GPSA Knowledge Platform

How could Civil Society collaborate with Public Oversight Institutions to advance Social Accountability?

By Gilbert Sendugwa 

BlogGilbert-foto1During the GPSA grantees workshop, held in Washington in May 2014, participants brainstormed about how collaborating with public oversight agencies such as Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) and Ombudsman’s Offices can complement the social accountability efforts led by CSOs within their respective GPSA projects. There was consensus about the need for further exploration of this topic given that most civil society organizations had had limited or no collaboration with public oversight agencies to advance accountability.

Concerning the interaction with the national Ombudsman institution in Uganda, the Inspectorate of Government (IG), the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), one of the GPSA grantees, has had mixed experiences. In 2011, AFIC and one of its members, HURINET supported West Ankole Civil Society Forum, a local citizen group to exercise their right to information.[1] After an information request was submitted for records regarding the construction of a stadium and a 2-year struggle against Bushenyi District Local Government led to a court petition, it became clear that the contract of 906 million Ugandan Shillings (approx. USD 377,500), which had been awarded to HABA Construction Company, a sympathizer to the ruling party, represented a serious case of mismanagement of public resources.[2] The Steering Committee of the Coalition of Freedom of Information in Uganda (COFI),[3] discussed and examined possible options available to follow up. The strategy that led the Steering Committee to appeal to the IG to investigate the matter was backed up by two considerations:

  • It could help sensitize the multiple accountability agencies in Uganda on the complimentary role that civil society civil society can play in supporting the work of oversight agencies.
  • It could help mobilize support for giving citizens access to information by demonstrating the power of citizens’ access to public information in revealing abuse of public resources.

This process did not lead to a satisfying answer from the Inspectorate of Government, who, despite its promise to investigate the matter, never provided AFIC with feedback on the status and outcomes of the inquiry. However, interesting lessons could be distilled from the process. An important lesson drawn from this experience is that laws and institutional mechanisms for oversight are themselves not sufficient. There is a need for improved citizen’s access to information and engagement as well as promotion of mutual accountability among multiple oversight agencies.

With respect to CSO engagement with the Supreme Audit Institution, and as a follow up to the discussions during the GPSA grantees’ workshop, AFIC held a meeting with an Office of the Auditor General (OAG) official on May 22, 2014. The OAG expressed interest in working with AFIC and its local GPSA partners in the following areas:

  • To have CSOs report cases that need OAG attention;
  • To sensitize the public on OAG recommendations and Parliament’s actions on these recommendations;
  • To collaborate to train local Community Based Organizations (CBO) networks that work with the OAG; and
  • To have OAG conduct audits on the implementation of the Access to information law.

BlogGilbert-foto2While acknowledging the uneven prior experience in engaging with these institutions, AFIC values constructive engagement with public oversight bodies in Uganda and Africa. Thus, it is committed to working with the OAG and the IG to promote collaboration in advancing social accountability, and in particular around the GPSA project on enhancing accountability and performance of social service contracts in Uganda. Independence of these bodies and citizen trust in them is crucial for constructive engagement. According to the 2012 Open Budget Survey by IBP (pp.38-39), the OAG has developed a strong reputation of independence, and its reports are widely respected by development partners and researchers in Uganda. They are publicized on websites, although many ordinary people who would benefit from this information do not have access to internet services.

Yet both institutions face some external challenges and internal weaknesses which may have an effect on constructive engagement with citizens and civil society. According to the 2011 Global Integrity (GI) Report for Uganda, there was need for improvement concerning the actual independence of the Inspectorate of Government (IG) and the professional full time staff, particularly when the positions of Inspector General of Government (IGG) and Deputies were vacant for an extended time. The Constitutional Court ruled that for the Inspectorate of Government’s decision to hold, the IGG and two deputies had to be fully constituted. The GI report underscores the limited government action on the IG recommendations and on OAG audit reports. The same challenge is stated in the IG January – June 2013 report. This is, therefore, a potential area for engagement between CSOs and the public oversight bodies to sensitize the public and other stakeholders on the challenges and the need for corrective measures as well as creating stakeholder awareness of the recommendations and roles of IG and OAG.

