Subnational open contracting reforms: Lessons from Nigeria’s state governors
Nigeria is betting on state-level procurement reforms to help curb corruption and improve transparency and accountability in a sprawling federal system that serves a population of around 200 million. Although billions of dollars are allocated to public contracts annually across Nigeria, these investments consistently fall short, leading to infrastructure projects that are substandard or abandoned, while stunting the growth of the economy and undermining Nigerians’ quality of life. So how are these reforms going and what are the key lessons so far?
First, some background. Nigeria’s federal public procurement is overseen by the Bureau of Public Procurement which has made strides to publish information proactively through Nigeria’s Open Contracting Portal NOCOPO. There also exists a freedom of information Law that empowers civic activists, media and citizens to request information that could enable them to hold the government to account. That said, following the money is tough and impeded by a host of factors that have been well-documented by civil society organizations such as Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) and Dataphyte.
Since 2018, Nigeria’s 36 state governments have been offered support to open up their procurement data, implement e-procurement systems and improve their procurement laws through the States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability, and Sustainability (SFTAS) project, an initiative of the World Bank in partnership with state governors through the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF). The project aims to foster a culture of transparency, accountability, and sustainability in public procurement practices as a key part of delivering the country’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan by helping states to transition from manual to electronic procurement and making public procurement data more accessible.
Shifting from closed to open
Shifting from manual procurement transactions and record-keeping practices to digital processes can be challenging, so the project has focused on publishing a limited set of award data: at a minimum, the project name, awarding institution, award date, name of the contractor, and contract amount. The details must be published in an Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) format on the state website or another online portal.
As of October 2021, almost all of the Nigerian states are implementing procurement reforms with 26 state-driven open contracting portals across the states now publishing some form of contracting data with 7 of the states as well as BPP publishing validated OCDS data. In addition, 32 states are implementing new e-procurement systems.
To implement their e-procurement systems, states had the option of developing their system independently or using the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution developed by European Dynamics (ED), an experienced e-procurement platform developer for governments. The SaaS e-procurement framework agreement at the state level in Nigeria is a cloud-based model for developing e-procurement systems that allows the states to own the data, is scalable and easy to upgrade. The application includes a module on publishing data in OCDS format, allowing users to access procurement information in real-time on a continuous basis.
16 of the states opted to collectively test the SaaS model, while the others hired independent contractors. These are major achievements in a challenging environment. Kaduna state, which had previously published OCDS data, says that “the service ensures transparency and confidence in the states’ procurement activities”. One of the concerns about the framework agreement for the Nigerian states was trust issues around moving from a local server to cloud-based storage. They were resolved through a national policy that government data needs to be hosted in Nigeria.
Progress so far has been fostered by continual advocacy to the leadership of the Procurement Agencies and Bureaus, capacity building for all government actors involved in procurement processes, peer learning from states like Kaduna and Edo that had already implemented an open contracting portal, following the leadership of the Federal Bureau of Public Procurement’s National Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO), and providing continuous technical assistance to the states for the implementation of their respective open contracting portals.
OCP has provided in-depth technical support to states deploying open contracting portals through our global helpdesk in addition to the coordination and technical support the Nigeria Governors Forum team has been offering to the state.
Here are the key lessons shared by five states and the coordinating governor’s forum:
1) Change management is vital: A lot of support has gone into change management. As we heard from Edo state, it’s very easy to default back to a “preference for legacy systems”. This was the main challenge for Edo state when rolling out their e-procurement system, and you need to continually overcome managing a “resistance to change”. To address that, it is vital to continually engage and remind decision-makers and civil servants of the value of publishing government spending data and how it helps them achieve their objectives, assistance to partners with the messy and challenging businesses of gathering and publishing the data from hard copy documents, helping procurement officers become more skilled and confident in data collection and processing, and also engaging stakeholders and other data users throughout that process.
2) Engaging stakeholders is hard but rewarding: It takes time and care to consult with others, especially as the unfamiliar worlds of government and civil society come together. Yet, one of the exciting things to see in the project has been how to improve transparency and access to information to create a better and more objective relationship between government, business and civil society. Edo state reported receiving fewer complaints from NGOs through the reform process. Kaduna state said it helped them to respond to inquiries and feedback on procurement processes from a variety of civic actors. Engagement has gone both ways: Kaduna state has proactively engaged with civil society via radio programs. This has also been a big win in Ekiti state, who mentioned that feedback and engagement from citizens has become more productive, especially with contractors and vendors and civil society organizations.
3) Technical infrastructure and capacity building is critical: This is kind of obvious but a lot of well-meaning data reforms can fall into the middleware gap between a central system and users trying to get value from them at the periphery or rather the frontline of actually delivering that service. Some states created programs to distribute ICT equipment to procuring entities and continuous training for procurement officers on using digital tools and OCDS publication, including Kaduna’s Emergency Intervention Unit (EIU-KADPPA) and Ekiti state’s Procurement Officers’ Cadre.
4) Having a structured program, schema and software on what to publish, and how to publish, helps: Having the badge of being an OCDS publisher has been an important milestone and driver for digitization in most states, putting them amongst over 61 global publishers who have both implemented OCDS and profited from it. For the first time, Nigeria states have structured and useful procurement data coming out from the subnational level, that is the power of OCDS. As Edo state put it: “Our biggest win so far is being enlisted as an OCDS publisher, which is a true reflection of our commitment to promoting fiscal transparency and accountability.”
5) A team with diverse skills and clear responsibilities is important: To ensure fast and progressive implementation of the project, Kaduna state-assigned staff to each of the participating procuring entities to assist procurement officers in transitioning to e-procurement and OCDS publication from the paper-based system. In Lagos, procurement officers statewide are now required to play a greater role across the entire project life cycle to help generate adequate information about the process. The team needs to be able to track from policy to data and back again.
6) Powering up data use will be important to driving better results: Although the transition from paper-based and manual processes to digital e-procurement is still ongoing in some states, Many states are now publishing accessible and usable data for the first time. They now need to consume the data internally to improve service delivery and decision making, as well as work with stakeholders to use that information to drive better outcomes. Engaging civic actors and infomediaries will be critical to utilize the data to help ensure the trillions of naira invested in the country are well spent.
For Nigeria’s State Governor’s Forum, one of their biggest wins was the increase in awareness of the open contracting principles of transparency and participation among actors in the states and the availability of some form of procurement data. Some of these recommendations may be useful for countries looking to engage with subnational governments as part of their public procurement reforms:
- Engage leaders through appropriate advocacy to give them a proper understanding of what open contracting stands for and how it furthers their public sector reform agenda as well as boosting trust from non-state actors.
- Start small with a pilot scheme in a ministry or department to showcase the benefits of implementing open contracting principles to all stakeholders.
- Provide capacity building to data producers, data processors, and data users for efficient and sustained reforms.
Finally, the availability of in-country technical capacity through the OCDS helpdesk, NGF team and peer learning was a critical success factor for this project. To this end, we will continue to invest in building up technical capacity at the national and subnational level in Nigeria, powering up data use by supporting non-state actors and building the ecosystem in Nigeria to be stronger, sustainable and to ensure that no state is left behind in this reform.
Image source: Federal Ministry of Works and Housing gallery