The coronavirus pandemic is increasing the risks of corruption and threatening to further restrict the space for civic engagement. Today, CoST adds its voice to those calling on governments to maintain and strengthen anti-corruption measures and to protect and where possible, expand civic space.
The pandemic is indiscriminate, spreading rapidly with serious socio-economic affects worldwide. Governments are taking urgent and decisive action to slow its spread, protect the most vulnerable and treat those infected. This includes building new public health facilities and purchasing equipment and supplies.
We know from previous crises such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Ebola outbreak of 2014, that the speed of the response can undermine accountability mechanisms and fuel corruption, mismanagement and inefficiency. It is essential therefore that governments:
• Disclose data on public expenditure using established data standards.
• Establish multistakeholder oversight mechanisms to scrutinise decision-making.
• Remove barriers on or maintain and extend civic space where it already exists.
• Actively engage stakeholders in crisis management.
Our response to the crisis
CoST is working in 19 countries to support the disclosure and validation of data on public and public/private investment in infrastructure. This in turn allows stakeholders such as civil society, the media and citizens to meaningfully hold decision-makers to account. The resulting increase in transparency and accountability helps to reduce corruption and mismanagement, secure significant cost savings from public expenditure and improve the quality of infrastructure and essential services.
Our immediate focus is on supporting CoST members to maintain their own safety and ensuring that activities in support of data disclosure and accountability continue. CoST Afghanistan for example is delivering e-training to government and the private sector and for those without sufficient bandwidth, training content is being sent safely to their homes on USBs.
We are also encouraging members to identify opportunities to support the national response to the crisis in their countries. In some countries this is already happening, such as in Honduras where President Hernandez recently announced plans for the CoST approach to be applied in the construction of hospitals and care centres.
In the medium-term, emphasis will shift from the immediate impact of the crisis to dealing with the economic crisis which now seems an inevitable consequence. It is likely that there will be public spending to address the chronic underinvestment in social infrastructure that has been so dramatically exposed by the crisis. Infrastructure investment may also form part of stimulus packages aimed at promoting growth and creating jobs.
This is where transparency initiatives such as CoST can play a key role, to help rid of unnecessary waste in investment due to corruption and mismanagement. Fighting these issues will not only help to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis, but it will improve the resiliency of infrastructure and essential services which will better prepare countries for an efficient economic recovery.