Citizen engagement in Procurement management and over sight
A significant portion of the expenditure of the government is on public procurement. Each year, Bangladesh spends more than BDT 72,000 Crores on government procurement (Lomborg 2016). This huge investment, if not managed efficiently, can result in substandard output, cost overrun and project implementation delays. Citizen engagement in the public procurement can deter these problems by ensuring greater accountability and transparency and consequently increase the quality of public goods and services. The challenge, however, is to devise a mechanism for citizen engagement that offers sustainability, in terms of cost efficiency, and potential replicability in wider societal contexts. The government is currently implementing the Public Procurement Reform Project (PPRP) II, with project design, management and research support from the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University and financial assistance from the World Bank. One of the main focuses of this project is to successfully engage citizens in the monitoring of public procurement. With this target at hand, BIGD has designed a citizen engagement strategy that includes establishment of a citizen committee complimented by local community mobilization surrounding project sites. To identify and test which strategy, or rather, combination of strategies, produce the best results, BIGD implemented a pilot project in four Upazilas in two districts of Bangladesh: Rangpur and Sirajganj . The pilot project is being carried out at the upazila (sub-district) as well at the union (lowest tier of the local government) levels. The BIGD strategy focused exclusively on citizen engagement at the implementation stage of the procurement process (construction of infrastructures), At the same time, local community involvement was ensured through extensive awareness campaigns by engineers and citizen committees. The project aimed to address few major challenges at the implementation level. The first is improving the project quality (ensuring appropriate materials and procedures being used). Through close monitoring, the citizen committee members and the local community attempted to ensure that the quality specified in contract is maintained. Another major challenge which is addressed by this project is reducing the transaction cost. The LGED offices are responsible for implementing construction works on a large scale. Given their staff shortage and the distance between project areas, the monitoring remains an expensive task. At the same time, monitoring requires frequent visit which is also quite difficult with limited resources. In this regard, citizens’ voluntary involvement substantially reduces the cost of monitoring and ensures the quality. Incentive/motivation problem of local people (sense of ownership over projects) is also another major challenge which is felt at the local level. As a result project monitoring remains the responsibility of the government officers only. The project utilized several strategies to reduce citizens’ lack of sense of ownership: it ensured supply of relevant information to the local people, make community aware of the importance of local monitoring and most importantly makes them feel engaged by acting on their feedback.
The project successfully addressed the challenges and ensured significant improvement of the quality of procurement process. The project had impact on all three stakeholders: citizens, government officials and the contractors who were in charge of the implementation. Reduced the information gap The most important impact is noticed at reducing information gap. The project made the information available at the local level which raised the interest of local people regarding the project. They learned about the specifications and could oversee whether these were met at the construction process . Solved the problem of free riding on public good by developing sense of ownership among local people The project also successfully reduced the incentive problem of local people in relation to monitoring. By engaging people from the locality in monitoring by equipping them with information and a little technical detail along with briefing them about the need of local ownership, the classic problem of free riding on public good was reduced. Information at low cost The project had a major impact on reducing the information cost. The local people and citizen committee members frequently visited the project offices and reported back to the engineer’s office regarding the anomalies. It thus solved the monitoring related transaction costs of the state agency significantly. Along with that, the engagement of citizen in monitoring reduced the need for frequent visit from LGED office which also reduced the transaction cost. Trust Significant lack of trust among the relevant actors is a major problem which impedes transparent and efficient working of the project . Citizens do not trust contractors and contractors view citizens as opportunity seekers. The citizen also perceives engineers as corrupt and having corrupt nexus with the contractors. By engaging citizen in the monitoring process the project was able to generate trust among all the stakeholders. Contractors when brought under group monitoring were then trusted by the community. In general contractors have gotten used to the idea of citizen monitoring. Since citizens are monitoring the projects based on the specifications therefore contractors are being compelled to follow the specification of the projects. A robust culture of social accountability is yet to be established but this gradual progress in responsiveness is a major step towards implementation of social accountability mechanisms in public procurement.
