Enhancing public procurement through open contracting requires investment in key stakeholders and ensuring that their capacity is well built to support all the procurement processes. The capacity of public officials should be built to enhance their ability to disclose public procurement information and also respond to the feedback provided by citizens. The citizens’ capacity too, needs to be built to boost the demand side for information that will support their ability to monitor public contracts as well as demand for accountability.
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) since June 2018 has been implementing the Strengthening disclosure and citizen participation to improve value for money in public contracting in Africa Project supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Through this project, AFIC has supported 4 countries Kenya, Malawi, Ghana and Nigeria to fast-track the implementation of the project while supporting 6 partners in these countries. These partners included Article 19 and International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya) in Kenya; Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation in Malawi; Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) and Media Rights Agenda (MRA) in Nigeria; and Ghana Anti -Corruption Coalition (GACC) in Ghana.
AFIC started this process by making a strategic decision to set up a Working Group (WG) on open contracting whose goal is to provide the leadership, coordination, conceptual and technical skills to review the current architecture of the open contracting agenda across Africa. This working group which was established in 2016 is comprised of CSOs representing 8 countries in Africa that strive to promote Open Contracting as a means of improving transparency in public procurement. The Working group is constituted of 10 members, and Open Contracting Partnership, as well as Hivos, participate as observer and technical partners. These include Public and Private Development Centre (Convener) – Nigeria; Media Rights Agenda – Nigeria; Kenyan Section of International Commission of Jurists – Kenya; Article 19 East Africa – Kenya; Society for Democratic Initiatives – Sierra Leone; Open Democracy Advice Centre – South Africa; Ghana Anticorruption Coalition – Ghana; Centre for Human Rights Rehabilitation – Malawi; AFIC (Secretariat) – Uganda; AfroLeadership, Cameroon; Open Contracting Partnership (Observer/Technical Partner); and Hivos (Observer/Technical partner).
This initiative was inspired by the good practices and advances in the open contracting agenda already happening in Nigeria and Uganda. Indeed, both Ugandan and Nigeria public procurement portals namely the Government Procurement Portal (GPP) and NOCOPO respectively were aligned to the Open Contracting Data Standard. Other good practices identified the need to approach the government with tangible recommendations emanating from OCDS mapping of existing public procurement portals or concrete products that will add value to their work; demonstrate the benefits of open contracting initiatives on the overall performance of the public procurement regulator to execute its mandate; rely on government’s commitments to advance your agenda, especially in the case of Open Government Partnership country members; and strengthen civil society engagement in monitoring public contracts
The working group, therefore, became a founding place for shared learning across the members and most importantly inspiring each other to do better. Through newsletters and articles shared online, members have been able to learn how their counterparts are faring. Indeed, through this process, other countries on the project have already redesigned their procurement portals and improved their disclosure levels although they are yet to make them OCDS compliant. At the same time, the partners have been engaged in building the capacity of the public officials and citizens to be responsive in promoting open contracting. AFIC has played such an important role in supporting the partners by co-training with them the public officials and citizens to increase further awareness about open contracting. In the last two years alone, AFIC was able to hold over 10 training sessions online and in Uganda to reach out to the partners and ensure improved disclosure levels. AFIC also published a comprehensive training manual that will support partners to continuously train other stakeholders in their own countries.
AFIC further organized a project mid-term review with all the implementing partners from 3rd– 4th December 2019 at Serene Suites in Kampala- Uganda. The two days were used to review the progress of the project, share lessons, and draw recommendations on how to deepen the project outcomes. The partners were able to enjoy peer and shared learning across countries and plan for progress to ensure Open Contracting becomes a norm on the African continent. During this meeting, partners were able to learn about unique experiences like the one of Uganda where the Procurement Authority has established a working framework between themselves and civil society to ensure collaborative engagement. It was from these discussions that partners were able to go back and try to improve their working relationships with the various government agencies for improved disclosure.
“In Uganda, we have realized that monitoring public procurement requires a partnership between civil society and government,” said Edwin Muhumuza, the Director of Corporate Affairs, PPDA who represented the Executive Director at the meeting.
In a bid to support the partners to be effective in implementing the project, AFIC secretariat invested in mission visits to the four countries to meet with the partners and understand the challenges faced as well as work with them to undertake OCDS mapping of the procurement portals. The mission visits strengthened further the parentship between AFIC and the partners to enable them to further reach out and promote the need for disclosure of public procurement information. The continuous engagements between AFIC and her partners have been very instrumental in ensuring that all stakeholders’ capacities are well built and engagements are constructive towards improved disclosure levels in Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, and Ghana.
As a result of this support, there has been increased knowledge and awareness among CSOs, public contracting officials, the private sector and the citizenry about Open Contracting in the 4 countries leading to an improvement in monitoring of public contracting processes by CSOs and public contracting authorities being more conscious in their actions, leading to improved value for money in public contracting. This capacity-building has further improved the collaboration among CSOs, private sector, and public agencies on improving public procurement. So far, all the countries have put in place procurement portals to disclose public procurement information. Uganda’s GPP and Nigeria’s NOCOPO are so far OCDS compliant while Ghana’s new e-procurement portal is being piloted to be OCDS compliant. Although Kenya and Malawi have not yet become OCDS compliant, their disclosure levels have improved with an increased amount of information disclosed on these portals.