Corruption is rife in the awarding of contracts for infrastructure projects, such as roads, in Nigeria. Flickr
DURBAN - Government corruption is a global challenge and a major obstacle to economic and social development.

Our recent research looked at how the involvement of people monitoring the implementation of government projects in their community can improve service delivery and reduce corruption.

This approach is applicable to a host of developing countries. But our case study focused on Nigeria. Large portions of its population live in poverty largely due to the twin woes of government corruption and bad leader­ship.

Nigeria’s Budget Office of the Federation oversees budgeting and public expenditure functions across the country.

But there’s a huge amount of secrecy around the budgeting process at every level of government.

This secrecy can be used to serve the interests of corrupt government officials who don’t have to account for their actions with the level of scrutiny that private business usually demands.

Our study shows that tracking government-budgeted projects can ensure service delivery and reduce corruption.

But to be effective, there must be transparency, community engagement, political party neutrality, and offline and online participation.

This should include the use of information and communications technology, and social media.

We gathered data by engaging with two NGOs that were set up to promote transparency around Nigeria’s budgeting process. The result is higher standards of transparency and accountability in the government.

Tracka, BudgIT’s brainchild, emerged in 2014 as a specialised tool to monitor public projects and give feedback. Between May 2017 and June 2018, Tracka reached more than 450000 citizens through 246 town hall meetings across 20 states in Nigeria to encourage them to take ownership of government projects in their areas.

Citizens were asked to find out about government-budgeted projects within their communities and:

* Visit project sites and take pictures to share via social media platforms including Twitter and Facebook.

* Engage their elected representatives via letters, emails or tweets.

* Engage the ministry or agency in charge of the projects in communities via letters, emails or tweets.

* Report project and monitor progress updates. 1275 projects were tracked. Of these, 482 had been completed, 210 projects were ongoing, 367 projects had not been started, 189 had unspecified locations, while 27 have been abandoned.

Our research found that corruption mainly happened in four ways.

The first involved project implementation. Sometimes projects were simply not executed, even though funds had been disbursed.

The second was under-delivery and abandonment of projects. Large sums of money were approved for projects, but the completed projects didn’t reflect the value of the money paid.

The third was due to vaguely specified projects allowing for budget inflation. Finally, elected representatives embarked on so-called “empowerment” projects through which goods were distributed to party loyalists.

Opening up the budgets of the Zonal Intervention Projects has meant that corruption has been uncovered because people could, for the first time, monitor projects. They could then also engage with authorities to ensure completion. The Conversation

Olarewaju is a lecturer in Economics, at Staffordshire University. Oakes, a lecturer in HRM and Organisational Behaviour at Staffordshire University, also contributed to this article.

- THE CONVERSATION