CoST in the global context

CoST Chairman Chrik Poortman reflects on recent progress in the CoST programme.

CoST Chairman Chrik PoortmanIncreasing demands for transparency and accountability underpin many of the social and political upheavals of recent years. Events as apparently diverse as the Arab Spring, the Occupy and Indignant movements and Wikileaks disclosures are motivated amongst other things, by a belief that transparency can help to strengthen democracy and build a better society for all.

It is important that the aspirations of these popular movements are realised through practical reforms that benefit all people. That’s where sectoral initiatives like CoST come in.

Construction is a strategically important sector in almost all countries. It creates the physical infrastructure that is fundamental to economic growth and human development. As a recent report from the UK House of Commons pointed out “in many ways, infrastructure is development."

But delivering public infrastructure often involves vast resources, complex contractual relationships and tight timeframes and as a result it is vulnerable to corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency. CoST responds directly to these challenges and it works with government, industry and civil society to establish systems and procedures aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating them.

Central to this approach is the disclosure of information that is intended to inform citizens and enable them to hold decision-makers to account. A three year pilot project demonstrated not only that this approach is viable in practice, but also that it can lead to improvements in regulatory environments, investments in capacity building and cost savings on individual projects.

In recent months the Interim Board has been absorbing the lessons from the pilot project into the design of a global programme. The new programme will comprise a series of national CoST programmes supported by a lean and efficient international Board and Secretariat. It will also include a construction transparency index that will enable participating countries to measure their progress over time. We plan to launch the new CoST programme later this year and details will be available on the CoST website.

I consider is very significant that the eight countries that were involved in the pilot project have maintained their activities and are committed to participate in the new programme. And in addition, we have received strong expressions of interest in joining the programme from strategically important countries in Africa and the Americas.

Whilst there is good cause for optimism about the future of CoST, we also face significant challenges. We need to translate the G20’s endorsement of CoST into support from individual G20 member countries. We also need to build the evidence base that links improvements in transparency on the one hand, with the intended impacts such as better value for the money on the other. And we need to convince more governments to see CoST as a vehicle that can help meet their commitments to global initiatives such as the Open Government Partnership.

When considering the links between CoST, popular movements and global initiatives, it becomes increasingly apparent that transparency is an approach that has come of age. It is almost inconceivable that popular support could be mobilised behind efforts to reverse this trend.

I’m confident that we can meet the challenges that we face and I look forward to welcoming new partners into the programme as we build towards the launch of CoST later this year.

Date Published: 17 December 2013
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