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This call was made at a one-day workshop on ‘Open Contracting Data Standards (OCDS) for Representatives of Federal Public Institutions’ in Abuja organised by Media Rights Agenda (MRA) with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation through the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) on Thursday.
The workshop addressed the concepts of open contracting and open contracting data standards as well as their applications in Nigeria, including the duties and obligations of public institutions under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to proactively publish certain types of information. The participants were sensitised on some OCDS platforms in Nigeria at the federal and state levels, including the Nigeria Open Contracting Portal (NOCOPO).
The participants urged the government to undertake public enlightenment and sensitisation to encourage and empower citizens to engage in public procurement processes as well as open contracting data published by government institutions in order to make the open contracting initiative meaningful. These, the participants said, could be done through an agency like the National Orientation Agency (NOA), as well as other institutions or departments with public awareness mandates or capacities.
They called on the federal government to ensure that its ministries, departments and agencies were provided with adequate resources, including technical capacity and the necessary equipment, to comply with their duties and obligations under the FOI Act and to publish their procurement data in accordance with open contracting data standards.
The participants noted that open contracting held a lot of benefits for the government and citizens, including building citizens’ trust and belief in government; enabling innovation among citizens and specific stakeholders; attracting support and funding from global initiatives; preventing fraud and corruption; ensuring fairer competition, and greater value for money in public procurement, particularly in terms of the quality of service delivery.
They also pointed out that the OCDS was a tool that spoke to and expanded on the FOI Act, placing an obligation on public institutions to proactively publish certain kinds of information without anyone making a request on them . They noted that such public institutions needed to put structures in place to enhance transparency and accountability in all aspects of governance, including public procurement processes.
The participants observed that since Nigeria had committed to implementing open contracting and adopting the OCDS in its second National Action Plan as a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), it was imperative that public institutions and public officials key into it by making the procurement process open and publishing procurement data in accordance with the OCDS.
They acknowledged that compliance with proactive disclosure obligations by public institutions would greatly reduce the burden of having to process numerous individual requests for information made by members of the public under the FOI Act, stressing that if contracting information were presented in OCDS format, it would be easier for members of the public to access the data, understand and process the information.
The participants noted that citizens had a responsibility to engage with data or public information, including in the public procurement sector. They, however, argued that it was the primary responsibility of government and government institutions to proactively disclose the information and relevant data, which would make it possible for citizens to participate in the open contracting process and give open contracting meaning.