The Importance of including CSOs in Development Partnerships

By Seema Thomas

Problems faced by governments and citizens are more complex than ever. In theory, technical solutions exists, yet these problems continue to exist. Often times public private partnerships emerge as an ideal solution. While the definition varies across municipality, in general, a public–private partnership (PPP, 3P or P3) enables close collaboration between the government and private sector to provide a government service with the benefits of a private business venture, including being funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies While public-private partnerships provide many benefits, evaluation and supervision of projects is challenging coupled with corruption in the procurement process. Often overlooked in the equation is the role and involvement of c i v i l society organisations (CSOs). Civil society can facilitate supervision and monitoring by customers affected by PPPs. Civil society by its nature focuses on listening to customers or citizens and finding effective ways to do it.

For the private sector, hearing the citizen voice becomes synonymous with listening to key customers. CSOs can amplify and synthesize their views into relevant information for both government and the private sector, which can be a tremendous value-add to risky, difficult-to-manage projects. In order to solidify these partnerships, the World Bank created the Global Partnership for Social Accountability to support civil society, the private sector and government to solve critical governance challenges. It builds on the World Bank’s direct and ongoing engagement with public sector actors, as well as a network of global partner organizations, including many private sector companies, to create an enabling environment in which citizen feedback is used to solve fundamental problems in service delivery and to strengthen public institutions.

For example, Uganda, has adopted legislation to improve governance and reduce corruption, but its impact has been limited. It particularly affects government activities related to public procurement and contracting that have an estimated annual value of USD 2.4 billion. More specifically, weak procurement systems have a negatively impact in critical sectors such as health, education, and agriculture. Medicines are often missing in healthcenters and staff absenteeism is prevalent in several regions. Investments in infrastructure geared towards education have been marred by corruption scandals. There is lack of accountability for funds used in the biggest agricultural program National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) that was designed to boost the income of rural households.

The Africa Freedom Information Centre (AFIC), a pan-African organization with extensive experience in open contracting received a GPSA grant to assess public procurement in five districts in Uganda. Through this project, AFIC will provide training and support citizens to engage with government authorities to monitor contracts and track funds. Additionally, AFIC will strengthen a network of community monitors to provide feedback to government and ensure contracts and infrastructure projects are executed in a transparent manner, key aspects for any partnership to be effective. While the semantics may differ across sector– customers, consumers, and citizens, the ultimate clients and goals are the same, and finding/identifying that nexus if it exists for particularly unwieldy problems becomes even more critical in today’s complex world.