the public themselves to ensure that the government officials change their behavior and become more engaging and transparent. They emphasized the fact that every citizen should benefit from the resources of the country, especially since the new democratic regime prides itself on being for the people.

With regard to the accessibility of social accountability related information, the study shows that out of the thirty informants interviewed eighteen of them receive social accountability information via word of mouth, ten of them receive it in meetings and nine of the receive it via television and newspapers. Leaflets, internet and radio were rated the lowest. With regard to the preferred medium of communication as a means of circulating and distributing social accountability information, radio was rated the highest. Twenty informants indicated that they would have preferred to receive their news via radio, sixteen preferred newspapers and meetings. The internet or online services came after at fifteen, as well as word of mouth. Leaflets were rated the lowest, as it appeared that only ten people wanted to receive their information via leaflets. The informants further indicated a need for engagement platforms, to learn to interact with the various process and the circulating information to strengthen their social accountability initiatives.

The major study findings imply that:

FINDINGS

  1. Most of the informants do not have access to adequate information to inform the social accountability initiatives they engage in, which often creates problems that hinder their progress in advocating for their needs. Their lack of knowledge regarding the roles of the government officials, and the connection between policies and public services indicated that the information they receive, or the way they receive the information, is not adequate to empower them to understand the public resources system and be involved in decision-making.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • It is necessary to create a bridge of information flow between the various stakeholders of the social accountability sector. The availability of an organogram of the government officials and qualified personnel in every public institution will assist the public to direct their concerns to the right people.
  • Social accountability practitioners should consider creating more knowledge sharing platforms where they can engage the general public. The majority of people do not have access to information and knowledge sharing platforms that will empower them to be active citizens.

FINDINGS

  1. The majority of informants indicated that they are able to receive information via word of mouth, meetings, television, radio and other means. However, the findings also show that often times information recipients are not equipped to translate the information they receive to inform their interventions in a systematic manner.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Social accountability practitioners and knowledge distributors should consider a multiple media approach when distributing information. No one method is able to reach everyone.
  • Because the majority of study participants seem to prefer to be receivers of news and not become makers of news, it is important for knowledge distributors to understand their target’s information needs and expectations when disseminating information.
  • Capacity building for grassroots civil actors might assist them to interpret the information in a productive manner and increase their awareness of the issues and the need to get involved. The knowledge gained might also assist them to translate the information to improve their interventions.

FINDINGS

  1. The availability of knowledge sharing platforms in the social accountability sector is undeniable, however, their value and impact is often influenced by other social dynamics that affect the sharing of knowledge and information. Dynamics that include overflow of information, and restricted knowledge sharing platforms amongst others.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • Information distributors need to be cognizant of the characteristics of their target audience when designing knowledge sharing platforms. Paying careful attention to economic, resource and time constraints, accessibility to informal and formal meeting spaces, and difference in national or community culture amongst other things.
  • It might be helpful to create platforms where diverse groups or individuals can congregate to share their expertise and/or experiences. This will ensure that information does not remain restricted to certain groups or individuals.
  • To merely be informed without action is not enough. Therefore, it is important for both the government and the civil society sector to establish mutually beneficial relationships to share skills and expertise, and build solidarity.
  • Civil society practitioners need to consider establishing systems that will allow for a consistent flow of information between government officials and the citizens, especially at the grassroots level, where people are most affected by lack of service delivery. This will ensure that citizens take ownership of the state of affairs and work in collaboration with the government to improve conditions.

The full report is available on http://copsam.com/literature/ under social accountability case studies

Produced By Lindelwa Nxele PSAM AIP Officer- February 2018

[1] Municipalities are placed  under Section 139 1(b) provincial administration if they have been deemed unable to fulfil their administrative duties to receive a clean audit for a number of consecutive years. An administrator is deployed to a municipality to assess and clean their records to ensure future progressive operations. For more information on Makana under administration, visit, http://www.dispatchlive.co.za/news/2014/10/02/tough-job-to-fix-the-chaos-in-makana/

Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2017

Originally published by Kerosi Dotcom

On Tuesday 30 January 2018 the International Budget Partnership released the long awaited Open Budget Survey (OBS) results for 2017.