During the implementation of the GPSA project, AFIC will pursue the above areas of work with the OAG, while also exploring collaborative efforts with the Inspectorate of Government in making the information from the project available to the IG. We’ll also raise awareness about the Ombudsman’s role as a complaints handling mechanism for the communities targeted by the GPSA project. This is particularly relevant given IG efforts to develop a citizen engagement framework (p.46) with a focus on anticorruption work and supported by the World Bank. Given the IG’s ombudsman functions on addressing abuse of authority or office, and promoting fair, efficient and good governance in addition to its anti-corruption work and the World Bank’s work on developing its citizen engagement strategic framework, this could be also addressed.

[1] West Ankole Civil Society Forum brings together CSOs in the five districts of Bushenyi, Mitooma, Sheema, Rubirizi and Buhweju.
[2] For more information on this case, read this article.
[3]The Steering Committee of the Coalition of Freedom of Information in Uganda is composed of AFIC, HURINET, Anticorruption Coalition Uganda, Human Rights Network of Journalists, and Uganda Media Development Foundation.

Related links
Open Contracting: Promoting information disclosure around public contracts in Uganda
Classroom Construction Community Monitoring Tool

Photo-GilbertAuthor:
Gilbert Sendugwa
Executive Director of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Gilbert Sendugwa works as Executive Director for the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), a pan-African organization promoting the right of access to information in Africa. A social worker by training, Gilbert has previously worked and interfaced with challenges of lack of access to information in the sectors of health, education environment management, human and child rights. At AFIC Gilbert’s efforts are geared towards building a coordinated continental approach to access to information by facilitating learning, information exchange and strengthening knowledge base on access to information in Africa.

13 Responses on How could Civil Society collaborate with Public Oversight Institutions to advance Social Accountability?"

  1. Carolina says:

    Gilbert, thanks for sharing this enriching experience.

    I strongly agree with the two considerations you raised for backing a citizen engagement strategy: 1) advancing openness from other accountability bodies toward increased interaction with civil society, and 2) improving citizens´ access to information and showing its value for detecting potential fraud. These features are at the core of the TPA Initiative´s mission (a Latin American Network of CSOs promoting further engagement with oversight bodies, coordinated by ACIJ). The fields for cooperation between the OAG and the AFIC & GPSA partners are among those mechanisms we deem valuable to foster compliance with audit recommendations. In LatAm, cases of suspected fraud are mainly mainstreamed through online citizen complaints, while there are still weak linkages with Parliaments and other oversight bodies. However, there have been some innovative experiences entailing collaboration with CBOs:

    Most recently, we´ve assisted the Comptrollers´ General of Costa Rica in engagement strategies with local community organizations that play an active role in holding governments accountable for effective service delivery. The CGR organized on-site workshops to train CBOs on how to monitor public expenditure in their own territories through an ICT-system (developed by the SAI to promote transparency and efficiency in the use of public resources). Inconsistencies in local budget information registered online were acknowledged by the organizations, which led the CGR to request immediate correction by municipal governments.

    Addressing the demand side of accountability calls for renewed efforts to demonstrate “the power of citizens’ access to public information in revealing abuse of public resources”. Though context-specific, experiences from LatAm and Africa can be indeed valuable to explore how SAIs can engage with citizens to improve service delivery and ensure transparency in public financial management, while at the same time entailing benefits for accountability institutions and civil society.

    Many congrats on this great piece, Gilbert.
    Looking forward to learning some other engagement experiences.

    Carolina

    Find some more info about Costa Rica´s case here (the report is –for now- only available in Spanish): http://iniciativatpa.org/2012/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Informe-final-Piloto-Costa-Rica-ACIJ.pdf

    Some insights for the TPA Initiative (U4 Practice Insight): “When Supreme Audit Institutions engage with civil society”, here: http://iniciativatpa.org/2012/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/U4-TPA-Initiative.pdf

  2. Dear Carolina,

    Thank you for the compliments and most important, sharing great experiences from Latin America. It will be great to continue sharing these lessons and experiences,

    Gilbert.

