South Africa’s Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) is in complete disarray. In the 10 years since it was established by law, and the five years it has been in operation, the Office has failed to adhere to key principles of institutional and political independence, technical credibility and transparency. For these and other reasons it has failed to give parliamentarians, and the public, a credible alternative analysis of South Africa’s public finances.
With the swearing-in of a new Parliament and president, there is a chance to change this for the better. The first six months will be crucial. They will determine whether the Office can be set on a path that will lead to a proud institutional legacy. If not, the institution will be a waste of public money that generates mediocre and politically compromised analysis – in which case it should be euthanased.
South Africa’s parliamentarians may look further afield for inspiration. For example, the history of the American Congressional Budget Office illustrates what’s possible. Its founding director, Alice Rivlin, who died last week, was not just an accomplished bureaucrat. She was also an economist of calibre in her own right. And the legacy she left in the form of the US Congress’s budget office is one of a technically and politically credible institution that plays an important role in that country’s democracy.
Parliamentary budget offices have been established in many countries. They can play a valuable role in any democratic system by providing impartial, expert advice to parliamentarians about public finance issues in a transparent manner. This strengthens oversight of government’s public finance decisions by parliamentarians and civil society.
South Africa’s is in urgent need of reform. The Constitution envisages a fundamental role for Parliament in holding the state to account and ensuring the voices of citizens and civil society are heard beyond elections. With the current state of the economy and public finances, there are few areas more in need of credible, robust oversight.
The Parliamentary Budget Office could play a major role in ensuring that this happens. But to do so it must be a technically credible institution that is entirely independent of political influence. Unfortunately, the first opportunity to do this was squandered – resulting in 10 lost years.
The creation of South Africa’s own parliamentary budget office by the Money Bills Act in 2009 was an important step. But the process of its establishment was flawed from the start. And those failures have recently been compounded and concealed.
One thing that is clear is that since its establishment the PBO has been in thrall to political influence – most notably from factions within the majority African National Congress (ANC). Such political influence also appears to have obstructed any clean-up of the office.
The problems around the appointment of a credible director illustrate this well.
In 2018 the ANC in Parliament rushed through, with no public consultation and no serious consideration of his performance, a reappointment of its first director. A few months later, shortly after the completion of a forensic investigation into a range of alleged irregularities, he resigned.
The director’s post has now been vacant for almost nine months with no attempt to fill it. Initially Parliament said a series of acting directors would be appointed to give internal deputies a chance – a terrible argument. But even that has reportedly not been done, leaving the post vacant and Parliament arguably in violation of its own law.
The committees responsible argued that they wanted to let the new Parliament choose its own director, but that implies the post will be filled based on political considerations which it should not be. Furthermore, while the reappointment of the previous director was brief, it allowed him to reappoint staff whose contracts would have ended. This deprived any new director of the opportunity to appoint staff untainted by the institution’s recent history.
Meanwhile, the Parliament spokesperson has sought to obscure the existence of the forensic investigation. The final report is yet to be placed in the public domain and there is no indication that any action has been taken.
Another big challenge is the fact that under the previous director an informal advisory board was created that was composed of only ANC MPs. This was arguably illegal at the time. Recent amendments to the Office’s founding legislation have ill-advisedly formalised this politically homogeneous structure in law and given it the power to appoint an acting director.
Concerns were raised about this during the public consultation process, but inexplicably ignored. The implications of that are now becoming apparent.
While it has recently been reported that Mokonyane has withdrawn from Parliament of her own accord, it remains to be seen who will replace her. If anyone deeply implicated in corruption oversees the appointment of an acting director it could sound the death knell for the Office.
On the positive side, under law the multiparty committees of finance and appropriations retain responsibility for recommending a new director. Who the ANC appoints as chairpersons of these four committees will be important – for the Office and public finance oversight more generally. Another potential positive is that the new Speaker, Thandi Modise, has a better reputation for non-partisanship than her predecessor.
While the Speaker has little direct responsibility for the budget office in law, within the political structures of Parliament they can either hamper, or enable, committee chairpersons in acting in accordance with their legislated duties to oversee a functional and nonpartisan Office. But at this point it is unknown whether Modise was complicit in past inaction and the active shielding of the Office and its director from accountability.
If the new Parliament is to do better, the appointment as director of a technically credible economist who is robustly independent and of the highest ethical repute will be crucial. Implementation of amendments to the Money Bills Act, which explicitly establish the Office as a juristic entity, will also be important.
Civil society and the public at large should pay close attention to both matters in order to ensure that the institution is not compromised a second time. The experience of other countries suggests that if the ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa ensures the Office is established credibly, it could turn out to be one of his most valuable democratic legacies in decades to come.
