Can social media help anti-corruption drives? A Nigerian case study

Tolu Olarewaju, Staffordshire University

Corruption can have a crippling effect on a country’s economy. This is why African businesses have described ending corruption as “priority number one”.

Take Nigeria, where the basic infrastructure deficit is huge but funds to improve its infrastructure always seem to end up missing or misallocated. In addition, projects are started and never finished. As a result the country’s roads, rail and ports are in a deplorable state.

Nigerians also suffer from persistent electricity shortages. They lack pipe-borne water and proper sanitation facilities. Housing provision is a problem too.

The country has spent billions of US dollars to resuscitate its power and transport sectors. But it has very little to show for it. Nigeria is not alone. Researchers often report that infrastructure spending is regularly used by public officers and government officials across the continent to misappropriate funds.

Tackling corruption is notoriously difficult. Once it’s embedded in a country’s systems it’s difficult to weed out. But a fresh approach is being pursued in Nigeria – with some startling results. Ordinary citizens are mobilising the use of technology and social media to produce evidence that’s used to hold officials to account.

Our research set out to discover whether the use of technology and social media by ordinary citizens to monitor infrastructure projects could result in more infrastructure projects being completed – and could also lessen corruption.

A version of this approach has been tried in countries like Peru and South Korea. Nigeria seems to be the first – at least on the African continent – to monitor infrastructure projects in this way.

Our research found, for example, that the camera feed showing the construction of the second river Niger bridge, and similar schemes by Tracka gave citizens the power to monitor infrastructure projects. It also increased transparency and could be used to hold the government and engineering firms that build infrastructure to account.

But we also found that there were challenges. For example, citizens needed data and power to monitor infrastructure projects. Neither was always available.

The approach

Monitoring projects has been used by firms and the government as a way to provide more transparency.

For example, research from Uganda shows that corrupt government officials were less able to siphon money for their own enrichment when citizens knew where money was supposed to go and could therefore monitor spending; the diversion of funds fell by 12% over six years.

Research from Kenya also showed that public monitoring of government projects reduced corruption by 20%.

In Nigeria, we investigated infrastructure projects that were monitored by citizens and compared these to infrastructure projects that weren’t monitored. We found that there was a positive link between citizens using technology and social media to monitor infrastructure projects and better completion rates and standards for the infrastructure projects.

Generally, when government officials and infrastructure building engineering firms knew that they were being monitored, they didn’t want to get caught out. In certain cases, citizens were able to engage with the ministry of works and their state governor and use social media to engage in discussions about the project.

By taking pictures of the proposed infrastructure sites and tagging their state governors or representatives in regular posts about the infrastructure projects, civic participation was encouraged. Although there was no often response in the first instance, the high visibility generated by social media and the threat of losing forthcoming elections often resulted in the infrastructure projects being completed. But this was only for projects that citizens could monitor – and there are too few of these. Even we struggled to find many.

Our investigations also revealed that frequent offline and online discussions created awareness about the infrastructure projects and helped citizens to suggest projects that would be useful for their communities.

Challenges to this approach

This approach is not without its challenges.

For example, citizens needed key information to monitor infrastructure projects properly. This included the type, cost, key stages and duration of the projects. Only then would they be able to compare what was actually happening before their eyes to what had been budgeted for so they could alert the relevant authorities as soon as there were discrepancies.

Mobile network technology and access to social media platforms are also needed to make this work.

There were also social and cultural issues. Some citizens didn’t want to engage with social media and technology for personal reasons. In addition, when evidence of corruption was reported by citizens, some saw this as a politically motivated attack. The result was that they lashed out instead of trying to solve the corruption being exposed.

Other challenges included:

  • a lack of clear penalties for individuals involved with monitored infrastructure projects that not completed, or not completed to a decent standard;
  • a lack of follow up by the relevant anti-corruption authorities; and
  • not enough being done when there were clear cases of standards not being met.

Implications

Technology and social media can be used as effective tools by citizens to monitor infrastructure projects. But this isn’t enough on its own. It can only be effective if budgets are also made fully visible.

This would enable citizens to know what they are monitoring and what to look for. Citizens would be wise to demand such transparency: honest governments will have nothing to fear.

This points to the need for a comprehensive approach to tackling corruption. This would need to include transparency and offline and online citizen engagement. In this context, technology and social media could be used as complementary tools.

