RIYADH, 4 February 2020 – From aviation to sports to infrastructure, no sector has been free from corruption scandals in the first month of the new decade.
The Civil Society 20 (C20), the voice of civil society to the G20, is committed to advocating for G20 countries to work on preventing corruption and ensuring citizens engagement to promote transparency. This week we are formally engaging with the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group during its first meeting and side event of the 2020 Presidency. The C20 was represented in the meetings by the C20 Chair, Nouf bint Muhammad; the C20 Lead for Infrastructure and Steering Committee Member, Petter Matthews; and C20 Co-Sherpa Rahaf Al Sanosi.
During the meetings, the C20 shared the perspective of civil society on the role of technology in promoting transparency and anti-corruption, and the concerns associated with public private partnerships, PPPs – given the growing number of examples of failed PPPs, high cost to public purse, excessive levels of risk for public sector, lack of transparency and public scrutiny. The C20 called for the need to build an evidence base for government decision-making on PPPs.
The C20 strongly believes that technology is just one set of tools that should be part of a larger process of trust-building and accountability. Technology should not be seen as a goal in itself, but rather as part of a larger strategy towards the actual goal of reducing corruption. In order for technology to be useful, citizen participation and access to public information are fundamental principles that need safeguarding.
Civil society actors have proven themselves to be effective guardians and promoters of transparency around the world. Increasing access to public information, actively encouraging the participation of civil society in graft-curbing and promotion of transparency, monitoring procurement processes and promoting the engagement of communities, especially women, will only make societies a better place to live in.
Ensuring that independent civil society groups are able to monitor large-scale infrastructure projects and provide feedback through established, effective and constructive channels is a must. But an extra step is needed to ensure that this is open to stakeholders across government, industry and especially affected communities, to ensure decisions are made taking into account the needs of those affected by projects, including during the pre-tender phase of large projects.
But how can that be done? Through making the entire public contracting process “open by default” and publishing timely and accurate information using open contracting data, such as the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standards (OC4IDS).
Effective use of ICT allows for governments to disclose the identity and beneficial ownership of all bidders of government contracts. Applying the principles of open data, to reduce costs and duplication, ensuring registered data is available for free in widely used formats that are non-proprietary, searchable, sinteroperable, platform-independent and machine-readable, will ensure increase transparency.
An area where governments can lead by example in ICT usage for anti-corruption purposes is within State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). SOEs can lead by putting their house in order and maintaining up-to-date, online, public registers of beneficial ownership, conflicts of interest of board members, senior executives and those in critical decision making or other sensitive positions and implement a process to manage the conflicts if they become relevant to decisions and operations of the SOE.
Civil society can do more when governments collect and publish beneficial ownership information of companies bidding for public contracts as open data in order for us and other citizens to be able to identify potential conflicts of interest, reduce the opportunities for collusion between linked companies, create fair competition for companies and ensure full knowledge of who is ultimately benefiting from public money.
At the end of the day, the use of ICT should be built on a foundation of governmental commitments to transparency and open data, all being part of long-term anti-corruption national strategies, with proper followed delivery, monitoring, and evaluation. Only then, can we bear the fruits of technology in combatting corruption.