This is a report that looks into how 102 countries around the world performed in terms of transparency, public participation and budget oversight.

The status of those parameters is measured and the countries are ranked accordingly. It’s based on how countries raise and spend their resources.

The OBS 2017 has revealed that the level of budget transparency has declined from 45 out of 100 to 43 out of 100.

This is a sad reality because it means that global citizens will not be able to hold their governments into account because they do not have access to adequate information. In economics 101 professor would refer to this situation as “information asymmetry.

In this article, I’ll review how Kenya was ranked and then later compare it with a few other African countries. This is to ensure that you understand what is happening in terms of public participation on the budgeting process.

Kenya was ranked based on data collected by the Institute of Public Finance Kenya which has its headquarters in the capital city Nairobi.

Uganda’s  ranking was based on data collected by Uganda Debt Network while Rwanda’s Ranking was based on detailed information collected by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) of Rwanda.

The report was written by Dr. Jason Lakin formerly of IBP_Kenya. A man from whom I owe much of the skills and knowledge on public budgeting and policy.

On Transparency, Kenya was scored 46 out of 100 hence an under-performance considering that the “pass mark” was set at 60/100. On this parameter, Kenya was advised to pull up the socks by:

  • producing and publishing the “Mwananchi Guide” which is a non-technical version of the big document.
  • Providing all budget documents on a timely manner

On Public Participation, Kenya lagged behind many other countries which were evaluated. It scored 15/100. The researchers pointed out that,

“Kenya provides few opportunities for public to engage in budget process.” OBS 2017.

On this matter of public participation, the researchers recommended that the budget and appropriation committee hold more public hearings to collect input which will inform the annual budget.

Finally, they recommended that the Office of the Auditor General (supreme institution for audit) should, “establish formal mechanisms for the public to assist the OAG in formulating its audit program & to participate in relevant audit investigations.” – Open Budget Survey (OBS) 2017.

This was eye-opening. When you see the Auditor General, Robert Ouko, ask him when he is going to organize for public forum for you to advise him on better ways to do his work of auditing Ministries, Departments and agencies.

On Budget Oversight, Kenya scored 50 out of 100. Not so bad after all. The worry is that the legislature which is supposed to lead from the front only provides their oversight services during the budget formulation process. Afterwards, their efforts dies down. Too bad. They are even needed more during the project implementation process. Members of national and county assemblies should ask the executive the “difficult questions” on budget and policy. The relevant legislative committees should conduct analyses on public spending and publish their findings online. Important.

We also expect that the Office of the Auditor General will do more to deliver value to you the tax payers.  The national assembly should take a step in 2018/2019 to ensure that this supreme institution on all matters audit is well funded. The OAG is already one year behind schedule in production of their audit reports. This should change as soon as now.

The budget and appropriations committees at the national assembly and Senate should upgrade their game by taking appropriate action on those audit reports once submitted/tabled with them.

Crack the whip honorable members!

Elsewhere in Morocco, public participation is a vocabulary which has no meaning. In that North African country as well as in Sudan the OBS 2017 shows that there is no public participation.

Finally, South Africa serves as a good example to borrow best practices from. This rainbow country “provides the public with extensive budget information.” Secondly, the legislature plays their role well during the entire budget cycle. Finally, the supreme audit institution scored 100 out of 100 in terms of providing adequate oversight budget information. At last audit offices around Africa have a peer to learn from.

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Declining institutional trust: the need for the South African state to reconcile itself with the society it governs

Originally posted on the IJR website by Tiaan Meiring

Over the past two years, the trustworthiness of political institutions across the globe have generally taken a hiding. This is best illustrated by the rise in populist leaders across Europe and the USA, many riding the wave of increased anti-establishment sentiment (alongside anti-immigrant nationalism).

