Anti-Corruption - Public Service Delivery - Africa and the Middle East

Empowering Citizens To Keep Up With Urban Development

Ghana / January 20, 2022


With the help of an online platform, residents of the rapidly-growing twin cities of Sekondi-Takoradi in Ghana will be able to monitor all aspects of building contracts and permits. This represents a major turning point in an industry rife with corruption and secrecy.

Who Is Transforming the City?

The twin cities of the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly (STMA) have undergone rapid urban growth following the discovery of oil and other natural resources. The people of the city are seeing new buildings, construction sites and even billboards sprouting up all around. It is not uncommon for some of the sites, however, to look like they are not up to code. But knowing who owns and plans all of these new buildings is not easily accessible information.

An increase in population was accompanied by high levels of corruption in the acquisition of land, and the granting of permits for development, as well as illegal construction work. On top of that, there are virtually no means by which citizens can monitor and directly report to responsible officials about the state of ongoing public infrastructure projects. This lack of transparency about infrastructure has resulted in widespread cynicism at both the national and local level about the integrity of the procurement process. In Ghana, the award of contracts for infrastructural projects is one of the most common sources of embezzlement and other forms of corruption.

There have been some efforts to make things more transparent in order to limit corruption, but access to vital information (like project details, contract award processes, contract documents, progress and completion reports, and the monitoring of implementation) is still limited to only those citizens who are the direct beneficiaries. The procurement processes are so complex that there’s no reasonable hope that access alone would be enough to hold the government to account.

Putting the Process on a Platform

To address these issues, civil society organizations partnered with the government to create a digital platform that informs citizens of infrastructure projects happening in the area. This should increase both transparency and the means by which the public can make reports and apply pressure. The platform, known as STMA360, completely digitizes the application process for development permits, allowing citizens to monitor these applications online, and reduces the chances of bribery and other forms of corruption when applying for permits. It also gives them access to information on land use (commercial, residential, mining, and agricultural) and development projects, including new buildings, schools, and houses.
The assembly has also entered into a partnership with Construction Sector Transparency (CoST), a global initiative that promotes transparency and accountability in the provision of public infrastructure.

Community Champions

In 2019, the government and civil society organizations began to train more than two hundred local “community champions”, to enhance their understanding of public infrastructure information and ways to use it to demand greater accountability. This is a good step forward as training to ensure these resources empower the communities, and government responsiveness, are the core ingredients for social accountability. Additionally, the creation of citizen-monitoring groups and a media award to incentivise public uptake of procurement information give this commitment further transformative potential.

However, a major challenge in the implementation of this commitment has been the national government’s delayed release of the infrastructure project funds. Without securing ongoing funding, the partnership spearheading this process risks falling apart. Even if that is avoided, the project being stagnant can be just as damaging, as it needs to be adjusted quickly to reflect developments in the construction world. In short: things could and should be sped up.

Transparency Bringing People and Government into Coalition

The success of this commitment is likely to lead to benefits beyond the efficient and cost effective expansion of infrastructure. For instance, collaboration between citizens and local government officials in the monitoring of projects is likely to bring local governance closer to the public and generate more trust between people and their local leaders. This is likely to further increase public participation in local governance, which tends to be very low across the country. Summarized, beyond the immediate benefit of the challenge to corruption in Sekondi-Takoradi, the social benefit of this project, has been building trust between public and government is a useful consequence, and one that reinvigorates the sense of democratic process on both sides of the public, government divide.

Last updated: February 14, 2022

Ghana | Sekondi-Takoradi