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Two-Day Multi-Stakeholder Training Workshop on Open Contracting in Nigeria

By Media Rights Agenda

Introduction
A two-day multi-stakeholder training workshop on Open Contracting in Nigeria was held in Abuja on November 19 and 20, 2019, as part of activities being implemented under the project: “Strengthening Disclosure and Citizen Participation to Improve Value for Money in Public Contracting in Africa”. The workshop was organized by Media Rights Agenda with a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, managed by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) in Uganda. It was attended by 38 participants from public institutions, civil society organisations and the media as well as the Secretariat of the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

The workshop addressed conceptual and practical issues relating to Open Contracting and the Open Contracting Data Standards (OCDS) as well as their application in Nigeria. Participants were sensitized on the use of the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO) to obtain procurement records, data and other information as well as how to analyse such information in order to have a better appreciation of trends and anomalies in procurement processes. They were also trained on how the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 could be more effectively deployed to obtain procurement records and information to mitigate some of the challenges currently being encountered by media practitioners and civil society representatives seeking to monitor public procurement activities and processes. At the end of the workshop, the participants adopted the following Communique:

Observations

The participants observed that:
· Transparency is the bedrock of any public procurement system because without transparency, there will be no confidence or trust by stakeholders and the wider public in the system while procurement activities will be viewed with suspicion, which will undermine the system. They added that transparency is the most effective safeguard against corruption in public procurements.

· Despite the development of NOCOPO by the Bureau of Public (BPP), which is intended to open up public procurement in Nigeria through increased disclosure of procurement information to all stakeholders with a view to ensuring improved transparency and accountability, improving competition, preventing corruption, enhancing active citizen participation, achieving better service delivery and improving the ease of doing business, stakeholders are still faced with the challenge of accessing procurement records and information as well as public finance data that of value to them.

· The proposed outcomes in the open contracting commitment area contained in Nigeria’s second National Action Plan (NAP) under the OGP are very ambitious and are unlikely to be realized without significantly increased levels of engagement by various stakeholder groups above the current levels since the Public Procurement Act was enacted in 2007 and particularly since Nigeria joined the OGP in 2016.

· There is low level of awareness about open contracting and the applicable principles in Nigeria while the open contracting discourse does not currently include key actors, such as women groups and youth organizations, who are relevant to its sustainability and the achievement of greater impacts.

· Public institutions continue to violate with impunity relevant laws and regulations, including the Public Procurement Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and the July 2018 circular issued by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which mandated all public institutions to use NOCOCPO by uploading their procurement information and records on the platform.

Recommendations

· The participants called on the Federal Government to demonstrate the political will to fully implement open contracting in Nigeria and ensure that all Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies proactively publish their procurement records, data and other information on the NOCOPO platform to enable the country realize the objectives of the procurement reforms embarked upon by the Government as well as to meet its commitments on open contracting as contained in the first and second National Action Plans under the OGP.

· They urged the Secretary to the Government of the Federation to institute and apply appropriate sanctions on the hundreds of Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies that have continued to violate or ignore his July 2018 circular directing all public institutions to regularly upload their procurement information and records on the NOCOPO platform.

· The participants urged the BPP to expedite its plans to train all Federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies to enhance their ability to use the NOCOPO platform effectively as part of the Government’s efforts to promote and ensure transparency and public participation in the procurement process.

· They called on the Federal Government to urgently inaugurate the National Council on Public Procurements, saying the Government’s failure to do so more than 12 years after the coming into force of the Public Procurement Act and in obvious violation of the provisions of the Law raises serious questions about the Government’s commitment to procurement reforms and the rule of law while also sending a wrong message to the Government officials that are supposed to apply, implement and enforce the Act as well as to members of the international community that Nigeria relates with.

· The participants called for improved citizen engagement in public procurement processes, saying that the media, civil society organizations, professional bodies and other stakeholders have a duty to monitor procurement activities as provided for by the Public Procurement Act in order to ensure its effective implementation which would in turn bring about the full realization of its objectives, including stemming the rampant corruption in the procurement system which has stymied Nigeria’s economic development and inhibited the delivery of public services to citizens.

· In addition, they called on the Media to monitor compliance by relevant bodies, agencies and institutions with the duties, processes and requirements under the Public Procurement Act while urging the media and civil society organizations to embark on vigorous public enlightenment and sensitization activities to mobilize public involvement in various aspects and stages of the procurement process in order to engender a new culture of openness and citizen engagement in governance.

Adopted in Abuja this Wednesday, the 20th Day of November, 2019.