If African governments and infrastructure building engineering firms on the continent are really concerned about corruption and want to show that they have nothing to hide, they can use this approach to gain more trust from the citizenry.The Conversation

Tolu Olarewaju, Lecturer in Economics, Staffordshire University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can digital really revolutionise health and education in the Global South?

Post written by Elizabeth Stuart, executive director of the Pathways for Prosperity Commission on inclusive technology. Originally published here

One of many puzzles in development is that increasing spending on health and education doesn’t necessarily deliver expected results.

To turn this on its head: Madagascar, Bangladesh and South Africa all have similar child mortality rates, but South Africa spends 19 times more than Madagascar and 13 times more than Bangladesh on healthcare.

Indeed this apparent paradox is one of the reasons why so many countries rushed to be part of the World Bank’s Human Capital Project, as they sought answers to precisely this question.

The Pathways to Prosperity Commission’s latest report is in part an attempt to provide a way through this puzzle by asking: what can technology do (if anything) to improve effectiveness and efficiency in health and education?

And because we’re a commission on inclusive technology, we also looked at whether tech can increase equity of access and outcomes.

This is what we found: there are lots of sensible reasons to be deeply sceptical about technology in this area. History is littered with pilots that worked for a while, but weren’t sustainable, such as the One Laptop per Child initiative in Peru, which 15 months after it started, had no measurable effects on maths and reading scores, in part because teachers hadn’t been trained on how to incorporate the laptops into their teaching. And this isn’t limited to developing countries: there are also cautionary tales from the US.

In other words digital can’t be just seen as a simplistic fix to analogue problems.

But, where policy makers started with a proper understanding of problems that need to be resolved, and assessed delivery obstacles and constraints by analysing the whole system, rather than just asking why a tablet in a classroom is not delivering results, we found clear evidence that technology is already significantly boosting outcomes

In India, a study of a free after-school programme that introduced Mindspark, a digital personalised learning service, showed improvements in mathematics assessment scores of up to 38% in less than five months.

In Uganda, the web-based application MobileVRS has helped increase birth registration rates in the country from 28% to 70%, at the very low cost of $0.03 per registration – thus helping decision-makers track health outcomes and improve access to services. And mental health patients in Nigeria who received SMS reminders for their next appointment were twice as likely to attend as patients receiving standard paper-based reminders.

But – and this is where it gets even more exciting – we also found evidence to suggest that in the near future, digital technologies will offer the promise to transform not just results, but the entire system.

For example, careful and deliberate low-cost data collection will make it possible for health and education systems, supported by digital technologies and artificial intelligence, to continuously learn and improve both standard practice and decision-making by creating feedback loops at every level. Projects such as BID (Better Immunization Data) in Zambia and Tanzania give us a glimpse of how, with the right tools and training, frontline providers can use data to improve their work.

By capturing and processing large volumes of individual data, technology will make personalised diagnosis and intervention possible in both health and education. It takes skill, training and time for a doctor to develop a personalised treatment plan or a teacher to personally coach a student, but algorithms can use test scores and patient records to design and implement individual plans at little cost.

Systems could also become more proactive to ensure services get to the people that need them most. In the health sector, this is starting to emerge in programmes that use community data to identify high-risk patients for active outreach. In education, it will allow more precise targeting of pupils whose learning is lagging.

Source: World Bank (2019d), Gapminder (2019), Pathways Commission analysis. Note: This figure uses data from 2013. Expenditure is adjusted for purchasing power parity, and is reported as 2011 international dollars. The size of a circle represents a country’s population.

 

And digital technologies also offer the means to explicitly focus on those who are left behind by current service delivery models. In Mali, a proactive community case management programme initiated by the NGO Muso contributed to a remarkable 10-fold decline in child mortality; the success of free door step health care is amplified with a dashboard and devices for community health workers. In Uganda, a portable ultrasound device, called Butterfly iQ allows healthcare workers to use their mobile phone as a scanner, anytime and anywhere.

But these visions will not come to fruition automatically. For most, the right digital infrastructure will need to be in place. This means access to electricity and the internet and digital skills, as well as clear rules for data governance and privacy will be essential. New regulations, protocols and rules will need to be established to guard against privacy violations, data misuse and algorithmic bias. And most importantly, even the most effective system will not frontload outcomes for the poorest if there is no deliberate effort to do so.

