Citizen Perception Towards Monitoring Public Works

Outcomes of development interventions tend to be determined, to a significant extent, by stakeholders’ perceptions towards it. More so, if the intervention is designed to elicit citizens’ voluntary participation.

Digitizing Implementation Monitoring and Public Procurement Project (DIMAPPP) is one such initiative that puts Citizen Engagement (CE) at its core to bring more transparency and accountability in the public procurement process in Bangladesh. Initiated by the Government of Bangladesh and funded by the World Bank, this project engages citizens in monitoring public procurement works in their localities.

A team of researchers from BIGD, BRAC University recently visited local intervention sites to find out how citizens perceive CE in local procurement works. The team spoke with general citizens as well as engineers and contractors. In the case of general citizens, the findings show that an overwhelming majority of them harbour a positive attitude towards citizen participation and points out transparency in the project implementation process as their core concern.

Some citizens thought it was both their right and responsibility to monitor the work funded by their tax money. The CE intervention, which allowed them to interact with the Engineers and contractors, provided them with the opportunity to ventilate their grievances. Many of them thought that such intervention contributed to the communities’ wellbeing.

Overall, the general citizens’ attitude was positive. However, a closer look at the nature of citizen participation unravelled interesting dynamics. Firstly, general enthusiasm shared by the citizens does not always translate into active participation, especially by the females. On average, about 30% were women who participated in the orientation and site meetings, with even fewer women regularly monitoring.

Secondly, citizens with more free time (i.e. retired and aged people) tend to monitor regularly. Thirdly, the lower opportunity cost of monitoring leads to more participation by lower-middle and middle-class people. Simply put, if attending a site meeting requires skipping work and in turn costs someone his/her food for a day (generally true for poor members of the community) it is only obvious that such individuals will deprioritize monitoring. Finally, young people were largely absent from monitoring due to their academic and professional involvement.

Engineers and contractors expressed a mixed opinion about the effectiveness of CE approach. “General citizens do not have enough technical knowledge to monitor procurement projects” tends to be the common observation of these categories of respondents.

They also felt that through the CE strategy the citizens were given too much power and considering the fact that a section of the citizens may harbour ill-intention, the strategy might generate unintended consequences—the addition of another layer of vested interests (rent-seekers) and harassment of contractors. Engineers were concerned about an increased workload for them due to citizen complaints, (many of which, they thought, would be frivolous and ill-informed) and these will lead to delay in the work process. Eventually, a delayed construction process will drain resources—contractors added.

Despite the diverse views, all respondents seemed to agree on two things: to get the best out of this CE intervention, training citizens to gain sufficient knowledge related to procurement process is crucial and so is involving people who hold no ulterior motives. Another important recommendation came from the contractors: making sure that the complaints are well-verified before any actions are taken by the authority.

Erina Mahmud is a Research Associate at BIGD. Farhana Razzaque and Mahan Ul Hoque are Senior Program Associates at BIGD.