Social Accountability in Public Procurement: How Citizen Engagement Can Make a Difference

The public procurement system in Bangladesh has never been without corruption and irregularities. This picture, however, can be changed by introducing social accountability mechanisms in the sector. In a recent initiative under the Public Procurement Reform Project (PPRP)-II taken by the Government of Bangladesh (GoB), we provided technical assistance to the government to design and apply citizen engagement mechanisms in monitoring local development work. In this study, we look into the nuances of our field experiences and evaluate the pros and cons of the intervention model. Findings suggest that keeping a good variation in constructing a citizen group is helpful for monitoring. However, public procurement agencies are reluctant to allow citizens to monitor their work.

Researchers: Dr Mirza M. Hassan; Syeda Salina Aziz; Nadir Shah

Partners: Government of Bangladesh (GoB); The World Bank

Timeline: 2016

Status: Completed

Contact: Syeda Salina Aziz;



Social accountability is a mechanism by which citizens directly engage with service providers and hold them accountable for the services they provide. Evidence suggests that social accountability yields positive outcomes, such as more responsive local government, exposure of government failures and corruption, and empowerment of marginalised groups. However, as the nature of development projects vary, the design of social accountability mechanisms should also be tailored to the specific needs of each locality. In Bangladesh, various social accountability mechanisms are being tested and used in different projects. One such very recent initiative is the incorporation of social accountability mechanism in public procurement, which is being piloted under the PPRP-II initiative. In order to formulate a long term strategy on citizen engagement in public work, there is a need for systematic evaluation of the success and challenges of this initiative.


The objective of this study was to understand the challenges and achievements of this piloting initiative and formulate recommendations to improve its design.

This study is relevant to SDG 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions), particularly to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.


For this study, we mainly applied qualitative techniques. The study was conducted in four Upazilas of Rangpur and Sirajganj where the project was piloted. The data were collected from four different groups of stakeholders: Citizen Committee members, engineers, bidders, and field officers. Key informant interviews (KIIs) along with field reports from non-government organisations (NGOs) were major sources of data.

Findings and Recommendations

From our findings, it was evident that the diversity of occupations among the Citizen Committee members is a major factor behind the successful project intervention. Close collaboration between these members and engineers turned out to be a more effective mechanism than Citizen Committee acting as an independent actor. Constant collaboration between the citizens and engineers reinforces the positive feedback system. Since the engineers received reliable and detailed feedback from the Citizen Committee members, they took the field observations by the Citizen Committee more seriously. Consequently, they were able to monitor the projects more efficiently. Moreover, we observed that the Citizen Committee’s activities had generated considerable interest among the local citizens. However, bidders and some of the engineers did not welcome the involvement of citizens in their projects. The bidders doubted the necessity of citizen engagement as a monitoring tool and raised questions about the legal status of the Citizen Committee. One of the reasons why bidders disliked citizen involvement is because it increased their informal transaction costs. It was found that on average bidders spend 30 per cent of the total investment in informal payments to avoid strict monitoring and quality control of their work. They believe that adding another actor such as the citizens in monitoring would raise this cost. Bidders have a tendency to respond to the queries of the committee members about the ongoing project and avoid explaining queries or concerns about the quality of construction. It was clear from our study that the severe deficit of trust and social capital is a major difficulty in establishing social accountability programs. Citizens generally view bidders as corrupt and also believe engineers to have collusion with them. On the other hand, citizens are perceived by the bidders to have an ulterior motive.

To ensure the implementation of social accountability in public procurement work, the information should be disseminated in a more accessible manner. Project specifications, for instance, should be provided in Bangla and made available at project sites so that the Citizen Committee members can access them easily and without delay. To prevent opportunistic individuals from gaining money through extortion, individual visits to the construction sites should be discouraged. And finally, a strict follow-up system with a strict timeline is extremely important for the successful implementation of social accountability in public procurement.