Domestically, the South African polity continues to be plagued by multiple divisions: i) structural exclusion that still correlates with apartheid boundaries, ii) vast disparities in income and wealth between different class and racial groupings, iii) perpetual incidences of racist and xenophobic confrontations (and the persistence of their underlying sentiments), iv) high levels of civil unrest and demands for increased resource allocation in a stagnating macro-economic environment, and v) large sections of the governing executive and public institutions that stand accused of large-scale, systemic nepotism, corruption and being ‘captured’ by private interests. Not only does this sketch a society and social groupings that are divided amongst themselves, but it also highlights the lack of trust in a central authority that can act as a unifying, progressive and developmental force. Supposedly, this central authority should be the state envisioned in all of the country’s key legislative- and policy literature, from the Constitution to the National Development Plan.

In a society with such a divisive history, the post-1994 government’s role in state- and nation-building was always going to be crucial to its cohesion and sustainability. Indeed, the post-apartheid government has made significant strides on both aspects, especially in terms of nation-building. Every iteration of the IJR’s South African Reconciliation Barometer (SARB) survey has shown that the vast majority of citizens from diverse class and race backgrounds buy into the desirability and possibility of creating one, united South African nation. This is no trivial feat for a collective that was arbitrarily grouped by colonial boundaries and that shares a subsequent history of conquest, violent oppression and resistance.

However, recent institutional failures are disconcerting. Indeed, some argue that the success of nation building project itself is inextricably linked to progress in the building capable state institutions. Service delivery has been a long-standing challenge for a post-apartheid government in the process of building capacity with limited resources. However, more recently service delivery frustrations have increasingly been exacerbated by perceptions of large-scale corruption. Too many public institutions, especially those crucial to economic development (like the state-owned enterprises), have been hollowed out by narrow private interests. In tragic irony, this has occurred under the very pretence of ‘pro-poor’ economic transformation under the guidance of a supposedly ‘developmental state’.

2006 2015
Parliament 6,4 24,9
National Government
4,8 22,8
Local Government 15,0 22,0
Legal System 8,2 21,7

*Trust on provincial government data available up to 2013.

Commensurately, confidence in political institutions have declined significantly in recent years. The table compares the high point of institutional trust in 2006 (when the country’s GDP growth also peaked at 5.6% per year), to the record lows recorded in the latest SARB survey in 2015. It highlights the increased proportion of South Africans that indicate that have no trust at all in key governance institutions. The decline in trust is also not limited to certain institutions, but affects all branches of government (the executive, legislature and judiciary). The political system as a whole thus increasingly suffers from a trust deficit.

This has important implications for both social cohesion and economic development. First, in a society with particular historical fault lines along race and class, there is all the more need for a central arbiter that is widely trusted to formulate and enforce “the rules of the game” on how the society and its economy operates. Perceptions of fairness in the distribution of power and material resources play a fundamental role in a society’s cohesion. In turn, state institutions and -policies are central to the objective of achieving a fair distribution of power and resources, by alleviating exclusions and inequalities. A society consents to the distribution and redistribution of resources based on need (predominantly by means of progressive taxation, labour market policies, and social welfare policies) based on two phenomena

  • the extent to which members regard themselves as bound to the beneficiaries by strong ties of community, and
  • the extent to which they have a widely trusted and efficient central mechanism (i.e. the state apparatus) by which to do so.

Therefore, if the state is not trusted, it cannot address these inequities- leaving a sense of injustice and uncertainty to fester within society.

Second, a term pervasive in South African policy- and economic development literature is that of the “social compact”. It implies a developmental consensus between the major societal stakeholders (business, government, labour and civil society). Such a developmental consensus is required to provide the basis for the durable institutions and policy certainty that would foster inclusive economic growth. Again, the central agent in driving such a developmental consensus must be a widely trusted and capable state. A trusted state is required to bring together these diverse societal stakeholders, provide leadership and ameliorate differences between them, as to produce coherent policy measures. Widespread buy-in, in turn, is required for policies to be implemented.

In short, South Africa’s immediate development path remains uncertain as long the state suffers from a trust deficit amongst the society over which it governs. Measures to address perceived corruption should go a long way to reconciling state-society relations in the short run. Longer term social stability and inclusive development requires something more, however. A sustainable and inclusive long run growth path requires a capable and committed state that enjoys the confidence of its society.

