With initiatives like this [CoST], we will not only see money well spent but will grow into different country
President of the Republic of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández
Prior to CoST: Public infrastructure in context
According to Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, in 2020 Honduras was ranked 157 out of 198 countries, with a score of 24 /100. The main weaknesses in infrastructure governance in Honduras relate to a lack of trust in the legal framework and a lack of technological and human resources within procuring entities. There is also a lack of dialogue between the institutions that generate data and those using it.
In 2014, CoST carried out a Scoping Study in Honduras to gain insight into the public infrastructure sector. The Scoping Study assessed levels of disclosure in line with the CoST Infrastructure Data Standard (CoST IDS), which requires 40 data points or ‘items’ to be disclosed across the infrastructure project cycle. While 92% of these data points were available on request, there were significant limitations to accessibility: only 67% of these were disclosed on each procuring entity’s website and only 27% were disclosed on the country’s data portals.
As part of efforts to strengthen transparency, the Government of Honduras joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2011 and presented its first and second OGP National Action Plans in August 2012 and June 2014 respectively.
CoST Honduras: How it all began
In 2014 after submitting a successful application to the CoST International Secretariat, a launch event convened representatives from across government, civil society, academia, media and the public who heard from President of Honduras Juan Orlando Hernández alongside CoST Executive Director, Petter Matthews.
An array of actors from across government were involved in the implementation of CoST, including the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Services, the Presidential Directorate of Transparency, Modernisation and State Reform and the Presidential Office of Project Monitoring.
The four features of CoST
The core features of CoST – disclosure, assurance, multi-stakeholder working and social accountability – provide a global standard for CoST implementation in enhancing infrastructure transparency and accountability.
Disclosure in Honduras
The disclosure process ensures that key infrastructure project data such as the purpose, scope, costs and implementation of infrastructure projects is published in a timely manner.
CoST Honduras has made significant impact in promoting greater transparency in the contracting and implementation stages of infrastructure projects. From 2015 to 2019 the rate of data disclosed proactively (data disclosed without official request) increased substantially from 27% up to to 75%.
Online portals: Empowering citizens through access to information
CoST Honduras supported the Government to create and develop SISOCS – a subsystem of the national e-procurement portal, which allows for the disclosure of project information online. Launched in 2015, the portal empowers citizens by providing them with instant access to key information on their local public infrastructure projects. When SISOCS was launched in 2014, only 13 projects from one procuring entity were disclosed on it. As of September 2021 there were 2038 projects disclosed by 9 procuring entities, with a total value of over US$ 1.1 billion.
CoST Honduras leads the way disclosing PPP data
CoST Honduras became the first country to apply CoST disclosure methods to public-private partnerships (PPPs) when it launched SISOCS APP in conjunction with the World Bank and the Government in April 2018. Information disclosed on high value PPPs on SISOCS APP include the $139m Palmerola International Airport and a $1.1bn container and cargo terminal at Puerto Cortés. This marks an important step towards establishing a culture of disclosure in PPP projects of significant value. As of September 2021, data on 21 infrastructure projects has been disclosed on SISOCS APP, representing a total amount of US$ 1.46 billion.
Implementing the OC4IDS
As of January 2021, procuring entities publishing data on the SISOCS and SISOCS APP platforms must disclose information according to the Open Contracting for Infrastructure Data Standard (OC4IDS), which standardises the approach to disclosing infrastructure project data based on CoST and Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) expertise. As such, previously siloed information about Honduras’s infrastructure sector will be connected to create a clearer, fuller picture.
Institutionalising the CoST approach through executive decree
Just five months after the initiative was launched, the Government took another key step in its journey towards open and accountable infrastructure. In January 2015 following sustained efforts from CoST Champion, Roberto Ordóñez, the Government issued an Executive Decree mandating the disclosure of infrastructure project data across the country.
The Executive Decree requires procuring entities to proactively disclose all 40 data points of the CoST IDS as well as an additional 31 data items related to infrastructure projects via SISOCS. This has played a key role in institutionalising attitudes towards disclosure: by the time CoST Honduras launched its First Assurance Report in May 2015, proactive disclosure levels stood at an impressive 84% of the CoST IDS.
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 (MSG), these entities can guide the delivery of CoST and pursue infrastructure transparency and accountability within a neutral forum.
The CoST Honduras MSG comprises nine members who guide the the programme, with representatives from government bodies, civil society organisations and the private sector.