By Shaazka Beyerle and Davin O’Regan. Originally posted here
Policy and programs seeking to advance transparency and accountability in public budgets have tended to focus on the state apparatus. Whether it be new laws that require greater openness or punish malfeasance or entirely new commissions and regulatory agencies to strengthen checks and balances, many initiatives focus internally on the state – the civil service, the courts, the legislature, or the executive.
Reform, however, is not always the result of technocratic tinkering and innovation but can be driven by popular, broad-based citizen action. Whether it be labor or environmental policies or various human and civil rights issues, social movements deploying various nonviolent tactics have consistentlydemonstrated the ability to achieve genuine – sometimes transformative – shifts in policy and government performance. The underlying dynamic involves grassroots organizing to amplify citizen voices and wield power.
Can such bottom-up citizen initiatives be fostered to advance fiscal governance? Based on a series of interviews and focus group engagements with transparency and accountability reform advocates in Kenya, Nigeria, and Ukraine conducted as part of a United States Institute of Peace (USIP) project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, activists recounted two major challenges in mobilizing grassroots citizens for fiscal governance, and some lessons from our own initial research approach revealed a third challenge.
Challenge 1: Fiscal governance issues are technical and not immediately accessible for average citizens
The topic itself is arcane and technical, and therefore not immediately accessible for average citizens. As one activist in Kenya noted, there already is quite a bit of information on budgeting and spending available in Kenya, but “the question is how do you channel these things in an understandable ways that then create the [popular] action that is required” to pressure for more reform. In Ukraine, an anti-corruption advocate lamented that a new technological initiative to increase access to budgetary details of one oblast administration “gave citizens a tool to control budget funds but the other problem is that people don’t really understand it.” Another Ukrainian activist echoed the same sentiment, saying that the “end user [i.e., citizen] doesn’t really understand new anti-corruption terms and we have to explain in detail.”
Surveys of individuals’ experiences with bribery and corruption in Europe and Central Asia reinforce this notion of a substantial learning curve to actively mobilizing citizens in efforts to improve transparency or accountability. In most countries, difficulty in reporting incidents due to a lack of knowledge of how, where, or the associated costs to do so were consistently cited as the top reasons individuals did not report bribery or corruption, more so than fear of retaliation or a sense that there would be no consequences for the perpetrator.
Challenge 2: Maintaining mobilization after bursts of activism
Activists in Nigeria, Kenya, and Ukraine also cited sustainability as a challenge. Fiscal transparency and accountability are ongoing struggles, and maintaining mobilization after bursts of activism is difficult. A scandal might briefly grab headlines and galvanize popular support around the investigation of a specific individual, but it is hard to prolong citizen participation in the budgetary process or to monitor outputs and projects. Likewise, disillusionment can set in after grand victories that do not immediately result in perceptible accountability gains, such as the 2010 constitutional referendum in Kenya or recent electoral transitions in Nigeria. In Ukraine, many citizens were encouraged by the slew of dramatic, positive reforms that emerged following the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-2014, but, one activist noted, by 2018 “people began to lose confidence in reforms and that these reforms are being implemented effectively…there are doubts regarding how it is all going and whether it’s the right way or not.”
Challenge 3: Transparency and accountability activists rely heavily on support from external actors
Many of the activists and organizations we encountered were heavily reliant on financial assistance from external actors. Our research sought to understand the effects of this support on the impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability campaigners. To do so we endeavored to interview and engage domestically funded organizations and activists and compare their experiences and approach to foreign funded groups. It proved difficult. Attempts at snowballing from foreign funded groups as well as outreach to in-country representatives of external actors produced few candidates. We did try reaching out to labor organizers and activists within religious organizations, given that these often have reliable domestic resources, but they typically did not work directly on transparency and accountability issues. Some independent or newer activists were referred to us, but they also did not always work on these issues, and some actually did obtain grants or foreign support over the course of our research.
Although our research has not yet concluded, a few factors seem to be at play. In some countries, there may just be limited activism around transparency and accountability that isn’t reliant to some extent on foreign funding, or such activism may be of such a different nature that it would be difficult to compare to externally financed organizations and groups even if we were able to identify and research it. Alternatively, initial groups and key informants we contacted may be so detached from domestically resourced movement actors that snowballing was not a viable technique for reaching them. For instance, there have been notable citizen- led and -funded efforts in other countries, such as the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan’s experience in India, discussed by Nikhil Dey in a previous Fiscal Futures post.
How can activists overcome these challenges and mobilize citizens?
