In my previous blog, I had discussed procurement monitoring in the light of the large amount of government money lost in public procurement due to corruption and whether civil society can play an effective role in curbing such waste. I promised readers that I would come back to the topic, with innovative methods used by civil society in procurement reform. My search shows that techniques such as (i) coalition building among civil society organizations, (ii) issue-based advocacy campaigns and, (iii) third party monitoring have been effective in civil engagement in public procurement. However, the success primarily depends on government cooperation and ownership of these processes. To illustrate this point, I will analyze three case studies, drawing heavily from the book, “Our Money, Our Responsibility: A Citizen’s Guide to Monitor Government Expenditures,” published by the International Budget Partnership.
Case I. In the Philippines, a group of individuals led a civil society campaign to mobilize public opinion in support of public procurement. The advocacy efforts supported passage by the national legislature of a new procurement law two years later, in 2003. The simple and easy-to-track procurement procedures inscribed in the law have allowed citizens to file reports in case of deviant practices with the local Ombudsman, a semi-independent government body, created to prevent and investigate government corruption.
The success of this movement depended on various factors. First, the Philippines government took the lead by establishing a task force to examine procurement reform and draft a new law in the country. Some members of the task team capitalized on their technical expertise to gain public support for the reform by establishing a non-governmental organization, Procurement Watch Inc. (PWI). This connection has enabled PWI to serve as a critical link between citizens and the government. PWI has conducted training sessions of Ombudsman staff on the new procurement law and publicize information on procurement law to the public through its civil society network. At the same time, PWI is building the larger civil society capacity to monitor the public procurement processes. PWI has established a mechanism for Ombudsman to respond to information from citizens observers about potential frauds and abuse. This has been critical, considering citizens sometimes hesitate to report complaints to government officers for fear of harassment.
Case II. The case of civil society monitoring of the supply and expenditures of textbooks to school children in the Philippines is another example of government and civil society collaboration in procurement monitoring. The Department of Education in the Philippines instituted the ‘Textbook Count Program,’ which features collaboration with civil society organizations to monitor the production and delivery of textbooks to school children. As a result of this transparent practice, the average unit price of textbook was cut in half, with savings of about 68.5 million pesos. Similarly, the inspection of 165,000 textbooks by civil society members led to the repair and replacement of 62,000 defective textbooks. The percentage of textbook delivery to schools also increased significantly as a result.
Factors contributing to the success of the Text Book Count program include leadership intervention to counter negative image of the Department. In the 1990s, the department of Education in the Philippines had faced major criticism from the public on alleged corruption, specifically in the procurement of textbook for children. The new government, which came into power in 2003, appointed a new Department head, who took ownership of the reform process and inculcated democratic practice, with civil society monitoring each step of the procurement process. A pre-bidding seminar was organized by the Education Department, which invited civil society to partake in decisions leading to the selection of qualified agencies to produce and deliver the textbooks.
Also, coalition building among civil society organizations, led by the NGO, Government Watch (G-Watch) was very effective in covering geographic spread in quality inspection and delivery of the textbooks. Nearly 6,000 volunteers from civil society groups joined in a massive nationwide effort over the four months during which textbooks were delivered to 4,800 locations. Tapping into larger associations and networks, like the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (an NGO that monitors the country’s electoral process, which has more than 250,000 members), the Transparency and Accountability Network (a network of 24 groups that focus on transparency and accountability issues) and the Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups also helped in outreach and coverage of the citizen-led monitoring of the program. However, despite the effort, the monitors were only able to do a sample check. G-Watch traces the predicament to end-users, including school principals and teachers, who need to be empowered to demand accountability from the service providers.
Case III. The issue-based advocacy campaign of Namys, a non-governmental organization in Kazakstan, which works for the right of disabled people, provides a good example of incentives for civil society organizations to engage in procurement monitoring. To ensure allocation of government budgets for disabled people and that the funds were used properly, Namys led an aggressive media campaign and instituted a broad coalition of more than 30 non-governmental organizations supporting disabled persons all over the country. The fact that the government responded to some of Namys main demands inspired the organization to expand its area of coverage and build networks to monitor various budgets and programs on behalf of disabled people. Namys is now planning to set up an information clearinghouse that provides information on programs and budgets for disabled persons.
These examples illustrate that political commitment and democratic practices from the government side and coalition building and issue-based incentives on the civil society side can forge effective partnerships toward influencing sound procurement practices.
Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Collection (Flickr)