CoST promotes accountability through the CoST assurance process – an independent review of the disclosed data by assurance teams appointment by CoST national programmes. The teams turn the data into compelling information so that it can be easily understood by citizens.
CoST Honduras has undertaken six assurance processes which have evaluated 68 public infrastructure projects in total, with the most recent report published in November 2019.
The first three assurance processes found key issues at the Honduras Road Fund, the government body responsible for maintenance of Honduras’s road network. Recommendations from these assurance processes led to concrete actions by the Government of Honduras which ultimately shut down the Road Fund for a lack of transparency and created a new, transparent body in its place.
Shining a light on PPPs
As mentioned CoST Honduras has taken the initiative in disclosing data on PPP infrastructure projects, being the first CoST programme to include PPPs in its assurance process in 2017. Later in 2019 its sixth assurance process focussed exclusively on PPP projects which came to a collective value of US $277 million and revealed an average disclosure rate of 68.2% of the CoST IDS.
The social accountability feature of CoST ensures that information on public infrastructure projects is put in the public domain. CoST works with stakeholders such as civil society and the media to promote the findings of the assurance process to help to hold decision makers to account.
Building capacity across society
To see good results from the disclosure process, CoST Honduras has also developed a training programme for procuring entities, focussing on the CoST IDS and the use and management of SISOCS.
CoST Honduras has also developed a diverse, wide-ranging training programme for the media, public and civil society with the aim of strengthening participation in public infrastructure. More than 600 people have been trained since 2017, including students, teachers and university professionals. To bolster its training programme, CoST Honduras has signed cooperation agreements with a range of influential organisations in the country covering 250 of Honduras’s 298 municipalities. These include the country’s Citizen Transparency Commissions, the Honduran Journalists Association and the Honduran Press Association.
School of Social Accountability
The School of Social Accountability was created by CoST Honduras to train members of Citizen Transparency Commissions, municipal commissioners and other civil society organisations.
As of June 2021, 108 social auditors had been trained through the School and 15 audits of local, publicly funded infrastructure works had been completed. On request of the government, graduates of the School of Social Accountability are working with consultants to evaluate the levels of data disclosure and quality of processes around eight projects procured in the aftermath of hurricanes Eta and Iota, which hit Honduras and other countries in Central America in 2020. These projects will be included in CoST Honduras’s 8th assurance process, which will be published in 2022.
Transparency in Infrastructure Virtual Diploma
This online, five-week training programme is aimed at infrastructure specialist students and university professionals from across the country. The course provides a platform for CoST Honduras representatives to share their experience and knowledge of anti-corruption measures and key processes that promote infrastructure transparency.
Engaging journalists for greater accountability
Engaging with the media is a crucial aspect of the CoST approach: once key issues are put in the public domain, pressure is applied on government to ensure the problems do not reoccur. To this end, CoST Honduras has developed two training programmes for journalists. The diploma of data journalism is designed to improve journalists’ ability to analyse and use infrastructure information, and since 2017 CoST Honduras has trained 62 journalists and social communicators through this programme.
CoST Honduras also created the CoST Honduras Journalism Prize with the objective of encouraging investigative research into public infrastructure in Honduras. The award recognises the three best news articles related to infrastructure transparency and accountability published in national and other outlets. Alex Flores from El Mundo won first prize in 2020 for a two-part investigation – using information gleaned from combing through 400 pages of contract data – which exposed conflicts of interest in contracts awarded by the government investment body Invest-H for Covid-19 projects. Read our interview with Alex here.
The work of CoST Honduras has received international recognition: in 2016 the programme came third place at the Open Government Partnership awards for its contribution to improving civic participation in public life, improving the functioning of government and creating new services. CoST Honduras also won first place at the 2019 Taiwan Presidential Hackathon after presenting the innovative platform INFRAS, an online database which supports the development of environmentally sustainable infrastructure.
CoST Infrastructure Transparency Index
Honduras was one of the first countries to implement the CoST Infrastructure Transparency Index (ITI), which measures levels of transparency and the quality of processes related to public infrastructure at national and sub-national levels. Collaboratively designed and based on international good practice, its objective is to provide stakeholders with quality information that serves to promote transparency and improve the management of public infrastructure. Honduras published initial results from ITI implementation in 2021, which can be found here.
CoST Honduras Assurance Reports
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CoST Honduras Programme Manager