The COVID-19 Transparency and Accountability Project (CTAP) is an innovation implemented by Connected Development, BudgIT and Global Integrity with support from the Skoll and Conrad Hilton Foundation with a commitment to track all resources from public sector, private, multilateral and bilateral donors committed to COVID-19 pandemic.
Phase one of the first year was implemented in seven countries – Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Malawi, Cameroon & Kenya with massive results and impact.
Amidst all the success stories recorded, The CTAP project across focal countries encountered diverse challenges ranging from restricted public gatherings due to the pandemic and the shrinking civic space with accompanying media clampdown; as seen with the ban of Twitter in Nigeria.
Access to information, low political will accompanied by insecurity and uprising posed a challenge for the campaign team in ensuring smooth data collection, verification and dissemination. Notwithstanding, our multidimensional and citizen-driven strategy was utilized in ensuring the achievement of the project goals.
The robustness of evidence was hampered by difficulties in accessing government records, Incident Action plans, audit reports and performance reports, etc., relating to the disbursement of COVID-19 funds and management. The broad unwillingness of officials to speak on the fiscal responsibility of states was frustrating and inhibitory.
Our “carrot” approach was initially incorporated to ensure effective dialogue with government agencies on our research and tracking findings but this did not yield expected results. To mitigate this, our research and findings were cross-promoted via online and offline platforms resulting in massive outcomes and adoption of our recommendation by concerned government institutions.
We activated civil society interest recorded during the coalition meetings but encountered stalled momentum in activating the aggregated actions due to funding constraints. The language barrier and financial constraint in publishing campaign materials in local country dialects and audiotapes for persons with disabilities hampered the dissemination of findings to grassroots communities.
This also had some challenges for our human angle stories. Survivors of COVID-19 were not very open to telling their stories due to the accompanying stigma. We needed this to intensify the fight against misinformation, disinformation and fake news to fight these stigmatization.
Our plan to work with the coalition was also initially challenged in some of the countries due to inadequate capacity of local CSOs to track government activities. However, we took time to train some of these partners and supported their project implementation process. We have also seen the need to advocate for the FOI (Freedom of Information Act) in these countries to make it easier to access government information and to demand transparency and accountability Specifically in;
Language barrier during the dissemination of findings to grassroots communities was a roadblock. Transfer of functions of Government in Nairobi County to a new entity hampered access to information. Cessation of movement as a Government directive to control the spread of the pandemic restricted public gatherings hence affected FTM-Kenya meetings. Bureaucracy by Government officials hampered access to information. Finally, early campaigns and electioneering period led to limited civic engagement spaces which hampered transparency.
Across the focal regions, the robustness of evidence was hampered by difficulties in accessing government records, Incident Action plans, audit reports and performance reports, etc., relating to the disbursement of COVID-19 funds and management. The broad unwillingness of officials to speak on the fiscal responsibility of states was frustrating and inhibitory. The efforts of the researchers to access key documents from relevant offices and senior officials in the regions were stunted by time constraints imposed by the study duration (period) and the unfavorable attitudes of officials.
Insecurity in Bamenda and Mora hampered the tracking of PHC in the region. The security of the team was of paramount importance and could not be jeopardized. Throughout the implementation of the project in the crisis zones, the CTAP team respected ‘’ghost town’’, during “ghost town” our champions did not go on the field to collect data.
Malawi invited government officials and representatives to be part of the coalition but none of them came through. In addition, we had set up numerous meetings with government representatives to present our research findings and recommendations on how covid 19 funds should be handled (transparency and accountability) but to no avail. Only when we published our research in the local media platforms and sent the research findings to our individual connections is when we yielded results and our recommendations got to the President.
In addition, after we held our two coalition-building workshops, we had a lot of interest from like-minded organizations to be part of the CTAP project and track how the government is spending COVID-19 funds. However, when it came to implementing the action plans, most of the organizations in the Coalition had to be pushed. They also looked up to us to provide funds for the Coalition to carry out their activities. The Whatsapp group that we created was vibrant at first but the engagement on the platform started hitting a dead end when we couldn’t provide financial support for the activities.