First, take cues from the grassroots. As was the case with the Indian Right to Information movement profiled in the aforementioned blog post, the entry point is not rallying the public around abstract fiscal transparency issues and technocratic measures, but linking these directly to immediate problems. “We would like to have proper toilets, fit to be used by humans, disabled people and children,” declared Bukela Gincana, a social audit volunteer in South Africa. Insufficient, substandard sanitation afflicts marginalized communities and can lead to gender-based and communal violence. Up to 50 people share one toilet, many with no locks, and women have been raped at night, reported residents in Wattville, a collection of informal settlements in Cape Town. From 2015-2016, the Social Audit Network (SAN), Social Justice Coalition (SJC), the International Budget Partnership South Africa, and citizens engaged in two social audits focusing on sanitation service outsourcing. SJC, a “membership-based social movement” also launched a campaign to include the poor in budget decisions. Nonviolent tactics ranged from research, community organizing, education/training, engagement with locals/sanitation workers/officials, and advocacy, to physical inspections, protests, stunts, and citizen-state public forums. Finally, residents flooded the municipality with 3,000 formal submissions concerning the draft Cape Town budget, a creative mass action combining institutional and extra-institutional pressure.
A more recent example comes from Ciudad del Este, Paraguay. ReAcción, a youth-led hybrid civil society organization, has been mobilizing students for several years to map and monitor disbursements for public school infrastructure from FONACIDE (National Public Investment and Development Fund) in order to impact corruption and channel funds to marginalized schools prioritized by the Ministry of Education. After David Riveros García, reAcción’s founder, encountered difficulties building anti-corruption awareness amongst high school students, in 2013 he and friends latched on to public discontent over FONACIDE’s weak transparency and monitoring mechanisms and ensuing scandals.
Second, it may not be love at first sight. Even when their grievances and problems are central to the civic initiative, citizens won’t be clamoring to jump on the fiscal transparency bandwagon. Apathy, low self-confidence, and sometimes fear can be common obstacles. Nonviolent action initiatives cultivating collective responsibility, collective ownership, and collective identity help to overcome these challenges. ReAcción underscored to fellow students that they should be FONACIDE’s beneficiaries; corruption affected them and their schools; and they could make an impact. High-schoolers had a role in planning and decision-making, and through peers learned useful skills not only for monitoring but also for their own development, including dialoguing with elites, data visualization, and computer programming.
Third, spice it up. To get citizens involved in fiscal transparency, civic initiatives have added contextually-relevant culture, humor, fellowship, and social recognition into communications, skills, leadership-building, engagement, and nonviolent tactics. In Wattville, community volunteers canvassed fellow residents. They wore easily recognizable in T-shirts with slogans such as, “Sanitation is dignity” and “Sifuna Ukwazi Iqiniso (We Want to Know the Truth).
Fourth, invest in education. IBP not only helped to gain documents from Cape Town’s municipality, it carried out local trainings in public finance, budget analysis, and procurement. The fiscal governance field can also support capacity building in effective grassroots engagement. At present, there seems to be an over-emphasis on “sustaining mobilization” and an under-investment in community-organizing, movement building, and leadership.
Fifth, develop incremental goals with tangible outcomes. According to scholar-practitioner Marshall Ganz, “without clear outcomes, neither leaders nor participants have any way to evaluate success or failure, to learn, or to experience the feedback essential to motivation.” How does this play out for fiscal transparency? Over two years, the Cape Town social audits yielded new toilets, improved employment conditions for janitors, citizen input into the subsequent tender document, and more generally, improved citizen-state communication. Moreover, in 2018, SJC, SAN, IBP, Planact, and the Wattville and Thembelihle communities joined forces to expand social audits to ten informal settlements. The objectives are not only to improve fiscal governance and direct sanitation service, but to change government systems. In Paraguay – through annual mapping and visualizations of the administrative process, cross-data research and visualizations, and monitoring of selected schools – reAcción’s volunteers contributed to increasing FONACIDE’s transparency from the Ministry of Education down to Ciudad del Este. Recently, reports Riveros García, the General Auditor’s report sent to President Abdo Benítez included the youth group’s 2018 Annual Report on the management of FONCIDE funds.
Fiscal governance poses unique challenges for activists. Annual budgets, government accounting, and procurement regulations are unlikely to turn average people to the streets. But dedicated efforts to punch through these more abstruse procedures and link them to citizen’s immediate well-being can help mobilize popular support for fiscal responsibility.
Shaazka Beyerle is a Senior Research Advisor at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Davin O’Regan is Senior Program Officer for Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace. They oversee several research initiatives that examine the impact of foreign donor support for activists and social movement organizations in Nigeria, Kenya, Ukraine, Guatemala, Zimbabwe, and Burma.
There’s been a data revolution around the world driven by advances in information technology and a need for research that responds to complex developmental issues.
African countries are also experiencing the revolution when it comes to volume, types, sources, frequency and speed of data production. This is particularly true in the population and health sector. There’s more population and health information available in the public domain than ever.
Ministries of health in most African countries conduct periodic health programme reviews to establish whether policies are producing the desired results. Countries also undertake assessments on the incidence, distribution, and control of diseases. This is done through frequent analysis of routinely collected data with the aim of improving programmes.
These periodic reviews usually serve as important input for national strategic plans. But there are still challenges with the collection of accurate and timely data, their utility, use and analytical capacity. This means that it remains difficult for many countries to develop evidence-based policies.
