The invitation for new SAFE Trust Fund applications is now open until 7 March 2016
What is SAFE?
2016. A new year and a new emphasis on data-driven performance for local government. Cities are accelerating at a fast pace to put data to use. Not just to understand what’s happening on the street level, also to improve service delivery systems.
Until recently, Boston’s Department of public works kept track of jobs on paper. And there was no efficient system to track what jobs were done and what needed to be done.
But that has changed.
If you want a passport in Pakistan, you wait in line – possibly for hours. You might get to the passport office at the crack of dawn to avoid the queue. The process might be unclear, and there might be people – “agents” – waiting outside the office, offering to help: “For a few hundred rupees, I can fast-track your application.”
The government of Pakistan is trying to fix these problems, including the requests for bribes, rude treatment, and inefficient processing. Their approach is simple and creative and made possible because there are an estimated 123 million mobile phone users in the South Asian nation – about 64 percent of the population, according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.
Beginning this fall, staff at each of the passport office’s 95 locations began collecting the cell phone numbers of all passport applicants. Shortly after each visit, the central headquarters sends the applicant a text message: “Did you face any problem or did someone ask you for money?”
Visiting a technical institution (one that is focused on science and engineering) in India can be a mixed experience. I have been to campuses that have state-of-the-art lab equipment with dedicated staff, and I have also been to others that barely have enough textbooks in their libraries and lab equipment from the 1960s.
Regardless of the type of institution, one thing is certain – even if the buildings are brand new and WiFi abundant, without good governance practices technical institutions in India would be less able to provide good higher education services to students.
To provide some more practical advice on how to embody good governance in the higher education sector, I visited seven institutions in two different states (Maharashtra and Karnataka) to explore best practices, which are summarized below:
A neighborhood road a minute walk away from my house in the southern plains of Nepal used to be paved. When I was a kid, it was usable during all seasons. Not anymore.
A few years ago, I’m told, residents worked with the municipal officials to get drinking water to their houses. Officials broke the road so they can connect drinking water pipes from the nearby main highway to neighborhood homes.
That road has yet to be repaired. When I asked my parents and neighbors why it has taken so long for the road to be repaired, they responded by saying the municipality officials have ignored it.
The town’s municipal officials said locals haven’t contacted them yet about that road and there are other projects the municipality is working on. The broken road in my neighborhood isn’t one of those projects. To put it gently, public services in my hometown remain in dire condition.
Would things have been different if residents of my hometown engaged more with their local government? Maybe.
Over the last couple of years a small team of us have worked on an initiative to incorporate the regular, systematic feedback of citizens into the design and execution of World Bank programs. I would like to share some of our experiences working together with governments, civil society organizations and citizens in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa on this citizen engagement initiative.
First, citizen engagement is not new. For instance, the early work by Robert Chambers, “The Origins and Practice of Participatory Rural Appraisal and Michael Cernea’s “Putting People First” date from 1980s and early 90s and were quite inspirational for many of us who have worked issues of gathering and acting on citizen feedback.
At the same time, something important has changed. There has been an increasing demand by civil society and citizens to have a greater say in public decision-making, and a desire among many governments to be more inclusive and responsive to citizens’ needs. Also, the rise of innovations in technology has provided citizens with new and unprecedented opportunities to directly engage policy makers and demonstrated the potential to facilitate “Closing the Feedback Loop” between citizen and governments.
They spend hours waiting in line at tax offices.
In March 2014, with support of the World Bank, a Delivery Unit (DU) was set up in the Romanian Prime Minister’s Chancellery. Its mission: Get better results quicker for the PM in four priority areas.
Tax administration was one of them. The PM’s concern was the pain of paying taxes. Offering online services, for the first time, was one of the ways to decrease the cost of compliance. The DU estimated that they could save the taxpayer up to 12 days a year of waiting at the tax office.
The DU’s role was to plan for these improvements together with the Romanian Ministry of Public Finance and the Tax Administration Agency (NAFA). In a Delivery Agreement, the specific targets, metrics, activities, deadlines and responsibilities were spelled out. The DU was to then monitor the progress monthly against an agreed trajectory and help unblock problems in implementation.
In September 2014, the NAFA launched the online taxpayer platform called Private Virtual Space (PVS). It allows taxpayers to file their tax returns, get their tax bills and see their payments. The target was to enroll 30% of the eligible taxpayers by December 2015. Though the DU tracked progress monthly, the enrollment rate was still at 0.6% in June 2015. Clearly, the monitoring on its own did not help.
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) just concluded its third Global Summit. Government, civil society, and development partner representatives from over one hundred countries met in Mexico City to strengthen international cooperation around the open government agenda.
This year the summit emphasized connections between the OGP mission and the slate of newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at ending extreme poverty by 2030.
Delegates to the summit vowed to contribute to achievement of SDG Goal 16, and committed to mainstreaming open government principles such as including transparency, citizen participation, accountability and integrity, and technology and innovation into implementation of the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Recognizing that collaborative, multi-sectoral approaches lead to better results, the World Bank intends to anchor its support for open government reforms and initiatives in OGP member countries’ national action plans. The result of extensive consultations with government and civil society stakeholders, OGP national action plans are country-developed strategy papers designed around the specific open government needs, demands, and goals of a given country.
As an example, the Bank’s Open Aid Partnership (OAP) has been working for four years to make information on aid-financed activities more transparent and accessible. This mission clearly fits within the umbrella of increasing government openness. Now, OAP is working to align its engagements with the OGP in joint pursuit of the Global Goals. It does this by offering specific expertise in open aid data as countries develop their national action plans and implement related transparency commitments within the OGP framework.