The PHC campaign encountered other roadblocks, for example, meeting with the Executive Secretary of State Primary Health Care Development Agency (SPHCDA) in some States was next to impossible, insecurity in Kebbi and Imo States affected the campaign activities. In Kebbi State, the campaign was truncated. In Imo State, the campaign was completed after the safety of the FTM team was assured and the monopoly of mainstream media by the government hindered reportage of findings and outcomes in Ebonyi state.
Across the focal states, the robustness of evidence was hampered by difficulties in accessing government records, Incident Action plans, audit reports and performance reports, etc., relating to the disbursement of COVID-19 funds and management. The broad unwillingness of officials to speak on the fiscal response of states was frustrating and inhibitory. The efforts of the researchers to access key documents from relevant offices and senior officials in the states were stunted by time constraints imposed by the study duration (period) and the unfavorable attitudes of officials. Specifically, the insistence of officials that such records can only be authorized by Executive Governors (Incident Commanders) implicates the strength and autonomy of public institutions and pervasive cultures of secrecy in the civil service. Due to malfunctional government websites, information was not easily accessible. To inhibit these, we hope to build stronger collaborations with the government, creating conducive platforms that would enhance political will for more openness with information sharing. We would request for ample time for project execution especially when research is involved.
Insecurity in Kebbi and Imo States hampered the tracking of PHC in the region. The security of the team is of paramount importance and could not be jeopardized.
In addition to the tracking of PHCs, the team was also very pertinent in telling the stories of Nigerians and how the pandemic affected their lives, sources of livelihood and the ability to scale through the economic hardship that came with the pandemic. To gather these stories, we tried to link the acclaimed government support most especially with the palliatives and the support funds that came in different forms and amounts to over N23tn. Our findings showed that the middle men looted most of these materials and funds.
Notwithstanding all these challenges, we advocated and collaborated with governments in focus countries to provide and institute proper accountability along with procurement measures for all financial cum material donations received. Specifically
In Kenya, the CTAP team advocated and influenced policy by contributing to legislative amendments related to COVID-19 as follows:
- Public Finance Management Act (Emergency response fund) regulations 2020 policy was developed.
- Senate Adhoc Committee on COVID-19 situation committee requested the controller of budget and the Office of the Auditor-General to conduct a special audit report
- Submitted a memorandum on the public procurement and asset disposal (amendment) bill to the National Assembly.
In Cameroon, we influenced institutional audit processes across the ministry of public health and ministry of Justice on the use of funds intended for the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic at a time when persistent information indicates “serious” financial embezzlement.
In Nigeria, our advocacy influenced documentation of COVID 19 fund disbursement by the Ministry of State, Budget and National Planning, providing the public with the breakdown of COVID-19 funds expenditure and the process of distribution.
In Malawi, we collaborated with the Center For Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) to track a Covid-19 school expansion project in Salima District. Government officials were engaged and all relevant stakeholders mobilized to track down and prosecute the defaulting contractor.
In Ghana, our advocacy, augmented through our partnerships with other CSOs and activists, resulted in the formulation of a parliamentary committee to review covid spending. Senior members of the Ghana Audit Service have also indicated in meetings their acquiescence to undertaking a forensic audit of covid spending in the coming months.
In Sierra Leone, our advocacy with other civil society groups and the media prompted law enforcement agencies (the Anti-Corruption Commission) to investigate and prosecute erring officials involved in corruption cases related to covid-19 funds.
In Liberia, our advocacy with other civil society organizations and media institutions led to the national government accounting for covid-19 funds. It strengthened existing partnerships with antigraph institutions, making covid-19 public financial data accessible to citizens.
Our result has been due to our multi-dimensional project approach that is flexible and all encompassing to accommodate new challenges and trends in solving social issues and with more resources the CTAP has proven that it has the capacity to scale and deliver results even in challenging and high-risk countries.