Urging caution on deployment is perhaps counterintuitive for a tech commission, but having seen many of the quick fix mistakes of the past we know for sure what doesn’t work. But what we also know is that, done right, and delivered at scale, technologically-enhanced health and education systems and the right digital connectivity, could unlock benefits that could be genuinely distributed to all – and that would be revolutionary.

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

Another successful year for Africa Integrity Indicators!

This article was first published on the Global Integrity website here

 

Global Integrity is pleased to announce the release of provisional data for the seventh round of its Africa Integrity Indicators (AII), available here.

This provisional data is available for public comment until May 31, 2019. We invite interested stakeholders to examine the data and share any feedback that can help increase its quality and usefulness. Don’t be shy – We value your input!

Preliminary findings

Below are some of our preliminary findings, but stay tuned! In the upcoming weeks, we will be starting a conversation to better understand how our data could help support your work.

The independence of the judiciary is under threat: In several countries, notably Ghana and Kenya, governments have taken steps to hamper the independence of the judiciary.

Bypassing public procurement guidelines: While regulations are supposed to control public procurement, there is a surge of contracts awarded without competition in Liberia, Benin and Mauritania. In Kenya, allegations of corruption in public procurement are increasing.

Crackdown on the publication of information: While some countries made progress towards open publication of information (notably Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, with substantial improvement from last year), more countries regressed, experiencing more censorship and/or self-censorship of media organizations and citizens’ online content (social media, blogs, etc).

What is the Africa Integrity Indicators Project, anyway?

Every year since 2013, the Africa Integrity Indicators project assesses the state of governance and aspects of social development across all 54 African countries. It produces qualitative data through 102 indicators in 13 categories addressing transparency and accountability, as well as social development.

The Africa Integrity Indicators data is a stand-alone assessment published by Global Integrity. It presents snapshots of evidence for each indicator, providing a score, the justification, and supporting sources.

Our goal is simple: to build accurate and reliable data, with an interface that enables the data to be examined at the country level (say, by tracking a country’s progress over time with regards to one particular indicator), and at the subject level (say, by comparing different countries’ performance on one indicator).

We want our data to empower actors at the national and regional and international levels working to advance governance reforms, and to foster a discussion on how governance challenges can be tackled.

We also strive to be rigorous and transparent; you can find our methodology here.

What’s new this year?

Previous rounds have addressed both “in law” and “in practice” indicators. In this round, we decided to focus solely on the “in practice” indicators. This is because prior rounds have highlighted “implementation gaps,” or the lag between the adoption of regulations aiming to improve certain issues, and the actual improvement on the ground.

So this year, we are prioritizing citizen’s experience in practice. (Don’t worry, we’ll include updates on the laws every three years to make sure we capture big changes and continue to provide a basis for assessing the implementation gap, a measure which we continue to feel provides an important starting point for understanding whether and why gaps persist, and what might be done to close the implementation gap).

How is our data unique?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can you use our data?

Our work has been used by several institutions. Data that we collect against a number of questions feed into the Ibrahim Index of African Governance and into the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) by the World Bank. Through the WGI, the data also provides the Millennium Challenge Corporation with information that informs its decisions about country eligibility for Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts.

But you can use our data, too!

Our dataset is a practical entry point for research, advocacy and action:

  • Transparent: our methodology and sources are transparent, and data is open source;
  • Efficient: for each indicator, scores make it quick and easy to identify patterns across countries and across time;
  • Action-oriented: indicators are based on fact-based and country-specific qualitative research, which provides insight on what should be priorities for reforms.

This article was first published on the Global Integrity website here

Join the conversation!

We want to hear from you. Check out our preliminary data and give us your feedback. You have 2 months to help us improve our work!

If you have comments on specific facts and narratives or if you have suggestions related to the accuracy of our research, please contact us at aii@globalintegrity.org.

If you have general comments and suggestions about the usefulness of the data, how you use it, and how it can be improved, please submit your feedback in this form or the aforementioned email address. You can also connect with us on Twitter (@GlobalIntegrity).

Government, parliaments, civil society call for greater accountability in health and agriculture service delivery in Southern Africa

Reflecting on the findings of health and agriculture service delivery monitoring in Southern Africa, a cross-section of 87 representatives from government, parliament, civil society and farmers organisations, who met in Lusaka, Zambia from 4 – 7 March, issued a communiqué today. The communiqué calls upon SADC and its member states to improve accountability to accelerate the achievement of regional commitments.