Tiaan Meiring is the Project Officer for the Inclusive Economies project at the IJR.

HOW CAN WE BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN CITIZENS AND STATE? PREVIEWING THE OPEN BUDGET SURVEY 2017

Originally posted on the IBP blog here

VIVEK RAMKUMAR, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF POLICY, INTERNATIONAL BUDGET PARTNERSHIP— JAN 04, 2018

On 30 January 2018 the International Budget Partnership (IBP) will release the Open Budget Survey 2017 – the latest round of the world’s only independent and comparable assessment of budget transparency, citizen participation, and independent oversight institutions in the budgeting process.

The Open Budget Survey 2017 findings on the systems and practices that countries have in place to inform and engage citizens — or not — in decisions about how to raise and spend public resources, and on the institutions that are responsible for holding government to account, come at a critical juncture. Around the world, there has been a decline in public trust in government, in part due to instances of corruption but also because of dramatic increases in inequality. In a number of countries, leaders who have disguised their intolerant and reactionary agendas with populist rhetoric have been swept into power by those who’ve been left behind. These political shifts have driven out many government champions of transparency and accountability — especially those from countries in the global south. More broadly across countries, there has been shrinking of civic space, rollbacks of media freedoms, and a crackdown on those who seek to hold government to account, including individual activists, civil society organizations, and journalists.

Because open and accountable public budgeting is at the center of democratic practice and equity, it is the first place we should look for ways to strengthen the interaction between governments and citizens. Ensuring that the budgeting process is characterized by high levels of transparency, appropriate checks and balances, and opportunities for public participation is key to stemming the decline in confidence in government and representative democracy.

In the face of the spread of profound threats to active, informed public participation, and thus the ability of citizens to ensure their governments will pursue policies that improve their lives, the Open Budget Survey 2017 will provide essential data on the state of budget transparency and accountability around the world.

The International Budget Partnership has conducted the biennial Open Budget Survey since 2006 to answer these two fundamental questions for representative government:

  1. Are the basic conditions needed for representative democracy to function — the free flow of information and opportunities for public participation in government decision making and oversight — being met in the budget sphere?
  2. Are empowered oversight institutions in place that can ensure adequate checks and balances?

To answer these questions the Open Budget Survey (OBS) assesses whether national governments produce and disseminate to the public key budget documents in a timely, comprehensive, and accessible manner. In addition, the 2017 survey includes a newly enhanced evaluation of whether governments are providing formal opportunities for citizens and their organizations to participate in budget decisions and oversight, as well as emerging models for public engagement from a number of country innovators. It also examines the role and effectiveness of legislatures and supreme audit institutions in the budget process.

The OBS 2017 is the sixth round of the survey and covers 115 countries across six continents. The coverage of the survey expanded in the 2017 round to include 13 countries for the first time, including some advanced economies such as Japan and Australia, emerging economies such as Côte d’Ivoire and Paraguay, and fragile states such as Somalia and South Sudan.

The survey, which is implemented by independent budget experts in each country and rigorously vetted, provides governments, civil society organizations, and development practitioners with key data and analysis to allow them to identify baselines and trends in country practices and implement or advocate for reforms to close gaps.

In addition to providing the latest findings on open and accountable budgeting, the report for the 2017 survey will also provide suggestions for improving countries’ public finance systems and practices to better ensure more effective and responsive use of public resources to meet public needs.

The Open Budget Survey 2017 could not come at a more critical juncture as we look to reinvigorate democratic practice, re-engage the disaffected, and restore public trust in public institutions. Be sure to see the results at www.openbudgetsurvey.org on 30 January 2018!

 

Following the Money in Ghana: From the Grassroots to the Hallways of the IMF

Originally published on the Accountability Research Center website

Between 2011 and 2014, Ghana went from boasting the world’s fastest growing economy to requiring a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). While a global downturn in commodity prices precipitated the fall, a lack of accountability in how public finances have been managed has been at the heart of the problem. Fiscal indiscipline, fueled by a lack of oversight and rampant corruption, left the government unable to mount an effective response during lean economic times.

