Assurance Week 2019: Telling the story of public infrastructure through data

Following the success – and impact – of Assurance Week 2018, we’re excited to announce that CoST Assurance Week is back. This week (November 25 – 29), CoST programmes from around the world will publish assurance reports which shine a light on key issues in public infrastructure projects. From improving road projects in Afghanistan to institutional reform in Honduras, these reports can raise important questions to the authorities involved – and by turning opaque, complicated information into accessible language, they help create a whole new level of accountability by presenting this information to the wider public.

Assurance – moving from transparency to accountability

CoST Ethiopia’s assurance report launch during Assurance Week 2018

Working in tandem with the CoST feature of disclosure, CoST assurance assesses the accuracy and completeness of the infrastructure data disclosed by procuring entities. If data is incomplete (as with the Honduras Road Fund) or inaccurate, the assurance process provides the opportunity to highlight issues and demand better performance in the future. Equally, when assurance produces examples of good practice – such as the marked increase in disclose we saw in Uganda in 2018 – these achievements should be commended and provide an excellent opportunity for stakeholders to learn from one another.

This is a process not typically implemented by others, filling an important gap within the open government and open contracting world in relation to using infrastructure data and moving from transparency to accountability. Crucially, it emboldens social accountability actors – such as civil society and the media – to hold decision makers to account, by alleviating the need to crunch numbers and break down data. This means you don’t have to be an ‘expert’ to recognise bad practice in infrastructure governance, a crucial factor when it is public money at stake.

Assurance Week 2018 – what did we see?

During last year’s Assurance Week, CoST members from Ethiopia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Afghanistan and Uganda presented assurance reports covering 72 infrastructure projects worth over $US 511 million. These high-level events engaged key stakeholders as well as national and international media on the critical, sometimes life changing issues which arose throughout each process. We’re pleased to report that the impact we’ve seen from Assurance Week 2018 has been tangible and shows no sign of subsiding.

In Afghanistan, issues included in its first assurance report – and raised at the launch event – relating to

H.E Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of Afghanistan, speaking at last year’s assurance report launch

inaccurate project design contributed to the creation of an independent Design Review Unit. Since its creation in 2018, the government has claimed that this unit has already ‘saved millions’. The evidence from the assurance report and the debate it generated were the triggers for institutional reforms which will have lasting impact in Afghanistan.

While CoST Ethiopia’s assurance report showed relatively low levels of disclosure, the report’s validation event brought together the stakeholders who were best placed to act on these disappointing results. This included procuring entities, high-level government decision makers, academia and the media. Dr Mekonen Ayana, Vice President of Adama Science and Technology University which was a procuring entity included in the report, told attendees that the university had picked out numerous lessons from the report to guide its performance in the future. When CoST Ethiopia launches its next assurance report on Thursday, we will share further details of the progress we’ve see since then.

CoST Uganda’s second assurance report showed a marked improvement in disclosure rates (an increase of 29%). Alongside this, the assurance report made recommendations relating to waste management in the area of Makindye-Sabagabo, where a lack of waste disposal was impacting public health. Based on these recommendations, the local authority submitted a bylaw legislating how waste management systems should function – namely, that citizens should not simply dump the waste they create. As of late 2019, the bylaw is with the Solicitor General and is under review. The municipality has now begun preparations for a municipal waste disposal system with private waste disposal companies.

Assurance Week 2019 – building momentum for change

This year, CoST members from Malawi, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Ethiopia will be publishing reports and holding high-profile events throughout the week. This diverse set of members are at varying stages of their CoST ‘’journey’’: for some such as Afghanistan this is their second assurance process, whilst others like Honduras are publishing their sixth report. Regardless of the stage they’re at, we’re excited to see how far each programme has come and the impact this Assurance Week will generate. We look forward to sharing how these reports are used to hold decision-makers to account, and keep the public engaged in an area which is so critical to their everyday life.