“Social accountability is a prerequisite for the delivery of quality social services, and ultimately for the achievement of food security and good health for all people of Southern Africa,” said Mr. Barney Karuuombe, Manager: Parliamentary Capacity Development (PCD), SADC PF, addressing the meeting on 6 March.

The final communiqué of the meeting urged the SADC National Parliaments and the SADC Parliamentary Forum, among other recommendations, “to promote awareness of the regional health and agriculture commitments at both the national and regional levels and ensure oversight of the same through appropriate mechanisms.”

 “What happens in one country in our region, affects all of us. It is our responsibility as citizens to ensure the regional agreements which our governments sign are realistic and representative of our aspirations. We must then hold them accountable for their realisation,” explained Ms. Gertrude Mugizi, Coordinator of the Regional Learning Programme at the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM).

 In response to the new SADC Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Strategy (2019-2030), the meeting communiqué calls for “SADC Member States to commit 5% of their national health budget for implementation of the SADC SRHR Strategy (2019-2030). Additionally, local government authorities, where relevant, should at least commit 10% of their own sources for the facilitation of the implementation by local health departments.”

“As adolescents and young people of the region, we demand that nothing should be developed for us, without our involvement. Nothing for us, without us. If governments commit to delivering sexual and reproductive services for youth, we should be able to access these in our communities,” a social accountability monitoring (SAM) champion from Zambia, Mr. Ng’andwe Ng’andwe, told the delegates.

In the area of agriculture support for smallholder farmers, the communiqué stated “[we] urgently call upon SADC Member States to support innovative research and development as well as the implementation of alternatives to hybrid seeds and chemically intensive agriculture such as (i) integrated pest management (ii) use of community-based seed systems (iii) improvement of soil fertility through increasing soil organic matter and to (iv) facilitate the diversification of farmer support programmes and the redirection of funds towards the adoption of agroecological practices.”

 “We need farmer support programmes that respond to the needs of smallholder farmers in the region. The FISPs undermine our sustainable practices by only providing hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilisers. What we need is support for us to better use our own seed systems and adopt sustainable agroecological practices,” explained Zambian smallholder farmer and member of ESAFF Zambia, Ms. Mary Sakala.

The Partnership for Social Accountability (PSA) Alliance held two events – a Regional Learning Forum and Regional Budget Summit – from 4 to 7 March 2019 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia. The Regional Learning Forum explored examples of good practices and working models in promoting social accountability in service delivery in the region.

The Regional Budget Summit, held in partnership with the Southern African Development Community Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF), focused on the findings of ongoing national and local level social accountability monitoring across four countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia – and how these impact on the realisation of regional SADC commitments in health and agriculture. Participants also reflected on the critical oversight role of parliamentarians and parliamentary committees in ensuring the accountable use of public funds.

The PSA Alliance is a consortium led by ActionAid together with PSAM, ESAFF and SAfAIDS, and supported by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), has been implementing a social accountability project in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia since May 2016. In each of the four countries, the multi-stakeholder project has provided training to build the capacity of state officials and parliamentarians to more effectively manage public funds, as well as support for civil society organisations, smallholder farmers and the media in holding their leaders to account.

For more information on the project ‘Strengthening Social Accountability and Oversight in Health and Agriculture in Southern Africa’, please contact Chrispin Chomba, +260211257652, safaids@safaids.co.zm, SAfAIDS Zambia or Maureen Zulu, +260974757586, maureen.zulu@actionaid.org, ActionAid Zambia.

The PSA Alliance consists of: PSAM – Public Service Accountability Monitor, Rhodes University – www.psam.org.za; SAfAIDS – www.safaids.net; ESAFF – Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers’ Forum – www.esaff.org; and ActionAid – www.actionaid.org. The PSA Alliance is online at http://copsam.com/psa or @psaalliance (Twitter / Facebook).

 

GPSA – 4th Global Call for Proposals

The Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) has announced its 4th global Call for Proposals (CfP) for civil society organizations (CSOs) and CSO networks.

GPSA has invited its 52 opted-in countries, through the World Bank’s country management units, to express interest to participate in the CfP. A shortlist of countries will be defined and announced in Spring 2019, along with the thematic focus for each country. The application process will then be opened for CSOs in those shortlisted countries.

CSOs include legal entities that fall outside the public or private sectors, such as non-government organizations, not-for-profit media organizations, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, professional organizations, labor unions, workers’ organizations, associations of elected local representatives, foundations and policy development and research institutes.

