Why Open Contracting Matters to the OGP Agenda in Africa

This is a guest post by Seember Nyager. Seember is an Open Knowledge/Code4Africa Open Government Fellow advocating for the adoption of open contracting data standards in Nigeria.

To be honest, the state of public services across Africa shames us. Often, you find that public services do not meet the generally accepted standards of efficiency, regular maintenance and service delivery. In most cases, it is unknown and improbable whether public services followed any specifications in the phase of contract execution and service delivery is often poor and non-standardized.

The state of public services on the continent is hard to relate with the abundance of our natural resources and the amount of external financing that is channeled to Africa in each year. The standard of Public service delivery has consequences; sometimes tragic and the prevalence of tragedy is witnessed in our health care systems. Arguably the most tragic consequence of low standards in public service delivery is the erosion of trust between the Government and the people as this is the greatest saboteur of good intentions that are in the public interest.

There is no quick fix to the infrastructure and service delivery deficit that plagues the continent. Some public services such as efficient transportation networks may only be fully operational after a decade. But there are ways to rebuild trust between Governments and the citizens and chart a formidable course for sustained efficiency in public service delivery.

In another vein, citizens of OGP participating countries may not know about the OGP and in the light of the current commitments being made by countries, may view OGP as an abstract concept that they do not need to involve themselves with. But there is compelling reason to believe that citizens of OGP participating countries may be able to relate and internalize the values behind the OGP if Open Contracting practices are made a part of the OGP agenda in each of these countries.

Open contracting advocates for all stages that lead to public service delivery to be exposed to scrutiny subject to narrowly defined exceptions. Open contracting also advocates that such routine information ought not be requested for but made readily available through multiple channels so that as much as it is possible, the people know where responsibility for the success or failure of public project lies and can participate in the contracting process which ultimately leads to public service delivery.

The scrutiny of the public contracting process requires that information is presented in ways that enables one set of information to be linked to other related information on a public project or service to be delivered. This would require data standards to be followed. Open contracting would require that information is shared through multiple channels and taken to people in formats that they would understand. Open contracting requires that information on public contracts has milestones that show expectations at each stage of contract implementation and specifications that must have been met at each milestone. Open contracting requires that there is publicly available information of the service to be expected at the end of contract execution. Open contracting requires information around the contracting process to be regularly updated and for contracting information to facilitate continuous dialogue between representatives of Government, the people, the contractors and other stakeholders within a community.

For OGP Africa participating countries like Kenya and Ghana who have FOI and RTI bills currently going through parliament, it is recommended that their bills reflect the proactive disclosure provisions on public finance information as contained in the Model Law on Access to Information. This would provide the legal backing for a robust open contracting practice to thrive. For OGP Africa participating countries like South Africa that are currently undergoing a reform to public sector procurement, it is recommended that there are clear requirements backed by law to ensure public participation in each phase of the contracting process.

For OGP participating countries like Sierra Leone who already have a robust access to information and Public Procurement Law, it is recommended that Contracting data such as pricing benchmarks for public contracts is made readily available, the data follows specified standard, is updated regularly and distributed through multiple channels, in ways that the people can understand.

Committing to open contracting practices would require Government and civil society organizations working closely together and the OGP provides that platform. Further, the Open Contracting Partnership and the web foundation have developed Open contracting data standards that would be of great help to each country willing to adopt open contracting practices. As a non-participant to the OGP, I am hopeful that my own country, Nigeria, would prioritize trust in public service delivery by adopting the spirit and practice of Open Contracting.

Seember can be reached on twitter @Seember1

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