Mapping the issues
A number of challenges face countries trying to improve the collation and use of reliable data. Here are some of them.
Coordination: There are multiple sources of health data. These include household surveys, census, health facilities, disease surveillance, policy data and research studies. Datasets are increasingly spatially referenced and would be valuable in informing health programmes and monitoring performance. But they remain relatively under-used. It’s important to find a way to bridge this gap and increase discovery and use of data.
A platform for analytic support and triangulation of available data is needed. This would reduce fragmentation and duplication while improving efficiency.
Frequency of analysis: The premise of evidence-based decision making is that health data lack value unless they are analysed and actually used to inform decisions.
This is why coordinated and systematic analysis and review of all available data is essential. The analysis and reviews must be done at regular intervals. Regular programme assessments are critical, but are often lacking or insufficient.
Data structures: Periodical population and health surveys often consist of quantitative, qualitative and geospatial data that is voluminous and/or comprehensive. This requires well trained staffs with appropriate analytical skills to make meaning of these data.
Routinely collected health service or register-based data is common in the health sector and is traditionally used for reporting purposes. This data are longitudinal and provide wider coverage – geographically and in terms of the items recorded. This allows for trends in the use of services to be estimated. But the use of routinely collected data in most African countries has been far from optimal. This is mainly due to a lack of analytical capacity and low government demand for the data.
Data Quality: Health data, especially routinely collected service data, often have quality issues. These include missing values and errors in data entry and computation.
These errors can lead to wrong results, wrong conclusions and wrong recommendations. They can also mean that new priorities, policies and programmes based on the data will be wrong.
In addition, data analysis, dissemination and use in the sector are held back. This is a problem because the use of information sources beyond routine health management information is already weak.
Good quality data are essential for proper planning, budgeting and implementation of development activities, particularly those in essential services sectors such as public health. In the absence of quality data public resources investments are often based on guessed estimates, this leads to wastage.
Data Cost: Data collection, handling, archival and analysis is still expensive in terms of capacity, logistics and financial implications for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. National statistical offices don’t have the necessary technological, financial and human resource capacities to collect, process and disseminate the required data.
Making data work
African countries continue to work towards achieving national and regional commitments to improving data collection and use. But it’s critical that governments invest in relevant, timely and accurate data production for decision-making.
Data actors including data managers, statisticians and data analysts need to be involved at every stage. They need to be part of mapping out the problems as well as designing research methodologies and figuring out how to collect, analyse and disseminate data.
A wide range of data, including earth observation and geospatial data, needs to be leveraged to review progress in meeting health and wellbeing targets. This is critical to improving the effectiveness and sustainability of health systems.
And there’s an urgent need to shift the focus from data to information and knowledge. This includes working with end users, like health departments, to create tools to access information.
Finally, governments need to make resources available to meet commitments to providing quality and affordable health care for all. This could be done by mobilising domestic resource, setting standard data indicators (for collection, analysis and reporting) and strengthening national statistics bodies.
Commitment may be the first step towards affordable health care. But more needs to be done to harness the power of data for public health.
The Africa Data Revolution Report 2018 delves into the current state and recent evolution of Open Data – with an emphasis on Open Government Data – in the African data communities. It explores key countries across the continent, researches a wide range of open data initiatives and benefits from global thematic expertise.
This second edition improves on process, methodology and collaborative part-nerships from the first edition. It draws from country reports, existing global and continental initiatives and key experts’ input and provides a deep analysis of the actual impact of open data in the African context.
Open Data needs the commitment of political leadership, to be entrusted to a dedicated and adequately resourced custodian and embedded through permanent data processes and a pervasive culture within all relevant government institutions. This takes sustained leadership and commitment inspired by a true belief in the benefits of open data to society as a whole. It cannot be achieved by short-term standalone, once-off externally funded initiatives focused on purely quantitative objectives such as making a given number of datasets available.Externally funded Open Government Data projects need to focus more on local capacity-building within governments, insist on institutionalizing open data processes, ensure that the datasets released are the ones that address needs rather than those that are easy to open, and involve stakeholder consultations.
Additionally, a different type of intervention or support mechanism is required to improve the impact of open data initiatives: support for OGD intermediaries needs to be more agile, less formalized, easier to access, allowing for more failures (i.e. higher risk tolerance), and focused on multi-pronged and more holistic outcomes.The intrinsic value of data as a strategic and social asset should be recognized by all the stakeholders in the data value chain, including those who capture the data as well as managers and decision makers at all levels of government institutions.
Silas Okumu leads the parent teacher association at a primary school in Kisenge, a small community just 600 meters from Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. In October 2018, he travelled six hours by bus to the capital, Kampala, to talk to the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), a non-profit that works on contract monitoring, about a construction project at the school where his four children are students.