The criteria the GPSA will use for shortlisting countries include:

  • Government and World Bank country management demand in a given country, as well as alignment with the World Bank’s Country Partnership Framework;
  • Synergies with current and pipeline World Bank operations;
  • The potential to raise or leverage funds complementary to those of the GPSA.

The focus of this CfP will be “Innovative and transformative use of social accountability to solve critical governance and development challenges”. Specific themes are being prioritized for each country, following a menu based on the GPSA’s mission and track record:

  • Governance themes: Public finance and budget, anti-corruption and oversight institutions (notably Supreme Audit Institutions), decentralization and local governance, and domestic resource management.
  • Governance in sectors: Education, health, social protection, agriculture and water. Synergies with the Human Capital Project will be of great interest.
  • Fragility, Conflict and Violence-afflicted (FCV) settings: Risk mitigation of IDA investments through civil society-led third-party monitoring; improving responsiveness in public service delivery and strengthening the enabling environment for conflict prevention and social cohesion.
  • Frontier themes: Climate change, GovTech & CivicTech, and social inclusion.

Grant amounts will range from US$400,000 to US$500,000 over a period of three to four years. However, requests for funding below this range will also be considered. The total envelope for this CfP is approximately $US3 million dollars, with additional funds expected to be raised from other partners, mostly at the national level.

Grants are intended to provide strategic and sustained support to CSO projects with the following objectives:

  • Addressing critical governance and development challenges through social accountability processes that involve citizen feedback and participatory methodologies geared to helping governments and public-sector institutions address these challenges. Special emphasis is on problems that affect extreme poor and marginalized populations.
  • Strengthening civil society’s capacities for social accountability by investing in CSOs’ institutional strengthening and through mentoring of small, nascent CSOs by well-established, larger CSOs with a track record on social accountability.

More information regarding the application guidelines, process, and deadline for submitting the proposals, as well as countries’ priority themes, will soon be available on this webpage. Stay tuned!

Volatility and the Africa Budget Transparency Puzzle

Originally published by IPB here

By Paolo de Renzio, International Budget Partnership— Apr 17, 2018

The Open Budget Survey 2017 recorded a global decline in average budget transparency scores for the first time since the survey’s inception. Nowhere was this decline more pronounced than in sub-Saharan Africa, in which 15 countries saw their Open Budget Index (OBI) scores drop by more than five points. A recent post examining this backslide attributes most of it to a reversal of previous practices, as a significant number of previously published budget documents were either not published, published late, or not posted on government websites.

Highlighting a lack of institutionalization of budget transparency practices as a potential cause for the reversal, the post’s authors emphasize the need for governments to “engrain” the publication of budget documents into standard public finance procedures and activities. They posit that institutionalizing transparency through, for example, laws and regulations, would make budget information accessible to citizens in a more regular and predictable manner.

To assess this claim, we need a way to measure the level of institutionalization of budget transparency practices. A possible starting point are the results of research published by IBP last year that looks at some of the initiatives adopted by governments that were able to significantly improve their OBI scores over time (see this blog post summarizing the key findings here). These actions include:
  • going beyond the inclusion of transparency provisions in legislation, and focusing on the implementation of the provisions;
  • ensuring that broader budget reform strategies include transparency components and activities;
  • using digital tools to disseminate budget information (for example, the creation of budget transparency portals); and
  • introducing institutional measures to coordinate transparency efforts and ensure reform implementation, such as establishing dedicated units responsible for publishing budget information.

Based on these findings, IBP worked with the Collaborative Africa Budget Reform Initiative (CABRI) last year to survey African governments on the degree to which they had similar initiatives in place. Survey questions addressed: 1) the specificity of legislation concerning the publication of key budget documents; 2) the entities responsible for ensuring budget information is published – e.g., the existence of a dedicated unit within the finance ministry; 3) whether governments had a dedicated website/page for budget documents, and if said website was regularly updated; and 4) if government reform strategies or plans included key budget transparency measures. Finance ministry officials from 22 countries responded, 17 of which are covered by the Open Budget Survey. Among these, only one (Senegal) improved its OBI score significantly between 2015 and 2017.

While it is not easy to identify very clear linkages between Open Budget Survey results and institutionalization of budget transparency reforms from the limited information gathered from the IBP-CABRI survey, a few interesting cases stand out.

