CSO tasks govt, Nigerians on open contracting

A civil society organisation (CSO), Media Rights Agenda (MRA) has advocated for accountability and transparency in the award and execution of contracts in states across the federation.

Speaking Tuesday in Abuja during a workshop on Open Contracting Data Standards (OCDS), the Executive Director of MRA, Mr Edetaen Ojo, said that if the benefits of probity, fairness, transparency and accountability are instilled into the procurement process, it will do a lot of good.

He said that the workshop was focused on ensuring that CSOs and media practitioners are familiar with OCDS as an important tool for enhancing transparency and accountability of public contracts throughout the entire cycle of contract awards and implementation, as a means of improving their capacity to engage public procurement processes.

He added that governments also stand to benefit enormously by making contracting processes and data more open as they can build trust between citizens and the governments, which will in turn make it easier for them to govern.

Also speaking, the Director of Programmes, MRA, Mr. Ayode Longe, tasked participants on the germane roles required of them in holding the government accountable through public procurement process.

Longe said that citizens’ engagement and participation are critical to the effectiveness of open contracting frameworks, while open contracting, in turn, enables citizens to know what is being done with their money, especially in the area of public procurements.

He said: “The media and civil society organisations have vital roles to play in holding governments and government institutions accountable, especially in relation to expenditures made through public contracting. They can play these roles effectively by engaging public procurement processes, making constant requests for procurement information to assess the fairness of procurement activities, and ensuring that citizens are getting value for money in such processes.

“The Public Procurement Act, 2007 prescribes some broad measures and principles for ensuring transparency in public procurement processes, including its requirement for a rigorous and systematic documentation of procurement proceedings, the maintenance of procurement records as well as the collation and maintenance of other records and information related to the procurement process.
“It stipulates the requirement for the proactive publication or release of certain types of information; the requirement that bid opening sessions should be open to the public as well as to stakeholders and interested parties and a limited regime of access to procurement records and information on request. The provisions of the Act alone are insufficient to guarantee and ensure transparency in public contracts.

“The issue of the standards in which contract data is presented is important for many reasons, including the fact that the format in which data is presented can facilitate or hinder analysis of the contract information. Since the formats in which data are presented is an essential issue in open contracting, by providing data in a way that makes it open to anyone that wants to analyze the data, governments can make the procurement process more transparent.”

Similarly, Program Director of the Public and Private Development Center, Ifeoma Judith Onyebuchi, tasked media practitioners on reporting corruption and holding government accountable.

“The media should strive to report corruption in the procurement process as well as in other areas in a manner that does not make the issue too abstract for citizens to grasp, but captures and conveys the consequences and impact of corruption on citizens. Civil society organizations and the media should take advantage of the Freedom of Information Act,” she said.

Participants at the workshop recommended that the Federal Government, particularly the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, should take measures to ensure the effective implementation of the Freedom of Information Act.

They also recommended strictly enforcing compliance with the provisions of the Act by all Federal public institutions as part of government’s strategies for reducing the incidence of public sector corruption and boosting citizen engagement in governance.

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