Learning from disclosure: How do we ensure transparency?
One of the most important
indicators of CoST's success is when a government chooses to integrate CoST
disclosure requirements into its own systems. This begins to make disclosure of
information from publicly funded infrastructure projects a routine activity
within Government. In recent months we have seen significant steps towards CoST
countries achieving this aspiration.
In this latest blog John
Hawkins, CoST International Secretariat Programme Manager, identifies a number
of emerging lessons that could benefit both existing and future CoST countries.
This includes that disclosing on websites may not be enough to ensure
last year the Guatemalan Government became the first country to make the
disclosure of the project information in the CoST format a legal requirement
for all public procuring entities. Steps have also been taken to introduce a
similar legal requirement in Malawi, Vietnam and Tanzania before the end of the
year. This is an exciting time for CoST as it means a large amount of
information could soon become available to the public in the respective
countries. From this four themes have emerged.
1. Disclosure is increasingly centralised within Government
public procurement is more centralised within Government, powerful national
public procurement authorities are beginning to take responsibility for
disclosure. For example, the Ethiopian Public Procurement and Property
Administration Authority (PPPAA) will use its legal mandate to demand that government
procuring entities disclose the CoST Project Information Standard through its
website. CoST Tanzania is attempting to persuade its Public Procurement
Regulatory Authority to adopt the same policy using a similar legal basis. In
Malawi, the Office of the Director of Public Procurement is introducing the
disclosure requirements as part of a package amendments’ to the Malawi Public
Procurement Act. This approach is sensible as it builds on the disclosure
requirements enshrined in current public procurement legislation.
a more decentralised public sector such as the UK, it had been anticipated that
procuring entities would disclose on their own website. However, the open data revolution
is leading to a more centralised approach with large government agencies
required to disclose information on the data.gov website. For example, the
Philippines MSG has begun discussions with Philippines Government to see if
disclosure could occur through their ‘data.gov’ portal.
2. Involve the right Government representatives
CoST Programmes are overseen by Multi-Stakeholder Groups (MSG) with
representatives from civil society, industry as well as government. Having key
Government institutions such as the national procurement authority (Malawi,
Tanzania and Ethiopia) represented on the MSG has helped MSGs to understand the
most likely legal or regulatory vehicle for incorporating the disclosure
requirements. It has also proved to be a gateway to influence these
3. Procuring entity capacity building is essential for compliance
new disclosure requirement can only be considered a success if procuring
entities comply with it. The CoST pilot (2008 to 2011) highlighted that poor
compliance with current disclosure requirements was due to a lack of knowledge
of the law and an absence of internal policy and procedures. To overcome this,
the Ethiopian and Guatemala MSGs have trained almost 500 procuring entity
officials on the disclosure requirements. This means that ignorance will no
longer be considered an excuse for non-disclosure.
4. Is disclosure on websites sufficient in ensuring transparency?
open data revolution is undoubtedly going to be a powerful tool for improving
public services. But I worry that those leading this revolution can get carried
away, turning off ordinary people from something that can potentially improve
last years’ Open Government Summit, I was lost with some of the language and wondered
who the open data revolution was really for. Is it for a small number of data specialists
who are excited by the potential of data manipulation or is it about informing
the public? The answer is both. This
means transparency professionals have to understand how people access information
and avoid over-reliance on websites.
Ethiopia has done exactly that. A recent survey identified that over 80% of the
population principally access information through the radio compared with only
2% who access information via the internet. They have used this data to provide
guidance and templates to government agencies on disclosing information through
the radio, television and public sign boards on construction sites as well as
disclosing through websites.
approach will mean that the public can access through mechanisms that suit them,
ensuring that transparency will be achieved.