The two countries with the most significant decline in OBI scores were Botswana (-39 points) and Tanzania (-36 points). In each, governments either published various documents too late to be relevant for public debate or failed to post them online, despite both countries having well-functioning websites during the research period[i]. We were not able to ascertain any reasons for such delays and inconsistencies; however, it should be noted that Botswana’s institutionalization of budget transparency practices is very limited. Its public finance legislation does not contain specific budget transparency provisions, there are no government units directly responsible for publishing budget information, and budget reform strategies generally do not mention transparency as a priority. In contrast, in Tanzania the 2015 Budget Act has very specific provisions for the publication and dissemination of different budget documents and the public finance management (PFM) reform strategy includes a number of activities related to the promotion of public finance transparency. These reforms indicate that Tanzania is ahead of Botswana in institutionalizing budget transparency, but the implementation of the reforms is lagging, possibly due to political transitions after the 2015 elections and the lack of political will by the current government, which is seen as increasingly authoritarian.

Senegal is one of the most improved countries in regards to OBI score, as highlighted in the Open Budget Survey 2017 global report. Here, the government has taken clear steps to institutionalize budget transparency practices. They updated their legislative framework in 2012 in line with regional WAEMU (West Africa Economic and Monetary Union) directives, and their Transparency Code now includes provisions for the government to publish five of the eight key budget documents considered in the Open Budget Survey. The government’s budget reform strategy includes various transparency provisions, and the Cellule de Communication within the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Planning is tasked with ensuring that all budget documents and reports are published. Furthermore, the General Directorate for Finance has its own website where budget documentation is posted.

Other WAEMU member countries, however, provide interesting examples of how laws and regulations alone may not be enough to guarantee the institutionalization of budget transparency practices. Both Benin and Burkina Faso saw their OBI scores drop in 2017, despite having comprehensive transparency legislation, similar to that of Senegal. Both countries have also put a lot of emphasis on promoting transparency in their recent budget reforms (as a consequence, Benin actually started publishing two budget documents in 2017 that it had not published previously). However, the countries also went through some important political transitions — including the aftermath of a coup d’état in Burkina Faso and a change of government in Benin — right around the time when the Open Budget Survey research was taking place. These isolated events may explain the drop in the countries’ 2017 OBI scores, providing hope for future improvements.

Thus, to better understand how budget transparency practices evolve over time, and why they recently worsened in sub-Saharan Africa, more detailed measures of how the levels of institutionalization of such practices are useful, but often insufficient. They may help us explain some of the reasons behind Botswana’s regression or Senegal’s improvements, but for other countries they only hint at broader factors linked to the political and institutional context that may be at play. The relationship between a government’s overall political commitment to transparency, the way in which this translates into institutional reforms that shape the behavior of public officials, and how such incentives shift over time in response to changing circumstances is a very complex one, and a topic that deserves further attention and research.


[i] More recently, the Government of Botswana has been undergoing a comprehensive revamp of its governmental websites, leading to the website finance.gov.bw no longer being active.

These materials were developed by the International Budget Partnership. IBP has given us permission to use the materials solely for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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!

 

Social Accountability from the Trenches: 6 Critical Reflections

Originally published on the GPSA website
By Gopa Kumar Thampi, Director, Economic Governance – Sri Lanka, The Asia Foundation & GPSA Steering Committee 

There is a clearly a surge in social accountability initiatives across the globe today. From informal expressions at the grassroots to entrenched voices in corridors of power, the social accountability multiverse has become stronger and diverse. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that we are indeed witnessing the rise of an ‘audit society’ that animates the spectrum between confrontation and collaboration in citizen’s engagement with the state. The proliferation of toolkits and manuals embellishes this trend as social audits and scorecards have become commonplace parlance for civic activists, policy wonks and academics as they line up an impressive array of data to hold the state to account. However, viewed from the trenches of day-to-day encounters with social accountability, some notes of caution need to be flagged:

1) Primacy of technique over politics: ‘Bring politics back’ is an oft-quoted plea that is heard at the closure of every learning and sharing event on social accountability. Though some excellent conceptual writings exist on the rationale and approaches to acknowledge politics, there is clearly a knowledge gap on praxis. This gap becomes accentuated when projects finish their shelf lives and local interlocutors are left dealing with unplanned political aftermaths. What we need is not just the ‘why’ and ‘what’ of navigating politics, but the ‘how’ too. There is also the bias of working with executive ‘accelerators’ – reformist executives who push the frontiers of constructive engagement and deliver high quality impacts on pilot projects. But the reason why these ripples of change never result in a transformative wave is because politics is often viewed as a problem best avoided. We need to acknowledge that any change sans the inconvenience of politics is bound to be short lived. Working with politics and programming with sensitivity to political ecologies means more flexibility in design and implementation. This is where contemporary discourses on ‘Doing Development Differently’ are opening up new opportunities and pathways.

