Core feature: Assurance

A site visit conducted during CoST El Salvador’s second assurance process

The CoST assurance process helps stakeholders to understand the data published on specific infrastructure projects in the CoST disclosure process. The process is carried out by an independent assurance team appointed by CoST members who highlight the accuracy and completeness of data – turning data into compelling information – so that key issues are put into the public domain and are easily understood. As of March 2021, our members have reviewed over 540 public infrastructure projects as part of the assurance process.

In sum, the assurance process looks at:

  • Monitoring compliance of the procuring entities of infrastructure projects in accordance with a country’s legal provisions on disclosure or with the CoST International Data Standard
  • Highlighting issues of concern
  • Carrying out a more detailed review of a sample of projects or referring projects to an independent authority.

How does CoST select the data?

In the initial stages of a CoST programme only a handful of procuring entities and a small number of projects are selected for inclusion in the assurance process. If the data highlights key issues or if there are gaps in the data, the procuring entities in question are then targeted in successive assurance processes.
Once a programme enters a longer duration, countries move towards gathering more extensive data and they begin to look at aggregating data by procuring entity, region, project type and/or across a sector. An example of one programme which has done this is CoST Honduras who moved to record data on an online procurement system, SISOCS, which categorises data in this way.

Summarising the findings: The CoST assurance report

The assurance process culminates in the production of an assurance report which focus on:

  • The accuracy and completeness of disclosed information
  • Common performance issues across projects
  • Issues of concern on specific projects
  • An evaluation of the issues and common themes
  • Recommendations

The assurance report uses language and a format that can be understood so that the social accountability feature of CoST can work in the best way possible and decision-makers are held to account.





Moving to accountability: Using the assurance report to demand better infrastructure

Once the assurance report has been produced, the social-accountability component of CoST comes into play with civil society and the media helping to promote report findings and recommendations in the public domain. As the media highlights from CoST Assurance Week 2019 show, the key findings of assurance reports are easily picked up and disseminated by news outlets.

The ongoing attention which is sparked by assurance reports has the potential to result in lasting change: after the launch of Afghanistan’s First Assurance Report in 2018, issues identified contributed to the establishment of a Design Review Unit overseen by the Ministry of Public Works to improve project preparation. According to the Minister of Transport, H.E. Yama Yari, by 2019 this already ‘’has saved millions’’. More recently, findings from CoST Afghanistan’s Second Assurance Report highlighted issues of inefficiency and mismanagement in the water sector and sparked the creation of a similar ‘back-up unit’ of engineers to oversee project design. As of November 2020, 302 projects have been surveyed and 215 projects have been designed under the direct supervision of the unit’s expert engineers in order to increase efficiency and reduce cost overruns. 

The CoST Uganda MSG meets the Physical Infrastructure Committee

In addition to this, each country’s multi-stakeholder groups (MSGs) continually reference assurance reports when engaging with relevant authorities such as national audit offices, anti-corruption commissions or procurement authorities. For instance, when CoST Uganda established a formal relationship with the Physical Infrastructure Committee of Parliament in 2019, it was agreed that the MSG would share assurance report findings with the Committee in order to keep members abreast of key issues from the assurance process. Crucially, this will be in tandem with engagement on a variety of topics which can arise beyond the assurance process, such as contract management and citizen engagement. A consistent approach will help the MSG as it builds a strong, long-lasting relationship with the Committee and advocates across government more widely.

CoST assurance analysis illuminates key issues in infrastructure delivery

Analysis of CoST assurance reports provides fascinating insight into global trends in infrastructure delivery. For instance, analysis of nine CoST member reports published in 2019 – covering 100 projects worth over US$ 4 billion – points towards two key issues. The first indicates that the majority of projects are being poorly planned and the second raises alarm bells at the tender and contract-award stages, particularly related a lack of transparency and low competition. In 2020, the CoST International Secretariat utilised data from a sample of health-related assurance projects in order to establish key issues affecting healthcare infrastructure delivery. The data provided valuable insight into challenges across three key categories: low levels of transparency; a lack of market competition and poor financial management.

Further information on the assurance process

More details on the assurance process can be found in the CoST Assurance Manual: a comprehensive, step-by-step guide to producing assurance reports (also available in Spanish). The Assurance Manual is accompanied by the Assurance Guidance Note, which provides an overview of assurance and key steps to implementing an assurance process (also available in Spanish).

Useful links

CoST Assurance: Step by step
Digging deep into CoST Assurance: The data, key issues and promoting sector reforms
CoST member assurance reports can be found here