Substantial difference in response to citizen engagement has been noticed among the government officials (engineers specifically) within the hierarchy. Executive engineers at the districts and upazilas provided considerable assistance by providing necessary information and guidance to the committee members. However, such assistance was difficult to obtain from the field level officials (sub-assistant engineers, supervisors etc). This was evident in their use of dilatory tactics in handing out the necessary documents to the citizen groups or deliberately providing incorrect information regarding the status of the project. Further probing indicates that such avoidance and non-cooperation actually originated from their fear of losing control over the construction processes. The involvement of third party actor in monitoring projects is viewed by them as interference by unwelcomed external actors. In this regard, one major learning of the project is to develop the strategy further to ensure better engagement of field level government officials. The project tested two different methodologies including monitoring through committee and monitoring through local citizen. The findings suggest that compared to the committee based approach, monitoring through local citizen generates more efficient result. Committee based approach need facilitation role from third party actors to ensure group formation and group functionalities. It also involves travel cost and organizing cost. It was also felt that the incentives of monitoring vary and in certain areas citizen committees are more pro-active compared to other areas. In this regard, site specific monitoring by local people seems a more plausible option compared to committee formation. It has near zero transaction cost as no travel cost or third party engagement is necessary, and ensures better ownership. Another major learning of the project is that the process needs to be built –in the official system. The government officials should start the initiative to engage local citizens effectively, any third party engagement wouldn’t be necessary in this regard. The local people will get the information directly from the officials and will report back to them. The project experience also suggests that in order to make citizen more engaged in the process, the feedback system should be strengthened. Grievance should be filed properly and it should be addressed properly. In that case a systematic complaint filing mechanism needs to be developed such as telephone hotline or mobile messages. In that way, the local government officials can also be brought under monitoring and would feel accountable to act on the feedback they receive from citizens.
Even though similar projects are being implemented by engaging local citizen, this project adds more to that for a few reasons. Firstly, it includes two alternative designs of monitoring which works simultaneously, reinforces each other and at the same time also produces comparable results. By testing two models together, this project gives us great insights on the intervention which can be very helpful for replication. While the other project in citizen engagement do not directly involve government authorities, this project ensures effective participation of government officials. Since the beginning of the project monitoring, the Citizen Committee members maintained close coordination with engineers. This actually turned out to be a more effective mechanism than Citizen Committee acting as a independent actor. The Citizen Committee members received updates of the project work from engineers and can plan the visit in crucial stages of project. Again local people, when get endorsement from government better participate in the process. Contractors also took the committee visits seriously due to Citizen Committee’s affiliation with the engineers. Due to the community involvement, this specific innovation involves reducing cost in many areas including the following: - Reduction of transaction cost by ensuring local monitoring. It reduces need for government official’s to visit sites and thereby reducing cost - Avoid delay thereby reducing indirect cost incurred to citizens – the project gets implemented in the given time which saves the citizen from inconvenience and trouble. - Ensuring value for money- by effectively monitoring the work, it ensures that the quality materials are used in correct proportions which ensure the value for public money.
One major concern of this project was to ensure the replicability in other regions and other projects. The simplicity of the design makes it easier to replicate in other places and other projects. All it needs is the commitment from government officials that they will motivate and engage local people to get involved in the monitoring. The cost is minimal as it doesn’t need any facilitation activities or any travel. The model can also be replicable in any other context, any other country or any level. For example, instead of village level roads, if the project includes a district road, all it needs to do is to inform more people who will be living close to that highway. In every few miles, the government officials can do public meetings and can provide them with the necessary information to initiate a local monitoring system. At the same time, it can be done in case of any other types of project. Our project has already been tested in three different types of implementation of procurement process such as road and school constructions , and textbook monitoring and we have found the same citizen engagement model worked in every cases.
Name of the project: PPRP II (Extension phase) Implementer: BIGD, BRAC University Project time: August 2015- December 2017 Partners: World Bank, Central Procurement Technical Unit, Bangladesh Government