2) Tyranny of tools: Social Accountability tools like public hearings, scorecards, report cards and social audits have played a major role in bringing rigor to discourse and praxis, by moving the frame of reference from the anecdotal to the evidential. However, projects driven by the novelty of applying tools run the risk of not just undermining sustainable impacts, but paving the way for a far more serious erosion of trust and acceptance. Tools have a tendency to trade efficiency over inclusion, and participation over representation. There is also a case for ensuring quality. As an evolving field where theory consistently lags behind practice, it is critical that the field of practices is constantly reviewed, reflected upon and improved. Finally, there is the issue of local capacities. Applications of tools in rural areas often rely on external agents to play the role of interlocutors, but seldom do legacies and capacities get left behind for continued actions by local interlocutors.

3) Interrogating civil society: A dominant theme in the discourse and praxis of accountability is the emphasis placed on the role of civil society as the vanguard of change. There are genuine concerns that the sector is fast losing its rootedness and legitimacy –a schism grows between genuine informal social movements and formal organized civil society. One, exhibiting the vigor of confronting and embracing the politics of governance and the other, seen as obsessed with the rigor of getting the method right. We need to honestly interrogate our understanding of civil society organizations and widen our focus to bring in new, unseen but genuine champions from the cutting edges. A considerable proportion of existing civil society proponents of accountability often tend to be urban centered, and speak a language that appeal to our funding imperatives. We need to empower and enrich the language that has the credibility and endorsement of the basic constituency that we seek to address – citizens, especially the disadvantaged.

4) Seduction of contestation: Rights-based social mobilization sometimes leads to an unintended consequence – spiraling expectations. When amplified voice encounters weak responses from the state, ‘rude accountability’ manifests. The grammar of engagement changes swiftly to a confrontational mode. In social contexts where power asymmetries are accentuated, these confrontations can take very violent forms. There is a case for calibrating social accountability initiatives to match state capacity. In contexts marked by a trust deficit between state and citizens, it may be prudent to focus on trust building exercises as a starting point. The other issue is of public dissemination. Should one go for a big bang release of the findings from a social audit, thereby securing a guaranteed news coverage? Or, should the state be allowed to frame its responses and then go public with the findings and responses? To strengthen principles of constructive engagement, closing the feedback loop in the public domain becomes a critical factor. Voice needs an ear to respond.

5) Rethinking evaluation: It is near impossible to engineer transformative changes given the short project cycles of social accountability initiatives . End of project evaluations can seldom provide meaningful insights. What the field of social accountability needs are longitudinal studies that explore questions related to sustainability and uptake of reported successes. In particular, five aspects could be emphasized: (a) Extent of multi stakeholder engagement; (b) Width of citizen involvement, especially aspects of inclusion; (c) Long-term partnership among stakeholders; (d) Legal or institutional recognition of civil society engagement; and (e) Extent to which processes generate compliance and provide deterrence. Rather than focus on narrowly defined outcomes, evaluations should dwell into process indicators that reveal if critical pathways and enablers are set in place.

6) Illiberalism and social polarization: Perhaps the greatest challenge for social accountability initiatives is the growing popularity of illiberal electoral democracies and, in parallel, the deep social polarization that is tearing up fragile social fabrics. Leaders with divisive agendas and populist outlooks, aided by manipulated (and at times, completely fake) news are posing a grave threat to democratic institutions. There is also the distinct disconnect between the informed public and the mass public in terms of their expressed trust in institutions. All these have substantive repercussions on the way we imagine and operationalize social accountability. We need to focus on activities that build bridging social capital – locating actions that result in enhanced inter-group collaboration. The role of traditional media – once the trusted ally and champion for accountability – needs to be evaluated given the ubiquitous spread of social media. Rather than lamenting the loss of old spaces, the strategy should be to appropriate the new ones.