Oxfam and its civil society partners in Ghana were worried that everyday Ghanaians would be left shouldering the burden of the economic crisis. Moreover, Ghanaians worried that their concerns and aspirations would not be represented in the high-level negotiations on the bailout between the Government of Ghana and the IMF. To address these concerns Oxfam and its partners coordinated a multi-level advocacy campaign. The campaign drew together a diverse coalition of civil society—from community activists to globally influential think tanks—able to represent and articulate local level concerns and project a united voice at the national and global levels.

This novel approach proved highly successful in driving important changes in policy and practice that have enhanced accountability, fiscal responsibility, and citizens’ participation. The campaign not only contributed to improving the laws governing how public finances are managed in Ghana, but also helped to increase pro-poor spending and protect crucial social services.

Three key lessons emerged on conducting multi-level campaigns:

  1. Establish accessible communication and sustained dialogue within a diverse coalition.
  2. Use global institutions as strategic levers for top-down accountability.
  3. Invest in citizens’ engagement in policies and implementation over the longer-term.

Download the full publication here

Citizen Accountability in a time of Facebook

This article is written by John Gaventa and first published on the IDS opinion blog here

“Develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.”

This is what Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in his open letter to the Facebook community at the beginning of this year. The statement of intent from the social media giant is a bold one, and one worth reflecting on for those of us working on issues of accountability and empowerment. For me it raises a couple of important questions. How far can or should the likes of Facebook, and other technical innovations that have rapidly evolved over the last ten to fifteen years, connect us all as individuals and engage us with the institutions that govern us and help us hold them to account? And how does this happen in a world where the opportunities and spaces to voice dissent and protest are shrinking, and where questions about ‘whose voice matters’ are further confused and complicated by ‘whose voice is real or authentic’ in this digital age?

The promise of tech

They were also questions that arose at the recent Making All Voices Count (MAVC is a programme funded by DFID, Omidyar, SIDA and USAID) Policy and Practice Dialogue, Appropriating Technology for Accountability. And as I reflected in my speech at that event, these questions around transforming and improving accountability are by no means new. However, the context in which we ask them is constantly changing – from the Gutenberg press which took printing out of the hands of priests and put it into the hands of the people over five hundred years ago, to more recently, the advent of the personal computer, the internet (1990), Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006) and What’s App (2011). These technologies have revolutionised the way people access information, how they communicate with each other, as well as institutions and public figures, and how they respond to and organise around particular issues.

There’s no denying the positive force of these technologies in helping people to speak out and to amplify voices in an attempt to hold powerful institutions and individuals to account. This was evident in a number of examples shared over the course of the two-day event – the Black Sash human rights organisation in South Africa who are piloting a project encouraging citizen-led monitoring of local public services; This Is My Backyard (TIMBY) which has highlighted millions of dollars of misspent county social development funds and unearthed a 10.5 million dollar scandal in Liberia; Game my Village which built new relationships of trust and transparency between government officials and villagers in Indonesia and Oil Journey which communicated with over 300,000 citizens in Accra in Ghana about how oil revenues were being spent on community development projects.

Tech and closing civil society space

Yet at the same time there is no escaping the fact that these technical innovations designed to empower are operating in a global environment where civil society space is shrinking. The current situation has been labelled by Civicus as ‘a Global Civic Space Emergency’ in their 2017 State of Civil Society Report. The report highlights that:

  • Only three per cent of the global population live in countries where civic space is completely open.
  • In 106 countries, over half of all countries, civil space is seriously constrained.
  • This problem affects all regions of the world including the UK where civic space has narrowed in the past year.

Indeed, the evidence suggests that technologies are being used to close spaces as much as to open them, to surveil and monitor, as much as to connect and engage. Examples extend from malware being used to monitor the activities of advocacy and campaigning groups (highlighted in this open letter from Mexican civil society of the Open Government Partnership (pdf) and this IDS Bulletin article The Dark Side of Digital Politics) to state-supported trolling. For those gathered at the conference, there was a sense that the excitement and optimism that had characterised the work of MAVC and other similar programmes exploring accountability and the role of technologies in creating more open, inclusive and accountable societies only a few years ago was being replaced by a growing pessimism.