  3. Thank you Gilbert for initiating this discussion on Civil Society Organization-Supreme Accountability Institutions collaboration to advance social accountability following our exploration of this topic in the last GPSA Forum in Washington, DC. Your areas for collaboration with OAG in the implementation of AFIC’s GPSA project reminded me of the 3 modalities by which the Philippines’ Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government (CCAGG), a recipient of GPSA grant in Round 1, has engaged various SAIs in the country since the early 2000. Firstly, CCAGG worked with the Philippine’s Commission of Audit (COA) to undertake the first ever citizens participatory audit (CPA) of infrastructure and livelihood projects. This produced COA’s first Manual on the Conduct of Participatory Audit; it also enhanced CCAGG’s laymanized manuals on community-based monitoring of government projects, particularly roads, bridges and irrigation. These experiences produced results that proved that CPA and citizens monitoring in general are effective tools in claiming the rights of citizens for accountable governance. But sustainability of CSO-SAI collaborations is always an issue, and here it came to fore when the next leadership of COA completely abandoned the CPA initiative. Fortunately, under the current reform-minded government, COA has resurrected CPA with new vigor and continuing technical assistance from ANSA-EAP. Secondly, in 2009-2010 CCAGG and the Philippine Civil Service Commission forged a partnership to build a demand-driven integrity system in the Civil Service to ascertain the delivery of basic services to the beneficiaries through participatory monitoring. This collaboration involved training and mentoring to transfer CCAGG’s technology and learning experiences in participatory monitoring in Northern Luzon to other parts of the country, notably the Southern Luzon areas. The third involved the Office of the Ombudsman. In 2009-2011 the Partnership for Transparency Fund supported CCAGG in conducting community-based monitoring of the implementation of the “Water For Waterless Communities Program by the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA). The monitoring revealed widespread anomalies and corruption, from procurement to project implementation. These document cases of irregularities and corruption were referred to the Office of the Ombudsman, which conducted evaluation and additional investigation on the veracity of the finding and whether they would withstand judicial challenges and scrutiny. In the end CCAGG learned that some of the monitoring findings became part of the grounds for filing corruption charges against the former Administrator of the LWUA. It is worth examining when collaborating with the Office of the Ombudsman the pros and cons of whether CSO community monitoring should be guided more by legalistic parameters inherent in the nature of the Ombudsman function than what are perceived to be important by the community. Perhaps there is some ‘best practices’ now existing in other countries in addressing this issue.

    In the Philippines’ GPSA project, the design provides membership of SAI in the Project Steering Committee which shall have advisory and policy review roles in project planning and implementation. The COA’s membership is a felt need of DSWD in the hope that through this membership COA would be able to demonstrate more flexibility in the application of its audit procedures upon deeper understanding of the context of field implementation of the program. The Project Management on the other hand intends to implement LGU-based CPA on the implementation of the CCT program. The Ombudsman Office’s role still needs better definition. The Project sees the incentive value of the presence of the Ombudsman in the project by way, for instance, of influencing action on citizens feedback. More directly the presence of the Ombudsman would at the minimum deter frauds and other acts of corruption by service providers. The role of the Office of the Ombudsman in the redress of beneficiaries’ grievances at the policy and community level will be defined as well. As mentioned during the discussion in DC, CSO-SAI collaboration is a relatively new field needing more sharing of experiences among GPSA grantees. That we shall do, and thanks for initiating it.

  4. Marcelo says:

    Dear Gilbert:

    Many thanks on sharing you enlightening experience.
    Regarding Ombudsman´s rol as a complaints handling mechanism, I´d like to share our country´s experience.
    After a Constitutional Amendment in 1994, the Argentinian Ombudsman has the attribution to bring class actions before a court to enforce collective or supra-individual rights. At the same time, the Constitution granted CSOs with the same right, so strategic litigation is one possible area of cooperation between CSOs and the Ombudsman.
    The TPA´s Initiative mentioned by Carolina has recently published three reports about the role of the Ombudsman in Argentina, Peru and Uruguay, and particularly its interaction with citizens and civil society (available at http://iniciativatpa.org/2012/biblioteca/). One of the conclusions of the investigation is that cooperation between CSOs and the Ombudsman is mutually beneficial: while CSOs can provide invaluable “on the ground” knowledge and technical expertise, the Ombudsman has broad institutional capacities and resources.
    One good example of cooperation in Argentina is around the environmental case commonly known as “Matanza-Riachuelo”. A number of CSOs brought before the Ombudsman the claims of citizens affected by the highly polluted Riachuelo river, where hundreds of industries have poured there toxic waste for decades. Since then, the Ombudsman has worked closely with the affected communities and environmental NGOs. After a decision of the Supreme Court ordering to clean the river, a Monitoring Body composed by CSOs and led by the Ombudsman was established.
    Another example of coordination is related to the provision of public services, which is the main reason of citizen complaints received by the Ombudsman. Although there is no formal procedure of cooperation with CSOs, it has become common that the Ombudsman incorporates to its own reports the input and information produced by specialized CSOs.
    We think that the potential for cooperation is very high and still little explored. Stronger interaction between Ombudsman, CSOs and other oversight agencies remains a big challenge in order to enhance accountability and enforce citizens’ rights.
    Kind regards

