Infrastructure projects are particularly vulnerable to political favours, corruption, and mismanagement. Given infrastructure’s pivotal role for the economy, it’s essential to monitor public spending and ensure that such projects meet the country’s needs. Working with CoST we will enhance Panama’s efforts to increase transparency in public procurement, creating the conditions for sustainable economic growth by reducing the costs and risks of doing business and strengthening collaboration between government, the private sector and civil society.
Angélica I. Maytín Justiniani, Director – General of Panama’s National Authority of Transparency and Access to Information
Prior to CoST: Public infrastructure in context
Though there has been an influx of infrastructure investment in Panama, the country still faces challenges in infrastructure delivery including cost overruns and incomplete works. As with many other countries, these issues can be connected to inefficiencies, mismanagement and corruption within the sector. Inefficient government bureaucracy is also cited as a problematic factor for doing business in Panama.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranked Panama 87 out of 180 countries in 2016, falling to 93rd place in 2018. The World Justice Project placed Panama 61 out of 113 countries in the 2017-2018 Open Government Index.
All processes surrounding public infrastructure procurement are regulated by Law 22 of 2006, which aims to streamline procurement processes and improve levels of transparency. However, this law falls short of providing a legal basis for implementing the CoST Infrastructure Data Standard (CoST IDS). Improving governance mechanisms relating to infrastructure transparency, such as Law 22, is necessary to build trust in public procurement and create a more encouraging business environment.
CoST Panama: How it all began
Panama was among the delegates that attended CoST’s 2015 regional workshop in Latin America. The Panamanian participants worked together to explore CoST principles and developed an action plan for infrastructure transparency which engaged key actors from across government, industry, and civil society.
Participants continued to drive forward the agenda for infrastructure transparency at the national level after the workshop. The CoST International Secretariat worked closely with key stakeholders on the ground and in late 2016 Panama submitted an application for membership to CoST.
Panama’s membership application was accepted later that year and announced at the 17th International Anti-Corruption Conference, illustrating the country’s commitment to developing trust in public infrastructure. Angélica I. Maytín Justiniani, Director – General of ANTAI, made the announcement as part of a high-level panel discussion on the impact of transparency in public infrastructure across Latin America. Panama was joined by leading experts and practitioners in the field, in addition to CoST colleagues from Afghanistan, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Malawi, Ukraine and the CoST Board.
CoST Panama was launched in August 2017 and its scoping study was published that year, which assessed 12 public infrastructure projects. The scoping study found that on average only 17 data points on infrastructure projects were proactively released to the public – less than half of the amount required by the CoST IDS. Out of 26 reactive disclosure indicators, only 11 were disclosed. The projects evaluated were from the sectors of water and sanitation, recreation, transport, education and health.
The four features of CoST
The CoST approach is focussed on four core features: disclosure, assurance, multi-stakeholder working and social accountability. These features provide a global standard for CoST implementation in enhancing infrastructure transparency and accountability
Disclosure in Panama
The disclosure process ensures that information about the purpose, scope, costs and execution of infrastructure projects is open and accessible to the public, and that it is disclosed in a timely manner.
Panama has two e-platforms for data disclosure. ”PanamaCompra” provides a platform on which to publish information on projects at the bidding and procurement stages, totalling 11 indicators of the CoST IDS. ”PanamaenObras”, which was developed by CoST Panama, requires the full 40 indicators of the CoST IDS to be disclosed, ensuring that more information on projects will be available across the full project cycle. The next version of ”PanamaCompra”, which is currently being developed, will also have information from the entire project cycle and will be linked to ”PanamaenObras”.
Having a CoST champion from ANTAI, the national entity in charge of transparency and access to information, has greatly enhanced levels of disclosure in Panama. ANTAI has coordinated with procuring entities to ensure information is published on PanamaenObras which is not yet legislated for by Panama’s procurement laws.
To increase understanding and engagement in disclosure, CoST Panama has conducted training sessions with the Institute of Aqueducts and Sewers National (IDAAN) and the Municipality of Panama. Representatives from these procuring entities have been trained on publishing of information on PanamaenObras in line with the CoST IDS. In addition, they have been trained on the disclosure and assurance processes and the importance of social accountability.
Legal mandate for disclosure
In September 2020, Panama’s Public Procurement Law was amended to include an article on Open Data in Public Procurement. This means procuring entities are now obliged to publish all data related to public contracting on the “PanamaenObras” and “PanamaCompra” systems, in an open data format. The data published on “PanamaenObras’’ will be done so in line with the CoST IDS until 2021, after which, data will be published in line with CoST and Open Contracting Partnership’s flagship standard, Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard (OC4IDS).
Multi-Stakeholder working in Panama
CoST brings together stakeholder groups with different perspectives and backgrounds from across government, private sector and civil society. Through each national programme’s Multi-Stakeholder Group, these entities can guide the delivery of CoST and pursue infrastructure transparency and accountability within a neutral forum.
The MSG is composed of five public institutions, three representatives of the private sector, three civil society organisations and two observers.
CoST works with social accountability stakeholders such as the media and civil society to promote the findings from its assurance process so that they can then put key issues into the public domain. In this way, civil society, the media and citizens can all be aware of issues and hold decision-makers to account.
CoST Panama has opened the School of Social Accountability which trains citizens to analyse the social performance of infrastructure projects and create social accountability report. Additionally, the CoST Panama MSG holds activities such as training sessions, capacity building events and awareness sessions for community leaders, students and citizens to create capacity and promote the demand of data from procuring entities.
Next steps for CoST Panama
To regulate the CoST Panama MSG, ANTAI is working on the establishment of an Association of Public Interest called Transparency in Infrastructure Initiative – AIP (CoST Panama – AIP), composed of public institutions, civil society organisations and the private sector. Additionally, CoST Panama will develop a Transparency Index to help assess the performance of procuring entities.