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The future of public contracting in Nigeria

Interview by Wendy Trott, Associate, with Nkem Ilo, CEO of PPDC

According to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), around 60% of corruption cases in Nigeria are procurement-related. This means the country is losing enormous sums of public money that are intended to build roads and bridges, to refurbish clinics and schools, and to invest in the needs of Nigerian citizens. To ensure that public funds are deployed properly for the public good requires openness and transparency, but it also requires the skills to analyse procurement data, to inform citizens about the funds that are due to their communities, and to work with government to improve their ability to release contracting information and monitor the implementation of contracts. The Public Private Development Center (PPDC) is a Nigerian non-profit organisation that specialises in doing just this. PPDC hosts a pioneering Open Contracting platform called Budeshi, which publishes details on public spending to enable the public to hold government accountable for the services they are due. Budeshi publishes contracting data that tracks public funds all the way from budget appropriation through to bidding processes, contract awards, and eventually contract implementation. 

Luminate is proud to announce a new three-year grant of $900,000 to PPDC that will support their continued work on open contracting and in enabling citizen engagement in public financial management. We spoke with Nkem Ilo, the CEO of PPDC, to get her take on how Nigeria is using open contracting to fight corruption and mismanagement, and the future of PPDC’s work.

Tell us more about what PPDC does?

Nkem: PPDC is a civil society organization working on improving public participation in governance for better service delivery. At the core of our interventions are the words inclusion and participation. As an organisation, we have worked consciously and continuously to achieve the informed civic participation that is necessary to hold government accountable and to promote better service delivery. 

Over many years we have developed particular expertise in the areas of public procurement reform, public procurement and contract implementation monitoring, and improving citizens’ access to publicly held information under the Freedom of Information Act. PPDC has been at the forefront of advocating for the use of the Open Contracting Data Standards in Nigeria’s public procurement, to ensure that information about contracts the state makes with third-party companies can be easily accessed and tracked by anyone. This was successfully achieved with the launch of the ground-breaking platform, Budeshi.

What do you plan to achieve over the next three year period of this grant?

Nkem: In the course of the next three years, leveraging Luminate’s support, we intend to work collaboratively with a broad range of stakeholders to contribute to strengthening public contracting at target subnational governments.

Under this grant, we will work to broaden the conversation on public contracting disclosure to other levels of government. Subnational governments are closer to the citizens and are delegated to spend significant public resources in providing public services, however fiscal transparency laws at this level of government are inconsistent and incomplete. Now is an opportune moment to engage these governments because of a recent ruling by the Court of Appeal that the FOI Act applies universally to all public agencies, including those at a sub-national level.

PPDC will be working to support more subnational governments to build their contract disclosure framework in a way that enables greater citizen participation, promote critical data analysis in determining how public services are delivered, and ensuring that public services are delivered in local constituencies. PPDC will also be working closely with other civil society organizations, citizen groups, and other networks to build a culture of citizen feedback on the quality of public services implemented within their locality. 

What challenges do you foresee in your work to achieve this?

Nkem:  There are several challenges I foresee as we set out to achieve our objectives, one of which is the absence of legal and institutional frameworks on Access to Information across several subnational governments. This would pose a challenge in the support for more subnational governments to build their contract disclosure framework as most of the states in Nigeria do not have ATI laws. One of the contributing factors that led to the successful piloting of Open Contracting at the Federal level was the presence of the federal-level Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 2011 and its proactive disclosure provisions.

A second possible challenge is the sustainability of the reform initiatives being introduced. The goal of improving public access to information and active citizen involvement is largely dependent on state governments’ ability to maintain and constantly upload current contractual data on the portals.

Finally, there is also the challenge of a change in government bringing about a change in the current policy focus on open contracting disclosure frameworks.

However, despite these challenges, the involvement of civil society and other relevant stakeholders at the fore of the campaign for opening up subnational government may be the catalyst for ensuring that there is staying power for policy reforms around open contracting and access to information.  

Tell us a bit more about PPDC’s partnerships and how you leverage collaborations with various stakeholders to achieve your aims?

Nkem: PPDC has robust partnerships with various civil society organizations at the federal and state levels who also work in the transparency and accountability space. In partnership with CSOs such as Basic Rights Watch, BudgIT, Connected Development (CODE), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), and Right to Know Nigeria (R2K), we are currently running a national FOI ranking to measure compliance of MDAs to the FOIA 2011. At the state level, we also carry out joint contract monitoring of projects to ensure proper contract implementation.

We also have partnerships with several media outfits, one of which is the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR). Through this, PPDC has trained several journalists on the use of data to carry out monitoring and write data driven stories from their investigations.

Additionally, PPDC is currently a member of the Constituency Project Tracking Group (CPTG) of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), where we are jointly carrying out project monitoring of constituency projects from 2015 to date to ensure proper project implementation. At the moment we have selected five projects in 12 states across the six geopolitical zones for the first batch of the monitoring exercise. 

We are also partnering with several state governments to develop and deploy an open contracting portal using the OCDS as well as to build the capacity of different stakeholders to sustain the demand and supply of open government principles. We have also collaborated with the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), the regulatory agency for public procurement and a key advocate for open contracting, in pushing the agenda for open contracting in Nigeria.

What have you learnt over the past few years of doing this work, and in your opinion, what is the future of open contracting in Africa?

Nkem: In the course of our work, a recurring lesson is the need to keep strengthening the capacity of citizens to enable a transition from passive to active citizenship. This is most especially important for citizens resident at the communities which is where most of government projects are implemented. An understanding of their roles as citizens and the need to actively participate in governance will ultimately ensure sustainability in reform initiatives that affect service delivery, even in the absence of ‘CSOs’.

Tell us a bit more about PPDC’s partnerships and how you leverage collaborations with various stakeholders to achieve your aims?

Nkem: PPDC has robust partnerships with various civil society organizations at the federal and state levels who also work in the transparency and accountability space. In partnership with CSOs such as Basic Rights Watch, BudgIT, Connected Development (CODE), Media Rights Agenda (MRA), and Right to Know Nigeria (R2K), we are currently running a national FOI ranking to measure compliance of MDAs to the FOIA 2011. At the state level, we also carry out joint contract monitoring of projects to ensure proper contract implementation.

We also have partnerships with several media outfits, one of which is the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR). Through this, PPDC has trained several journalists on the use of data to carry out monitoring and write data driven stories from their investigations.

Additionally, PPDC is currently a member of the Constituency Project Tracking Group (CPTG) of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), where we are jointly carrying out project monitoring of constituency projects from 2015 to date to ensure proper project implementation. At the moment we have selected five projects in 12 states across the six geopolitical zones for the first batch of the monitoring exercise. 

We are also partnering with several state governments to develop and deploy an open contracting portal using the OCDS as well as to build the capacity of different stakeholders to sustain the demand and supply of open government principles. We have also collaborated with the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), the regulatory agency for public procurement and a key advocate for open contracting, in pushing the agenda for open contracting in Nigeria.

What have you learnt over the past few years of doing this work, and in your opinion, what is the future of open contracting in Africa?

Nkem: In the course of our work, a recurring lesson is the need to keep strengthening the capacity of citizens to enable a transition from passive to active citizenship. This is most especially important for citizens resident at the communities which is where most of government projects are implemented. An understanding of their roles as citizens and the need to actively participate in governance will ultimately ensure sustainability in reform initiatives that affect service delivery, even in the absence of ‘CSOs’.