    Marcelo

    ________

    Links to the documents
    Argentina: http://iniciativatpa.org/2012/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/07/La-Defensor%C3%ADa-del-Pueblo-Argentina.Diagnostico-y-recomendaciones.pdf
    Perú: http://iniciativatpa.org/2012/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/07/La-Defensor%C3%ADa-del-Pueblo-del-Per%C3%BA.-Diagn%C3%B3stico-y-recomendaciones.pdf
    Uruguay: http://iniciativatpa.org/2012/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/07/El-INDDHH-de-Uruguay.-Diagn%C3%B3stico-y-Recomendaciones.pdf

  5. Anne says:

    Such a great piece Gilbert. I couldn’t agree with you more especially on your focus of supporting the supply and demand side. The oversight institutions will do with a lot of support to advance openness. The office of the Ombudsman had been for a long time remained little known and i think your idea of creating awareness around it is very good. In Kenya the office exists but has very little interaction with the public. Its sad that our country is not a member of the GPSA but i am sure we can collaborate/ share lessons some how.

  6. Thumbs up Gilbert for the great efforts and great work!

    I totally agree it is such oversight institutions such as the Office of the Ombudsman, the Anti-Corruption Agencies and the Supreme Audit Institutions that are in great need of support by key stakeholders especially the civil society. this is why for us in Malawi we have made an effort to step up our collaboration from now onwards, in the quest for true social accountability strengthening without waiting for things to go wrong first and try to correct them when the damage will have already been done.

    We systematically approached this from an informed point of view by commissioning an assessment that sought to look at the Law (of establishing these institutions) and the general practice (in effecting the spirit and culture of Integrity, transparency and accountability). There are so many short-comings that have been exposed and we’ve since carried out one-on-one rapport building meetings with the various targeted 14 institutions that include the Office of the Ombudsman, Auditor General and the Anti-Corruption Bureau to mention but a few. There is so much more that we can and that we obviously should be doing in the true spirit of partnership.

    So, like others say, we need to do all we can to fully support both the demand-side but also not losing sight of the supply side for the law and practice to be in harmony in furtherance of the aspired for professional integrity ultimately leading to the strong social accountability systems achievement.

    Please keep them coming as we keep up the shared learning!!
    Greetings and regards from Lilongwe, Malawi
    Dalitso

    • Dear Anne,
      Thank you for the comments and sharing your perspectives and experience with Ombudsman of Kenya. It is evident that civil society collaboration with public sector oversight agencies and mechanisms is an important area for growth particularly in Africa. I am glad that the GPSA knowledge portal provides the space to learn from our different experiences and share with each other. AFIC and its membership looks forward to strengthening collaboration with public sector oversight agencies across Africa.

      Kenyan membership to GPSA, to GPSA is very important. During the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting in Mombasa Mr. Matiangi told the meeting of President Kenyatta’s commitment to running an open government that stresses citizen participation and engagement. This provides an important opportunity for civil society to engage with Government on membership to GPSA. In 2013 Africa Freedom of Information Centre engaged Uganda’s Ministry of Finance and after understanding what GPSA and the value it brings Government communicated to the World Bank its decision decision. The Government of Kenya has already demonstrated its strong intention for open and accountability agenda by joining OGP. GPSA provides one of the key frameworks through which OGP goals could be realised. I would encourage CSO in Kenya to engage Government on the matter.

    • Dear Dalitso,
      Thank you for sharing about the assessment done on these institutions. It will be great to read the report of the assessment- I am sure some of the issues may be relevant to the Ugandan situation. Thanks again,

  7. George says:

    Thanks Gilbert,

    In the context of Ghana, the limited nature of audit reports does not provide information on whether a particular project or pro poor programme has achieved its stated objectives, everything is based on whether a particular activity has been performed or not. There is no way for the report to inform policy makers as to whether public officials on whom the budget is spent, in terms of salaries and emoluments, are providing satisfactory services, at least as determined by clients (citizens). Thus no value for money analysis and this value could also be the political, economic and social. There is the opportunity, however, for SEND-GHANA to work with the audit service and the office of the accountant general to complement each other for the purpose of transparency and accountability in the management of public resources. Another challenge finds expression in the limited legal mandate for SAI to play any role to ensure that its recommendations are actually implemented and the opportunity for addressing this lies in the ongoing public financial management reforms and the push for fiscal transparency bill to be passed into a law to ensure fiscal discipline. Added opportunity is the fact that SEND is working with other coalitions to ensure that these reforms are holistic and that the necessary atmosphere is created for effective functioning of SAIs.

