Feature Stories



Citizen Engagement During Public Procurement Implementation in Bangladesh


{This article is an abridged version of the submission on “Citizen Engagement in Public Procurement Implementation in Bangladesh” made by Mr. Mirza Hassan, Social Accountability Consultant, PPRP II, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh, for the South Asia Procurement Innovation Awards.}


A significant portion of the expenditure of Government of Bangladesh is on public procurement. Each year, Bangladesh spends more than BDT 72,000 Crores {USD 9 Billion (1 BDT = 0.013 USD)} on government procurement (Lomborg 2016). This huge investment, if not managed efficiently, can result in substandard output, cost overruns, and project implementation delays. Citizen engagement in public procurement can deter these by ensuring greater accountability and transparency, and consequently increase in quality of public goods and services. The challenge, however, is to devise a mechanism for citizen engagement that offers sustainability (in terms of cost efficiency) and potential replicability (in wider societal contexts).


The Government of Bangladesh is currently implementing with World Bank financial assistance its Public Procurement Reform Project (PPRP) II, with project design, management, and research support from the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, Dhaka. One of the main focuses of this project is to successfully engage citizens in the monitoring of public procurement. For the purpose, BIGD has designed a citizen engagement strategy that includes establishment of a Citizen Committee, complemented by Local Community Mobilization surrounding the project sites. To identify and test which strategy, or rather, combination of strategies, produced the best results, BIGD implemented a Pilot Project in four Upazilas in two districts of Bangladesh: Rangpur and Sirajganj.

Challenges Addressed

The project aimed at addressing a few major challenges at the implementation level. The first is improving the project quality (ensuring that appropriate materials and procedures are being used). Through close monitoring, Citizen Committee members and the Local Community attempted to ensure that quality specified in the contract is maintained. Another major challenge is reducing the transaction cost. Citizens’ voluntary involvement substantially reduces the cost of monitoring and also ensures quality.

Incentive / motivation problem of local people (sense of ownership over projects) is another major challenge, which is felt at the local level. As a result, project monitoring remains the responsibility of only government officers. The project utilized several strategies to reduce citizens’ lack of sense of ownership: it ensured supply of relevant information to the local people, made community aware of the importance of local monitoring and, most importantly, by acting on their feedback, ensured that the community felt engaged.

Innovations in the Solution

Even though similar projects are being implemented by engaging local citizens, the BIGD Pilot Project adds more to this aspect for a few reasons. Firstly, it includes two alternative designs of monitoring, which work simultaneously, reinforce each other, and also produce comparable results. By testing the two models together, this project gives great insights into the intervention, which can be very helpful for replication. While other projects in citizen engagement do not directly involve government authorities, the Pilot Project ensures effective participation of government officials. Since the beginning of the project monitoring, the Citizen Committee members maintained close coordination with engineers. This actually turned out to be a more effective mechanism than Citizen Committee acting as an independent actor. Citizen Committee members received updates of the project work from engineers and planned their visits at crucial stages of project. Contractors also took the committee visits seriously due to Citizen Committee’s affiliation with engineers.

Impact Generated

The project successfully addressed the challenges and ensured significant improvement in quality of the procurement process. The project had impact on all three stakeholders: citizens, government officials, and contractors, who were in charge of the implementation. The impact was by way of:

  1. Reduced information gap,
  2. Developing ownership among local people
  3. Information at low cost, and
  4. Trust

Of these, the most important impact is reduced information gap. The project made information available at the local level, which raised the interest of local people regarding the project. They learned about specifications and could oversee whether these were being met during the construction process. The project also successfully reduced the incentive problem of local people in relation to monitoring. By engaging people from the locality in monitoring by equipping them with information and technical details, along with briefing about the need of local ownership, the classic problem of free riding on public good was reduced. The project had a major impact by reducing the information cost. The local people and Citizen Committee members frequently visited project offices and reported anomalies to the engineer’s office. It thus solved monitoring-related transaction costs of the state agency significantly. Along with that, the engagement of citizens in monitoring reduced the need for frequent visits from Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) office, which also reduced the transaction costs.

Significant lack of trust among relevant actors is a major problem, which impedes transparent and efficient working of the project. Citizens do not trust contractors and contractors view citizens as opportunity seekers. Citizens also perceive engineers as corrupt and having a corrupt nexus with contractors. By engaging citizens in the monitoring process, the project was able to generate trust among all stakeholders. Contractors, when brought under group monitoring, were then trusted by the community. Since citizens are monitoring the projects based on specifications, contractors are compelled to follow the project specifications.

Scalability and Sustainability

One major concern of this project was to ensure its replicability in other regions and other projects. The simplicity of the design makes it easier to replicate it in other places and other projects. All it needs is commitment from government officials that they will motivate and engage local people to get involved in the monitoring. The cost is minimal, as it does not need any facilitation activities or travel. The model can also be replicable in any other context, any other country, or level. For example, if instead of villagelevel roads, the project includes a district-level road, all it needs to do is to inform more people living close to that highway. Government officials can hold public meetings at every few miles and provide people with necessary information to initiate a local monitoring system.

Pilot PPRP II project has already been tested in three different types of implementation of procurement process, such as road and school constructions, and textbook monitoring. The same citizen engagement model has worked in every case.

Lessons Learned

Substantial difference in response to citizen engagement has been noticed among government officials (engineers specifically) within the hierarchy. Executive engineers at the districts and upazilas provided considerable assistance by providing necessary information and guidance to the Committee Members. However, such assistance was difficult to obtain from the fieldlevel officials (sub-assistant engineers, supervisors etc). This was evident from their use of dilatory tactics in handing out the necessary documents to Citizen Groups or deliberately providing incorrect information regarding the status of the project. Further probing indicates that such avoidance and non-cooperation actually originated from their fear of losing control over the construction processes. The involvement of third-party actors in monitoring projects is viewed by them as interference by unwelcome external actors.

In this regard, one major learning of the project is to develop the strategy further to ensure better engagement of field-level government officials. The project tested two different methodologies – Monitoring Through Committee and Monitoring Through Local Citizens. The findings suggest that compared to the committee-based approach, monitoring through local citizens generates a more efficient result. Committee-based approach needs facilitation role from thirdparty actors to ensure group formation and group functionalities. It also involves travel cost and organizing cost.

It has been also felt that incentives of monitoring vary and in certain areas, citizen committees are more proactive compared to other areas. In such cases, sitespecific monitoring by local people seems a more plausible option compared to committee formation. It has near zero transaction cost, as no travel cost or thirdparty engagement is necessary, and ensures better ownership.

Another major learning of the project is that the citizen engagement process needs to be built into the official system. Government officials should start the initiative to engage local citizens effectively. Any third-party engagement would not be necessary then. Local people will get the information directly from officials and will report back to them. The project experience also suggests that to make citizens more engaged in the process, the feedback system should be strengthened. Grievance should be filed properly and it should be addressed properly. In such a case, a systematic complaint-filing mechanism needs to be developed, such as telephone hotlines or mobile messages. This way, local government officials can also be brought under monitoring and would feel accountable to act on the feedback they receive from citizens.