Prior to CoST: public infrastructure in context
Prior to 1994 – when Malawi transitioned from single to multi-party rule – public infrastructure was centrally implemented, with minimal private sector involvement. However, as the country returned to multi-party governance, the government privatised the majority of public infrastructure projects. With this came the rise of private players in the construction industry in Malawi. As competition for contracts increased, so did incentives to bribe public officials involved in the procurement process.
According to the World Bank’s 2006 Corruption and Governance Baseline Survey for Malawi, corruption was prevalent across all sectors at this time. 70% of all public budgets in Malawi were allocated for procurement, with significant amounts directed to the procurement of public infrastructure. This provided ample opportunity for bribery and corrupt practices to flourish.
Additionally, a baseline survey which was conducted in 2008 shows a distinct lack of transparency and oversight in the construction sector. The survey also shows that at this time, disclosure in public infrastructure was limited to only the contract award stage.
CoST Malawi: how it all began
Malawi joined CoST during the pilot stage in 2008, after the Government of Malawi expressed interest in the principles of the initiative through the Office of the Director of Public Procurement.
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 Malawi
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.
Before Malawi joined CoST, infrastructure data was disclosed only at the contract award stage of the project cycle. Since joining CoST, this has developed to cover the entire project cycle.
CoST Malawi has embarked on various training sessions with procuring entities on the CoST approach, which has increased both proactive and reactive disclosure of project information. In line with the CoST Infrastructure Data Standard (CoST IDS), proactive disclosure relates to the information CoST requires project owners and procuring entities to disclose at specified stages. Reactive disclosure relates to additional information that project owners and procuring entities are required to make available upon request.
Legal mandate for disclosure
In 2017, the Malawi parliament approved changes to the Public Procurement Act to introduce a legal mandate for disclosing data in line with the CoST IDS. The legislation, which was brought into effect in 2021, will mean that information on public infrastructure will be disclosed at each stage of the project cycle. This interview with CoST Malawi Programme Manager, Lyford Gideon, outlines the process of securing the legal mandate for disclosure, which was the culmination of many years of engagement with various government administrations throughout periods of political instability.
The mandate was made possible through lobbying by the CoST Multi-Stakeholder Group, former Vice President of Malawi Peter Mutharika and CoST Malawi Champion Saulos Chilima, who was central in pushing the legislation forward. The legal mandate for disclosure will significantly increase disclosure levels in Malawi, allowing citizens to further hold decision makers to account.
In 2017 CoST Malawi launched an online disclosure portal called the Information Platform for Public Infrastructure. While procuring entities are not currently under legal obligation to publish data, when regulations around the legal mandate are formalised it will ensure procuring entities comply with the CoST IDS. It will allow citizens easy access to information on the construction, supervision and maintenance of public infrastructure.
Accountability is promoted through the CoST assurance process – an independent review of the disclosed data by assurance teams based within CoST national programmes.
CoST Malawi has so far produced five assurance reports, which have largely identified similar challenges in contract management particularly relating to time and cost overruns. In June 2020 the Government of Malawi increased funding to support the design and construction of radiation treatment and brachytherapy units at a US $10 million cancer hospital. This follows a CoST Malawi assurance report that highlighted that the units had not been built, as the lead consultant selected to develop the design and supervise the construction had allocated insufficient budget and lacked the expertise to design them. The additional budget allocated to this specialist facility will ensure Malawians can receive treatment within their own country and avoids a potential ‘white elephant’ hospital.
Through the influence of CoST, the Roads Authority established a whistle blowing programme to enable the public to take an active role in the management of roads projects.
Most importantly, CoST Malawi has been able to influence policy and legal changes as a result of its assurance reports. This includes the inclusion of a Corporate Governance Priority area in the National Construction Industry Policy, as well as the legal requirement for disclosure included in the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Act.
Multi-stakeholder working in Malawi
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.
CoST Malawi is directed by an MSG that comprises representatives from:
Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development
National Audit Office
Director of Buildings
Office of Director of Public Procurement
Malawi Building, Civil and Allied Trades Association
Malawi Economic Justice Network
Human Rights Consultative Committee
Business Action Against Corruption
African Institute of Corporate Citizens
In March 2021, the President of Malawi, His Excellency Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, was announced as the new ‘CoST Champion’ of the Malawi programme. The CoST Champion plays an integral role in promoting CoST across government, and institutionalising the CoST approach as a tool to promote transparency, participation and accountability in public infrastructure.
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 Malawi has undertaken a number of steps to enhance social accountability. In 2016, it launched an innovative SMS platform to provide citizens with a real-time reporting mechanism for infrastructure issues affecting their local area. In the first six weeks since its launch, CoST Malawi was inundated with almost 150 texts from local citizens seeking accountability from their public infrastructure decision-makers. CoST Malawi then submitted all information to the relevant authorities, who were provided an opportunity to respond through both radio panel discussions and concrete remedial actions within their institutions. The initiative received an Open Government Partnership Summit 2016 in Paris under the theme of ‘Making Transparency Count’. It has been pivotal in empowering the public, giving them an accessible tool with which to hold decision makers to account.
In addition, CoST Malawi organises public meetings where assurance reports are disseminated, develops radio messaging (such as jingles) and hosts media awards. These awards celebrate the work of journalists investigating public infrastructure mismanagement in Malawi.
CoST Malawi assurance reports
CoST Malawi Assurance Report 2010
Various reports from CoST Malawi’s 2013 assurance process can be found here
CoST Malawi Assurance Report 2016
CoST Malawi Assurance Report 2017
CoST Malawi Assurance Report 2018
CoST Malawi Assurance Report 2019
Get in touch