Recounting the details from neat handwritten papers, he explained that new classrooms and an administrative block had been built (with support from the Global Partnership for Education and the World Bank), but the community had unresolved concerns: there weren’t enough classrooms for all the students, the school lacked teachers’ housing, a fence and electricity, and the new classrooms weren’t furnished.
AFIC’s staff had visited Kisenge primary school when construction was underway, checking the quality of building materials and following up when things weren’t going well with the contractors. When Okumu told them about the community’s other requests, they advised him to write the details down and promised to inform the relevant authorities. Okumu had come to Kampala to deliver his letter in person, so AFIC could share it with various government offices and follow up to ensure action was taken.
Demanding accountability: a network tracking public contracting across Uganda
AFIC is part of a network of passionate Ugandans who dedicate their time to tracking public contracting processes across the country, helping citizens like Silas Okumu to ensure their communities get the goods, services and works they need, and public officers have the information and resources they need to purchase those items at the fairest price. The group is diverse, but shares a common goal: “value for money, value for many.” They believe this occurs most effectively when people understand the contracts that affect their communities and participate in decisions made about those deals — from companies wanting to do business with the government to citizens who benefit from the services.
Before open contracting was established, citizens made complaints and requests about contracts on an ad-hoc basis, they didn’t know whether any action was taken, and there was often little clarity about which government office was responsible for what processes.
The strength and collaborative nature of this group has helped them to advocate successfully for the government to adopt open contracting — a best practice approach designed to improve the management and performance of public contracting through open data and public engagement. It’s an ambitious project — corruption is endemic in Uganda, especially in public procurement, the anti-graft laws are poorly enforced, freedom of speech is often restricted, and government agencies are under-resourced. Unreliable IT infrastructure and technology make setting up stable digital resources a challenge.
But there are early signs this network’s efforts seem to begin paying off. The government has used open contracting to begin making its public procurement portal more useful for a wider range of people. Civil society has created their own platform that displays procurement information in a way that’s easy for community monitors to understand, drawing on open data extracted from the government’s portal and supplemented by FOI requests. The public procurement agency is using open contracting data to identify potential irregularities in procurement processes. Public access to contracting documents has improved since open contracting reforms were introduced, as have communication channels between citizens, civil society and public servants. Meanwhile, the government is drafting an amendment to the procurement law, the PPDA Act, that would improve transparency and accountability in the sector. There have also been notable improvements reported in some procurement policies and practices; in particular, public officers say contracting data has helped them to plan and budget better, and open contracting has been embedded in anti-corruption reforms within the country’s largest procuring entity.
Towards a new, more collaborative and open approach to public contracting
AFIC’s executive director Gilbert Sendugwa recalls reporting anomalies to the national procurement oversight body, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), as early as 2011, when he was the chairman of a board of governors overseeing education development projects in Rushenyi county. He says the PPDA didn’t respond to him directly, but speaking to beneficiaries sometimes revealed that complaints had been addressed.He continued to share information with the PPDA informally, before they signed a formal agreement with him. When a coalition of procurement monitors was established, PPDA began hosting their meetings and training them on the agency’s processes. Now “we work very warmly and very openly in a strong partnership,” Sendugwa says
In 2015, the PPDA launched the Government Procurement Portal (GPP), an online platform to systematically publish contracting information. But despite its good intentions, civil society groups found it difficult to use. The platform featured data on procurement plans, tender notices, winning bidders’ names, awards, contract status and suspended suppliers. But many procuring entities didn’t publish their data, and contracting processes lacked unique identifiers so they couldn’t be followed through different stages of the procurement cycle. Important data were also missing — such as detailed bidder information, award criteria, implementation milestones and amendments, and procurement plans for local district governments (see detailed data mapping) — and the data formats weren’t user-friendly.
AFIC began advocating for open contracting with the Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) five years ago, as a way to make information about contracts more accessible, useful and timely. With the help of fellow transparency advocates from Nigeria and elsewhere, AFIC used open contracting mapping tools to assess the quality of the procurement agency’s data against international standards, and how the GPP could be improved to allow better monitoring by civil society. In 2016, they compared a sample of GPP data against the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), a universal schema for organizing the most important information about contracting processes, from the planning stage to award and implementation.
The OCDS made gaps in the data apparent, such as planning and implementation milestones, bidder enquiries, and tender updates. After hearing AFIC’s findings and recommendations, the procurement agency asked the civil society group to expand their assessment to cover all the portal’s data and agreed to redesign the portal in line with the OCDS. The PPDA was convinced because they could see the benefit of open contracting to their work — improving disclosure, public participation, and public sector responsiveness would improve their capacity to monitor public procurement, and create better practices among procuring entities, who often had a reputation for failing to follow procurement rules, in some cases awarding contracts based on personal or political preferences rather than value for money. Now, PPDA data shows 402 procuring entities are registered on the GPP, 202 of which disclosed procurement plans for the 2017/18 fiscal year, compared to 97 entities registered in 2015/16 before the redesign. Each contracting process has a unique identifier across the procurement cycle and data is in accessible and reusable formats (Excel and JSON).