A digital level playing field?

The conundrums and paradoxes associated with technology and its role in promoting accountability is also evident in relation to global governance. On the one hand technology has enabled voice and responsive governance, but on the other hand the governance of the digital sphere remains in the hands of a powerful few who control the networks they have created. As reported recently in the New York Times, Google’s market share of search advertising is 88% and Facebook owns 77% of mobile social media traffic.

Digital technologies have created winners and losers, rather than a level playing field. Rather than disrupt, they have often replicated entrenched inequalities and power imbalances within society. Critically, just under half of the world’s population remain offline. Moreover, women are 50 per cent less likely to have access to the internet and a third less likely than men of a similar age, education level and economic status to access their Internet via their phone (World Wide Web Foundation, 2016). Inequalities also exist within the tech industry. A study in the US found that Hispanics, African Americans, and women hold only 8 per cent, 7.4 per cent and 36 per cent of tech sector jobs respectively (US EEOC 2016). Hence, across decision making, usage and application of technologies it is often the voices of the already powerful that are amplified and the voices which have always been marginalised remain unheard.

Within this unequal context, it has also become increasingly hard to distinguish amongst the myriad of information flows and voices between what’s authentic and what’s not. It is not well understood amongst the majority of technology users, how complex and sophisticated algorithms are being used by companies, by governments and by individuals, to control and manipulate what is shared and liked, and ultimately shape public opinion and debate.

While technology has helped achieve amazing things, in itself it cannot create a ‘social infrastructure…that builds a global community that works for us all.’ Politics and power still matter, and it is only when we link these with technology-led accountability initiatives as well more analogue, traditional efforts that of transformative change towards a more inclusive, accountable and open world is possible.

 

Using open aid data for accountability in Benin and Tanzania

This post was originally published on the Open Data Charter website, written by Elise Dufief, Research and Monitoring Manager at Publish What You Fund

The government of Tanzania announced in August that it was withdrawing from the Open Government Partnership (OGP) process. This was seen as a dramatic turn of events by some as the previous administration was regarded as a champion of transparency reforms. For others, it highlighted some of the challenges of international transparency initiatives and potentially offered an opportunity to reflect on how these initiatives could better respond to domestic issues and put citizens’ needs at their heart.

Earlier this year, I travelled to Tanzania and Benin and conducted interviews with representatives from government, donors and civil society organisations to investigate some of these issues. I looked into the opportunities and barriers for open aid data to be used as an accountability mechanism for partner country citizens. We at Publish What You Fund published a discussion paper earlier this month detailing the findings of our work.

Publish What You Fund, among other organisations, has argued that the public disclosure of information on development activities by major donors is an essential and necessary step to increase aid effectiveness. Substantial progress has been made at the international level through initiatives such as IATI and individual efforts of some major donors and governments to publish more and better quality development data. However, transparency alone is not sufficient as this information also needs to be used to promote accountability to local actors and respond to citizens’ needs.

We are also not the only ones reflecting on this. Organisations such as Oxfam and Open Contracting are also trying to find a constructive and collaborative way to move the transparency agenda forward and shed light on the necessary conditions for data to be used for accountability.

The new framework developed by Liz Carolan of the Open Data Charter, alongside the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, also helped shape our thinking on the matter. That study found 5 steps connecting open data and accountability: data production, sharing and processing, use and action. We proposed two additions to it: an initial step of identifying information needs and mapping potential users; and to also implement feedback mechanisms once data is made available to create a circular and iterative process from transparency to accountability.

Additionally, five key findings emerged from the interviews conducted in Benin and Tanzania:

1.There is a clear and repeated need for more high quality information on aid and development finance.

This was articulated clearly by donor country offices, government representatives and civil society organisations. Recent efforts to provide more information should be sustained and respond to these needs where possible.

2. International donor-led initiatives are not yet meeting country-level needs.

Tanzania’s withdrawal from the OGP is a manifestation of this. More attention needs to be paid to the national context and dynamics at play between different actors. This would help to identify where and how transparency and open data can help to improve development outcomes and accountability to citizens.

