In its bid to fight corruption and involve citizens in the governance process, President Muhammadu Buhari committed the country to actions to deepen his administration’s anti-corruption agenda.
At the London Anti-Corruption Summit in May 2016, Nigeria, as part of its commitment to e-Government Procurement, began its involvement in the open contracting initiative.
During the summit, Buhari committed to applying the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), an element of Open Government Partnership (OGP), in certain projects in the country.
He said Nigeria would work towards full implementation of OCDS, focusing on major projects as an early priority.
The OGP is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.
The quest to get citizens involved in the governance process led the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) to design a portal for OGP, called the Nigerian Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO).
The innovation won the Government Innovation Award, a global award for a pioneering project to ensure openness in government business transactions.
The competition was run by the Washington, DC-based Open Contracting Partnership and the London-based Open Data Institute funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.
Director, Data Base Department, BPP, Mr Aliyu Aliyu, said OGP was a partnership between the government and the citizens which came into effect as a result of people feeling that citizens were not part of government.
He said as a global movement, it was viewed that citizens should now be part of government from budgeting to contract implementation and evaluation.
“Part of it is the open contracting which should enhance transparency for the people that stand to benefit from government activities apart from participating,’’ Aliyu said.
He said the principles guiding the system are affirmative disclosure, participation, monitoring and oversight.
He also said the system was structured on planning, initiation of tenders, contract award and implementation.
According to him, OCDS is designed to achieve getting value for money, detection of fraud and corruption, competing for contracts and monitoring service delivery.
Aliyu said the portal served as an indicator that could help citizens, civil society and the government to confirm whether the indicators of a particular project are true and assist them to focus on certain projects at a time.
“For example, if a project is said to be of a certain amount and we find out that from government coffers they have actually pulled all the money, it means that the contract has been finished.
“Of course, the MDA will report that the project has been concluded, so someone can sit down and say let me check the project against the amount paid and the actual project site.
“It will also link it to location on earth, that way, somebody can go there with the application and take a snap of the project and it will give the position of the project because it will show that the project is actually standing at the place designated for it.
“Also, because it is co-creation, the civil society has the same access, so it is not about government or BPP hiding any information, but about information that is out there for everyone to see.
“The analytics will show the percentage of what is done and it will bring a lot of changes and I am sure the main thrust of BPP, which is ensuring value for money, will be derived by that,’’ he observed.
Aliyu said, so far, procurement monitoring groups (civil society) have been engaged to also study the design of the portal.
He said in line with the commitment of Buhari in May 2016, the pilot Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that should spearhead the use of the portal have also been meeting with the BPP and have had sessions of training on how they are going to upload data to the portal.
The MDAs include Federal Ministry of Education, Federal Ministry of Health,
Federal Ministry of Transport, Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Federal Ministry of Works and Ministry of Petroleum Resources, among others.
“So we are hoping that by the end of first quarter of 2018, we should have some documents and records of 2017 projects so that citizens can go and analyse based on the open contracting standards that we have,’’ he explained.
Explaining its benefits, Aliyu said the portal would also have effect on budget implementation and the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) as it would ensure that performing projects that spanned more than a budget cycle were given priority in the next budget.
“If we are doing a road of 20 kilometres at N20 million and it is supposed to be done in four years, we should be able to do at least five kilometres a year.
“So it is expected that the budget for the road in one year should not be the entire cost of the project but one quarter of the cost per annum up till when it is finished so it will agree with the MTEF.
“That way, somebody can check that first, are they utilising the funds, if they are, is the work done commensurate with what they ought to have done because this is assumed to be a project of N20 million and every year they are expected to expend five million naira.
“That way, we are able to see that these people have actually utilised their budget and that encourages you to give them money in the second year’s budget and everyone will support that because the project is progressing as it ought to.
“So this will assist the various methods, not only projects that have one year accounting cycle but projects that span beyond one year accounting cycle and we can account for them,’’ he explained.
Aliyu observed that the portal “is a co-creation by government, civil society and the citizens and as is the practice all over the world; it is domiciled with the government agency in charge of procurement.
“It cannot be domiciled with civil society because the government has all the data and it is easier for the regulatory authorities to demand information from another government organisation than from civil society’’.
He also said part of the reasons why it has to be domiciled with government was because it already had the needed infrastructure.
“We already have a data centre and we spent two billion naira building that centre, though gradually.
“Over time,we spent that much and we focused on it so we have built the system up to where we are now and that is how it is done everywhere,’’ he said.
Commending the Federal Government for adopting the OCDS, Mr Celestine Odo, Programme Officer, Oxfam Nigeria, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO), said it was a good initiative.
“If properly administered, it would help citizens to monitor projects and contracts at every stage and also reduce corruption in the contracting system,’’ he noted.
He, nonetheless, observed that the system should have been domiciled with the civil society to ensure transparency and accountability in the entire process.
Mr Onyekachi Chukwu, Programme Officer, Public Private Development Centre (PPDC), a procurement monitoring civil society organisation, also advised the Federal Government to ensure compliance with the OCDS.
He said the implementation of OCDS would enable citizens to monitor all stages of the projects being carried out.
“That way, it is easier to know what is going on and when it should be concluded; also the people would know what should be expected from the projects,’’ he observed.
Similarly, PPDC’s Communications Lead, Ugochi Ekwueme, said the organisation had been advocating increased citizens’ participation in government for a long time, adding that introducing it was a step in the right direction.
She said it would also ensure that procurement was carried out properly and that it carries out the checks and balances required.
Concerned citizens, however, believe that with OCDS and its effective implementation, BPP will achieve its vision of building and sustaining an efficient country procurement system that meets international standard.
Folarin writes for News Agency of Nigeria.