Edwin Muhumuza, performance monitoring manager at the PPDA shares: “… for citizens to be engaged in promoting accountability for effective service delivery, they must have information related to the contracts that are being implemented in their localities. Our commitment to open contracting is also intended to leverage the capabilities of other stakeholders such as civil society organizations in monitoring public contracts. Making public procurement information accessible to the public also enables us to take advantage of the civil society organizations’ networks that can supplement and complement our efforts in contract monitoring. We have seen the fruits of such collaboration, and they have encouraged us to promote open contracting.”
Putting open contracting data to use: Identifying red flags
With open data, the PPDA has enough complete records to flag and investigate anomalies, such as incorrect award methods, overpricing, and time overruns. For example, an officer at the PPDA noticed that the bid process was restricted for a valuable contract for supervisory services at the Kabaale International Airport. Normally Uganda would run an open competitive procedure for a 21.3 billion shilling (US$5.7 million) contract, according to Edwin Muhumuza. But after making further enquiries, Muhumuza told us, the PPDA found the direct award was legal, because it was requested by the international funder and international agreements take precedence over other procurement legislation (the PPDA Act).
AFIC has extracted data from the GPP to build their own tool specifically designed for civil society and citizens, Budeshi.ug, which it released in October 2018. The GPP data in Budeshi is further supplemented by contracts and information obtained through Freedom of Information requests. The tool is an adaptation of one developed by AFIC’s partners in Nigeria, the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC). Like the Nigerian platform, Budeshi.ug offers powerful analyses focused on information of interest to citizens and civil society in particular. It allows users to search projects by procuring entity, contractor, procurement method, project type, and year, and run basic analyses on the aggregated data. AFIC also plans to upload other data sets, such as budget and spending data, to perform further analysis. This cross-referencing of data sets can lead to powerful insights. For example, Emanuele Colonnelli, an academic and researcher collaborating with the PPDA, said he requested Uganda’s tax registry data manually and combined it with GPP data to reveal 45% of firms doing business with government never pay taxes (study yet to be published).
A shared mission for better procurement: building relationships between civil society and government
Members of civil society from AFIC and UCMC have repeated their evidence-based advocacy approach to earn the trust of other institutions who had been unresponsive, even when the civil society groups invoked access to information laws. Their monitoring work serves several purposes: to increase communities’ understanding of individual projects — looking for signs of common problems like potential fraud, collusion, diversion of funds, or inflated costs — and to motivate government agencies to engage more actively in open contracting, which in turn increases the amount and quality of data on the GPP.
Through this work, we have seen that proactive disclosure and collaboration have improved among district governments where civil society monitors contracts and the PPDA has trained procurement officers in using and uploading data to the portal.
Before their first monitoring report was finalized, AFIC shared their draft findings and recommendations with the relevant agencies and incorporated their input in the final report. They invited elected officials who have an oversight role, accounting officers and the heads of departments. This helped to improve accountability, but it also gave different stakeholders a chance to raise concerns about capacity or resource needs.
“Initially in these districts they were not cooperating, giving us information and contracts,” said Sendugwa. “We had to get some of them through the PPDA. But after our first report, when we shared results, that’s when it opened doors to establish formal relationships.”
Shortly after, three districts signed MoUs with AFIC to share their contracting information. Six months later, when AFIC conducted their second round of monitoring, they gathered more than three times as many contracts (98 contracts, 37 of which were accessed via the GPP, compared to 29 contracts in 2017, all accessed via FOI request) and all five districts’ procurement plans (three via the GPP). The other two districts signed MoUs after the second monitoring period. After this improvement in data disclosure, PPDA registered 43 additional procuring entities to the GPP and trained 86 officers from these entities on using the open contracting data portal.
The PPDA and Ministry of Finance also adopted AFIC’s recommendation to enshrine open contracting in the procurement legislation. An amendment to the PPDA Act is currently being drafted by the First Parliamentary Counsel.
At the agency level, open contracting has been embedded in important measures to address endemic corruption in the largest procuring entity, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) (a commission of inquiry in 2016, for example, found the agency had misappropriated more than 40% of its road construction budget over seven years). According to the PPDA, the entity has begun publishing additional procurement information, such as procurement plans, via digital platforms and traditional media, and engaging more with contractors and other stakeholders. This has helped potential bidders to plan better and make more competitive offers, according to the UNRA’s Procurement Director John Omeke Ongimu. Several people interviewed from government and civil society also said bids per tender at the UNRA have increased and come from a wider range of firms and countries. Reported improvements like these represent an encouraging first step in the right direction, and the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) hopes to conduct a quantitative evaluation of them in the near future.