3. Both the development and data landscapes are fragmented and this is increasing.

The international development landscape increasingly involves more actors, more diverse flows and varied interests and objectives. In the absence of effective coordination, this complexity is reflected on the governance of data at country-level, also impeding its potential users.

4. A lack of trust in open data and its applications impedes its use as an accountability tool.

Data accuracy issues aside, examples from Tanzania and Benin demonstrated that more openness and transparency is sometimes met with fear of criticism and misinterpretation of the data. These are serious concerns that should be addressed. Shrinking civil society space and legislative restrictions to the access and use of this information, however, do not appear as viable solutions; they rather contradict the stated aim of the open data agenda.

5. With publication comes responsibility.

All actors have a responsibility to go beyond mere publication to make data truly accessible, usable and used. This requires putting people at the heart of transparency initiatives. It is only by working towards the identification of their needs, understanding their concerns and actively seeking their feedback that adequate responses and meaningful change will be implemented at country level. Data alone does not bring change. People do.

You can read our discussion paper ‘With Publication Brings Responsibility: Using open data for accountability in Benin and Tanzania’ here.

Award-winning journalism hitting hard in social accountability

September 2017 – Malawian journalist Alick Ponje received the inaugural Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting during the Telkom-Highway Africa Awards Gala Dinner held yesterday evening at the 21st annual Highway Africa conference, the world’s largest gathering of African journalists, at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.

Presented by Highway Africa and the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance, the award recognises journalists from Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia whose investigative reporting on social accountability has contributed to improved services in public health and agriculture, particularly in the areas of HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), and food security.

Ponje’s article ‘Private Hospitals Breach Government Pact’, published in the Malawi News, a newspaper of the Times Group, on 4 February 2017, documents how privately run clinics and mobile clinics are breaching their contracts with the Ministry of Health. The clinics order drugs from the district health office and also demand fees from patients for under-five and maternal health services, which are supposed to be free. The situation has reportedly contributed to the depletion of drugs for publically run health facilities.

“Ponje successfully draws upon and weaves together multiple sources of information, including documentation from the district council, input of officials during council proceedings, and interviews with the Ministry of Health,” stated Highway Africa’s Director Chris Kabwato. “His reporting provides insight into a critical issue of social accountability in the use of public resources, which has affected both health budgets as well as the provision of affordable services.”

 “The news media have a critical role to play in holding governments to account for the provision of quality public services,” said Rachel Gondo, Senior Programme Officer at Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM). “Ponje has clearly shed the spotlight on the need for governments to closely monitor and regulate the services provided by privately-run but publically-funded health facilities, both in Malawi and across southern Africa.”

SAfAIDS’ Deputy Director Rouzeh Eghtessadi applauded Ponje for interrogating the provision of sexual and reproductive health services at local clinics. “We need more journalists who are willing to delve into the real-life challenges people face in accessing health services, in an unsensational and discriminatory manner. Without such reporting, mismanagement of scarce public resources goes undetected, resulting in a decline in the quality and effectiveness of healthcare services.”

Ponje, 28, now a special projects reporter at the Nation Publication Group, joined the mainstream media in 2014 after graduating as a teacher from the University of Malawi. “Receiving this award is going to motivate me. It shows that people are recognising the efforts we put into our work. I’m in the early years of my career and this will give me the confidence to work on these issues [of social accountability] going forward,” said Ponje.

Ponje applauded Highway Africa and PSA Alliance for initiating the award. “With awards like this, journalists will be more motivated to track how public funds are being utilised. And, at the end of the day, some of these problems might be history.”

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).

Turning Big Data Into a Useful Anticorruption Tool in Africa

Originally posted on the Global Anticorruption Blog

Many anticorruption advocates are excited about the prospects that “big data” will help detect and deter graft and other forms of malfeasance. As part of a project in this vein, titled Curbing Corruption in Development Aid-Funded Procurement, Mihály Fazekas, Olli Hellmann, and I have collected contract-level data on how aid money from three major donors is spent through national procurement systems; our dataset comprises more than half a million contracts and stretching back almost 20 years. But good data alone isn’t enough. To be useful, there must be a group of interested and informed users, who have both the tools and the skills to analyse the data to uncover misconduct, and then lobby governments and donors to listen to and act on the findings. The analysis of big datasets to find evidence of corruption – for example, the method developed by Mihály Fazekas to identify “red flags” of corruption risks in procurement contract data—requires statistical skills and software, both of which are in short supply in many parts of the developing world, such as sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet some ambitious recent initiatives are trying to address this problem. Lately I’ve had the privilege to be involved in one such initiative, led by Oxford mathematician Balázs Szendrői, that helps empower a group of young African mathematicians to analyse “big data” on public corruption.