To sign off: Social accountability is recognition that there exists a lack of engagement with the public institutions that are so critical to our daily lives, a lack of influence in decision-making and more importantly, a lack of voice for expressing our needs, concerns and demands. We believe that social accountability approaches enable citizens, especially the voiceless and the powerless, to engage with state institutions in a proactive and constructive way to demand and exact accountability and responsiveness. This moral high ground of the concept and praxis of social accountability needs to be protected and nurtured.

Limitations to develop a culture of transparency in the public sector

by Carolina Maturana Zúñiga

Originally published on the GPSA Knowledge Network

Transparency and access to information are not only human rights, but also means to allow citizens to know and monitor what their government is doing. But, what are some hindrances to develop an effective culture of transparency in the public sector?

Using data from the National Study of Public Servants, held by the Consejo para la Transparencia in Chile (Council for Transparency)[1], we explored the role of the bureaucratic system’s traditional structures on the practical limitations regarding the implementation of governance reforms and specifically toward the proper development of access to public information.

The results show that, even though most Chilean public servants perceived their major obligations are toward the citizen, and they have high levels of referential knowledge and valuation of transparency, there is a decrease on both dimensions while deepening the analysis. Data shows that higher levels of hierarchy and contractual stability of public servants seem to be two main factors that can make the difference on the willingness to embrace transparency. This highlights the limitations that medium and lower public servants face to be part of the democratic reforms –for example, they do not access proper training, they are not included in the discussions about the potential benefits of these reforms, and they are only assigned to implement these changes as administrative commands like: “if you get an access to information (ATI) request it should be answered in 20 working days” –. Because of the abovementioned factors, the staff in front line of public services is not prepared to guide or empathize with a citizen requesting information.

In addition to the challenges transparency has to overcome inside the bureaucratic system, it is possible to identify challenges among citizens as well. Traditionally, people have not been involved in the public decision making process and political institutions in Latin America function under the principles of secrecy. Under this historical premise, citizens do not perceive the need or the right to request information and it is hard for them to perceive the potential value of public information, weakening the ATI system by disuse. These perceptions are complemented by strong distrust in electronic and online means to access information; reinforcing the idea that ATI is a slow and complicated process with uncertain results [2].

All these factors, contribute to generate and maintain informal methods for accessing information through personal connections with public servants. This practice allows people involved in those networks to access more information and in a faster way than the regular procedures mandate, damaging the legitimacy of the ATI system and reproducing patronage [3]. At the same time, these practices replicate the power structures that transparency seeks to eliminate.

Then, in order to advance toward a culture of transparency, it is necessary to recognize that legal reforms are not enough and the implementation phase is key for success. Implementation should consider the promotion and engagement of a broader scope of public servants in the discussions regarding the improvement of the bureaucratic system, changes on governance standards, and the democratic vision our societies are aiming for. Public servants should be more aware that quality of service and positive experiences accessing public information, improve citizen’s perceptions about them and their institutions, so they will understand the reasons behind the efforts to change some of their bureaucratic practices [4], an element that will allow them to see themselves as part of a process that strengthens democracy and promotes social rights.

From the lessons learned about the Chilean experience, it is possible to address effectively the practical challenges related to transparency. Elements such as the real capacities of public institutions of different scale and resources to meet their legal obligations; the development of archival systems; the standardization of specific documentation (such as formularies, electronic websites, etc.); and the information and training granted to public servants whom will assume these responsibilities are key components of a successful implementation. Without them, it will be really difficult to install the perception that transparency is more than an additional administrative burden. When traceability and information recall has to be done manually, it becomes a major task and the burden of this labor undermines the social validity of information requests, eroding the social value of ATI and transparency [5]. If public servants perceive that transparency is an important element to improve the public administration, any effort toward the creation of a culture of transparency in the public sector will find a solid ground to start growing.


 

[1] http://www.cplt.cl/estudios-nacionales-de-funcionarios/consejo/2014-09-11/125235.html

[2] http://www.cplt.cl/consejo/site/artic/20121213/asocfile/20121213155411/estudio_nacional_de_transparencia_2012.pdf

[3] Moya y Dueñas  (2015), http://200.91.44.244/consejo/site/artic/20150108/asocfile/20150108180133/t_s_n3___web.pdf

[4] Maturana (2015), http://200.91.44.244/consejo/site/artic/20121213/asocfile/20121213161557/articulo.pdf

[5] CPLT (2016), http://200.91.44.244/consejo/site/artic/20121213/asocfile/20121213160518/avances_y_desafios.pdf