Better planning and budgeting
Officers from central government agencies and district governments told the OCP that compliance has improved and procurement processes are more efficient and transparent since the GPP was updated. For example, timelines and automated notifications of delays help them to track processes; the list of blacklisted suppliers helps them evaluate proposals; and bid notices can be printed by providers, rather than collected in person after being prepared manually.
Procurement plans have become more realistic and within budget, according to the government officials interviewed. A procurement officer at the Ministry of Education, Richard Ahimbisibwe, said the ministry’s budgeting has improved, because they and the PPDA can monitor actual spending against procurement plans more efficiently. When the ministry’s initial procurement plan for the 2017/18 fiscal year was over budget by 200 billion shillings, the PPDA followed up with the procurement unit, who took a second look and found they were able to remove some unnecessary items and cut costs of others to bring the plan within budget.
Civil society has observed improvements in procurement planning, too. Only 21 percent of the contracts obtained by AFIC for their first monitoring reportin October 2017 were included in the government’s approved procurement plans (6 out of 29 contracts), which could indicate a diversion of funds. Their second report, in April 2018, revealed a significant improvement — 86 percent of contracts were in the plans (32 out of 37 contracts analyzed). AFIC has added information on the contracts obtained via FOI request to the Budeshi monitoring platform.
Between the two monitoring periods, PPDA trained procurement officers in the districts and updated the planning template in the GPP to ensure a link between planned contracts and those being awarded and executed. Now, if a contract is not in the procurement plan, it cannot be entered in the GPP. And government has a better understanding of who in government buys what, from whom and when.
Next steps and embedding a change of culture
While the story so far shows the promise for open data and open contracting in Uganda’s public procurement, it’s also very volatile. The GPP was down for half of 2018 and a new e-procurement system is in development, which could derail some of the progress, as it’s unclear to what extent it will integrate open contracting and the work already invested in the GPP.
At the institutional level, major weaknesses in the enforcement of legislation and procurement processes continue to allow for corruption and impunity, according to representatives of both government and civil society.
“Government has made progress in disclosing contracting information,” said Sendugwa. “Several investigations and commissions of inquiry have been made in procurement-related scandals. However, these efforts are undermined by lack of action against the big fish when [they] are involved in corrupt practices.”
The PPDA’s Executive Director Benson Turamye has expressed similar concerns, noting in a statement for Uganda’s 2017 Anti-Corruption Week that despite procurement reforms having some success, “serious challenges persist including corruption, non-compliance with the procurement act and regulations, un-standardized procurement processes across procuring and disposal entities, continuous delays in delivery of supplies and services, and wastage of resources through uncompetitive and closed purchases.” He also mentioned a 2015 PPDA survey that found almost 60 percent of bidders said they had paid a public official to influence the outcome of a tender.
Uganda is working now on redesigning the GPP so that it can hold large amounts of data and remain stable. But where we really need the investment, according to Gilbert Sendugwa, is in promoting use of data by different stakeholders.
“[We want] those who are mandated for oversight to be able to use this data to empower their decision making, [along with] those who are involved in service monitoring…and those who implement contracts,” says Gilbert Sendugwa.
Citizens particularly need more information about what happens to the complaints made, as they develop more confidence in requesting contracting documents and dealing with officials.
The persistence of Silas Okumu, who had been calling AFIC every day, is paying off for Kisenge primary school. Staff absenteeism was a problem because teachers lived far away, so the community asked to repurpose iron sheets from the school’s construction site to build teacher housing. AFIC informed the Ministry of Education who decided that iron sheets at all similar World Bank project sites should be given to the communities for teacher housing. Unaware that the community knew about this decision, contractors started removing iron sheets designated for Kisenge primary school staff accommodation. Okumu immediately called Gilbert Sendugwa, who contacted the district government. He asked them to stop the contractors since they had a letter from the Ministry of Education explaining that the materials were for the community. They didn’t cooperate, so Sendugwa called the local police commissioner. When the contractors continued to take the materials, Sendugwa told the commissioner that he was reporting the situation to the Inspectorate of Government and would inform them that the commissioner was following up to help. After about an hour after the call, Chairman Okumu said the iron sheets had been returned to the school.
“I found it very interesting, but also humbling — the power of information by the community,” said Sendugwa. Open contracting in Uganda is still a work in progress but thanks to the efforts of AFIC, the PPDC and committed local activists, the journey has begun.
This article was originally published by Open Contracting here
This article was originally published on the GPSA Knowledge Platform by Lucia Nass
Despite strong legal frameworks for gender equality, Ethiopian women still have a lot of catching up to do. They occupy a low status in society and their developmental outcomes are still well below those of men. Ethiopia has started to support Gender Responsive Budging (GRB), but is this creating the desired effect on gender equality?