The first step in this project was to develop software; this may seem trivial, but many cash-strapped African universities simply don’t have the resources to purchase the latest statistical software packages. The African Maths Initiative (AMI), a Kenyan NGO that works to create a stronger mathematical community and culture of mathematics across Africa, has helped to solve this problem by developing a new open-source program, R-Instat (which builds on the popular but difficult-to-learn statistics package R), funded through crowd-sourcing. Still in development, it is on track for launch in July this year. AMI has also helped develop a menu on R-Instat that can be used specifically for analysing procurement data and identifying corruption risk indicators.

Once we’ve got the data and the software to analyze it, the third and most crucial ingredient are the people. For “big data” to be useful as an anticorruption tool, we need to bring together two groups: people who understand how to analyze data, and people who understand how procurement systems can be manipulated to corrupt ends. Communication between the two is essential. So last month I tried to do my part by visiting AIMS Tanzania, an institute that offers a one-year high-level Master’s programme to some of Africa’s best math students, to help conduct a one-day workshop. After a preliminary session in which we discussed the ways in which the procurement process can be corrupted, and how that might manifest in certain red flags (such as single-bidder contracts), the students had the opportunity to use the R-Instat software to analyse the aid-funded procurement dataset that my colleagues and I had created. Students formed teams and developed their own research questions that they attempted to answer by using R-Instat to run analyses on the data.

Even the simplest analyses revealed interesting patterns. Why did one country’s receipts from the World Bank drop off a cliff one year and never recover? Discussion revealed a few possible reasons: Perhaps a change of government led donors to change policy, or the country reached a stage of development where it no longer qualified for aid? Students became excited as they realized how statistical methods could be applied to identify, understand and solve real-world problems. Some teams came up with really provocative questions, such as the group who wanted to know whether Francophone or Anglophone countries were more vulnerable to corruption risks. Their initial analysis revealed that contracting in the Francophone countries was more associated with red flags. They developed the analysis to include a wider selection of countries, and maintained broadly similar results. Another group found that one-quarter of contracts in the education sector in one country had been won by just one company, and more than half of contracts by value in this sector had been won by three companies, all of which had suspiciously similar names. Again, there might be perfectly innocent reasons for this, but in just a couple of hours, we had a set of preliminary results that certainly warrant further analysis. Imagine what we might find with a little more time!

It is programs like these, that develop the tools and cultivate the skills in the next generation of analysts, that will determine whether the promise of “big data” as an anticorruption tool will be realized in the developing world.

Post written by Dr. Elizabeth Dávid-Barrett of the University of Sussex

Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting

Highway Africa, together with the Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance, invites journalists in Southern Africa to apply for the inaugural Southern Africa Media Award in Social Accountability Reporting 2017.

The award recognises two journalists from the PSA Alliance’s project countries – Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia – whose investigative reporting on social accountability contributes to improved public health and agriculture in the following categories:
• HIV and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)
• Food Security

Applications will be examined by a panel of media experts in the region and two winners will be awarded at the Highway Africa Conference to be held on 31 August – 1 September 2017. The award includes a prize of USD 250, plus travel and accommodation to the 2017 Highway Africa Conference.

Deadline for Submission – 15 August 2017

Criteria
• Applicants must be based in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique or Zambia.
• Work must be published between July 2016 and July 2017.
• Print, Radio, TV, Multimedia and Photo journalism are admitted.
• If submitting multiple entries either in the same category or across multiple categories, complete an entry for each story to a total maximum of two entries.

How to apply – Candidates can submit their applications here