Faces of Open Government – Seember Nyager
In this section of the OGP newsletter, we feature individuals from government and civil society, and ask them about their experiences. Here is what they have to say:
a. How does open government make a difference in people’s lives?
In the context of Nigeria, there is currently a lot of distrust between custodians of Government and the people. This creates tensions; so much so that when the Government launches a potentially great initiative, the lack of trust acts as saboteur. The distrust being felt in Nigeria is a natural consequence of State capture by a few people. The way to start rebuilding trust is to allow people the means to verify the performance of Government. This is only possible where adequate mechanisms are implemented to ensure that people can participate in Government.
b. How might you benefit from exchanging ideas with Governments?
The best, most robust ideas are birthed when they are open to scrutiny from different stakeholders who would see things from different angles. Where there is consistent engagement, the people start to trust that the Government is indeed representing our interests. Robust engagement also provides the opportunity for the Governed to manage their expectations; know what to expect at each set milestone etc. This builds trust, which is a fertile ground for idea implementation.
The custodians of Government also benefit from engaging with the people they serve because, understanding is fostered and the priorities are better directed at meeting the most pressing needs that are in the public interest. As a result, the Government earns the people’s respect and support. For example, the electricity sector reforms in Nigeria have been ongoing for more than a decade. Each year, Nigerians hear about the sector’s reform but our expectations have not been met. One of the reasons may be that we do not fully comprehend the various milestones that need to be attained, how they will be attained before electricity supply significantly improves. Robust engagement around electricity reforms with verifiable information being provided to people is a way of building trust in these reforms. Such actions also create the consciousness of accountability within Government.
c. Describe one important OGP commitment your country should consider championing in the future.
Nigeria needs to make a commitment towards open contracting. This is because the entire contracting cycle is critical to the quality of every public service delivery. We currently have contracts that are highly inflated to cover kickbacks that must be provided before jobs are obtained, there are situations where contracts are not given to the most qualified resulting in shoddy jobs being implemented, there is the case of unclear specifications around contracting that leads to white elephant projects. This is possible because people do not fully understand and comprehend the numeracy of public contracts. Public contracts are complex in nature and it would be difficult for people to tell you off the top of their hat how much it would cost to build a primary health care Centre (PHC) for example. It would even be more difficult to know the minimum specifications of components within the PHC. The lack of these standards gives room for selecting unqualified contractors, contract inflation, delivery of substandard materials etc and this is evident across Nigeria. However, if we start to build public knowledge to the effect that every PHC must have certain instruments, certain levels of service that are carried out within a prescribed timeframe, if we have publicly available standard pricing benchmark for public contracts, it would be difficult for a contractor to deliver less because users of the PHC would not accept the lower service standards. Users would also know who the contractor is and what he is being paid for so there would be no hiding place for inefficiency. In essence, open contracting has the potential to eliminate waste and expenditure around public contracts and should be strongly considered by Nigeria.
d. How might you work to overcome challenges in opening up government in your country?
My commitment is to advocate for the adoption of open contracting data standards in Nigeria. This would include publicly available data on budgetary appropriations, disbursements, purchases, standard pricing benchmarks for public goods and services. This is with the view to linking data on public resources (from budget appropriations to budget releases to individual projects). This would enable every interested party including community members track the utilization of public resources. Nigeria already has the required legal frameworks and so the work that needs to be done should focus on developing mechanisms to ensure that these laws and their intentions in creating open Government practices in Nigeria are made operable. It is my expectation that this would be achieved through collaboration within the Open Data working Group set up by the Ministry of Communication Technology.
Seember Nyager is Visiting Fellow at the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC) in Cape Town, South Africa. Here, she provides peer learning support to ODAC in developing an open contracting/procurement monitoring area of practise. As part of the peer-exchange program, she is also understudying ODAC’s extensive whistleblower protection area of work, with a view to developing prospects for similar work in Nigeria.