The Ethiopia Social Accountability Program phase 2 (ESAP2) introduced GRB tool in almost a quarter of Ethiopia’s 1000 districts across five public services: education, health, water, agriculture, and rural roads. We guided over 110 local organizations to help communities assess the standards and budgets of basic services they received, prioritize necessary improvement, engage in dialogue with service providers and local government, and realize the agreed reforms.
Initially, very few CSOs chose to work with the GRB tool because it provided limited implementation guidelines and also gender expertise was not well developed among the CSOs. The ESAP team invited an Ethiopian gender consultant and engaged with CSOs, communities, and government gender experts in an action research process to make a new GRB tool that would work for social accountability at local government level.
CSOs start with identifying and mobilizing local gender and budget expertise, which can support the social accountability process. In Ethiopia, this usually involves the Women, Children and Youth Affairs Office; the Financial Transparency and Accountability expert; and experts from the sector offices. They also timed social accountability activities to the budget cycle, so that citizens can influence budget decisions and review. Before conducting gender analysis, awareness is raised among service providers on the government’s gender policies for service delivery. Then gender analysis of service access and benefits is facilitated where community members are involved in comparing the impact of basic services on women to that of men. Citizens and service providers are then brought together to discuss local budgets and set priorities for gender equitable spending on public services. This leads to prioritization of spending on improvements that promote gender equality. Citizens subsequently monitor that service improvements indeed benefit women and men as agreed during the budget discussions.
Interestingly, the CSOs had already completed a full cycle of the SA process before the new GRB tool was introduced. Focusing on the same services, the communities’ priorities changed. All six pilots show that new issues were prioritised. In Debre Markos town, GRB highlighted sexual harassment of school girls. The community had already identified the need of a fence to protect students from residents who could wander into the school yard at any time. The gender analysis highlighted the negative impact of drinking houses in terms of the harassment of school girls by their customers. The issue was raised during the interface meeting, and local authorities subsequently moved the drinking houses to the other end of town.
Pilots encountered secondary schools with no separate toilets for boys and girls, and agricultural extension services that focus solely on crops grown by men. Ethiopia’s basic services may on paper appear gender neutral, but in practice they are not. Gender analysis can demonstrate how service delivery that is seemingly “gender neutral” does in fact perpetuate gender bias. We learned how to integrate gender analysis with each step of a social accountability process at local government level. Our GRB tool brings abstract gender policies to life for men and women, service providers and district officials.
We hope that our work will inspire SA practitioners to develop GRB for local government budgets. This publication explains how we developed the tool and gives more detail to the results achieved for gender equality in basic service access and benefits.
PSAM education researcher, Siyabulela Fobosi, has released his budget analysis for the Eastern Cape Education department 2018. Here he outlines some of the key concerns in the province’s budget for education.
What is of concern is that the planning and budgeting of R57 billion for fee-free higher education comes with the baseline reduction to the basic education budget. For example, Programme 6 (Infrastructure Development) of the ECDoE decreased by 10%, in nominal terms, from R1.7 billion in 2017/18 to R1.5 billion in 2018/19. In real terms, the allocation to this Programme decreased by 13% to R1.4 billion. The reason for this decline is due to the reduction in the funding for two conditional grants, namely Education Infrastructure Grant and Maths Science and Technology Grant. This reduction will delay the completion of currently existing infrastructure projects such as hostels, special schools and Early Childhood Development (ECD) Centres.
The reduction in budget for infrastructure is concerning, considering the interdependence of the basic and higher education sectors. One would expect government to ensure massive investment in basic education, so that learners progress well to the higher education. The high fees in universities are not the only reason why many of the learners from the poor schools cannot access higher education. It is also due to the inequalities in the early years of schooling. It remains a challenge for most learners in South Africa, to pass matric well and obtain a qualification in higher education, especially in the context where learners are repeating Grade 3 and 4.
The lack of adequate appropriate infrastructure in schools does adversely impacts on progress towards ensuring equitable access to education and resources. It is particularly disconcerting to note the reductions to important programmes such as the Infrastructure Development which will undoubtedly result in the delay of school infrastructure projects in a province already showing high rates of under-delivery. This reduction is unfavorable for the progressive realisation of the rights of learners to quality basic education. In order to ensure that the budget allocated for infrastructure delivery, the Department must improve the management and monitoring of expenditure. It is high time that the ECDoE, assisted by the Eastern Cape Provincial Legislature, addresses failures in school infrastructure provisioning. Given the funding constraint and overriding economic context – it is imperative for the ECDoE to ensure the efficient, prudent utilisation of limited resources to ensure optimal delivery of a range of education services.
Given the funding constraint and overriding economic context – it is imperative for the ECDoE to ensure the efficient, prudent utilisation of limited resources to ensure optimal delivery of a range of education services.
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:
Establish accessible communication and sustained dialogue within a diverse coalition.
Use global institutions as strategic levers for top-down accountability.
Invest in citizens’ engagement in policies and implementation over the longer-term.
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.
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).