    • Dear George,
      Thank you for sharing your experience and efforts regarding working with SAI in Ghana. In Uganda AG general audits and specific value for money audits are provided for under the law but the main weakness is closing the loop by citizens getting to know AG recommendations and resultant decisions from other actors. This is where CSO can play a role. The current challenge of SAI “lacking tooth to bite” could be an entry point for CSO to work with the institution to increase effectiveness of its work. The positive news is that the Government of Ghana committed itself in its OGP country action plan to strengthen oversight institutions with specific reference to audit. Implementation of this commitment could be another area where CSO could collaborate. Please follow this link of our analysis of OGP commitments of African countries for additional information http://www.africafoicentre.org/index.php/resources/reports-publications/129-analysis-of-ogp-commitments-for-african-countries-f

  8. Gina Chacon says:

    Dear Gilbert:
    It is very interesting the initiative that has been developed in Uganda and -of course- the work you have leaded from AFIC. In your blog, you mentioned that governmental institutions (such as the Office of the General Auditor) have internal weaknesses that affect constructive engagement with citizens and civil society. Could you comment more deeply about them. On the other hand, I also have a question: which are the main challenges from the side of civil society and citizens in order to build “constructive engagement with supreme audit institutions”? I highlight this point because I am interested in knowing more about the role of citizens and their participation on this initiative.

    • Dear Gina,
      Thank you for the compliments and questions. As already noted in the blog Uganda OAG is respected and its work is highly valued. The main challenges that could affect sustained constructive engagement with CS relate to resources- investment is needed to understand and trust each other. Some times it necessitates joint action like training of stakeholder groups on roles, relationships, social accountability tools and approaches, etc. Time and financial resources may not always allow.

      On the civil society side a common challenge is modulating constructive engagement and activism. In many parts of Africa where AFIC and its members work our experience is that both approaches work in different circumstances but one could cause irreparable damage. In two of the countries we witnessed a complete break of trust and relationship between our CS partners and a public agency (not an oversight agency). One of these of countries we managed to rebuild through disengagement and starting afresh, changing strategy, investing in communications, internal policies, etc. One of the key learnings was that it takes a lot of time (money) on both CS and PS to rebuild a broken relationship gain trust.

  9. Checkmyschool (CMS) and Citizen Participatory Audit (CPA) are two programs of Affiliated Network Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP) that have been exploring several ways of complementing each other. Both have equally strong partnerships with government institutions – CMS with the Department of Education (DepEd) and CPA with the Commission on Audit (COA).

    There are two possible ways of interface for CMS and CPA. First is in terms of providing CMS inputs that can serve as basis for future audit activities. CMS, being a participatory monitoring initiative relies on the information gathered, analyzed, and submitted by the citizens through its digital platforms. Given the proximity of CMS volunteers to school sites, they can easily identify red flags and forward this to COA for further investigation.

    Alternatively, CMS reports that contain red flags can be forwarded to the CPA advocacy website, http://www.i-kwenta.com. One of its features provides a direct link to the Commission on Audit through the Public Information System. This enables any citizen to submit reports for appropriate action.

    Moreover, human resources play a valuable part in this endeavor. CMS and CPA can share its active pool of human resource – the citizen groups that are present on the ground. CMS is now present in twelve (12) regions of the Philippines while CPA while implemented at the Central Office level, encompasses the whole country given COA’s mandate. CPA can engage the network of school stakeholders as citizen-auditors for future education-related participatory audits. Specifically, they can explore the possibility of conducting compliance and performance audits in the procurement of school furniture and fixtures, textbooks, and even school building construction. Moreover, the relationships formed by CMS volunteers on the ground can definitely help facilitate the conduct of participatory audits in their localities. Additional intervention in the form of capacity building activities on education monitoring and participatory audit can be provided to citizens.

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