Roads to Nowhere? CoST seeks to improve transparency in the construction sector


The construction sector, of which roads is the largest sub-sector, plays a vital role in supporting social and economic development, yet is consistently ranked as one of the most corrupt areas of economic activity. For the rural poor, corruption can result in unnecessary, unsuitable, poor quality or dangerous projects, which are often subject to severe delays.Typically, this can result in “building roads to nowhere”.


The effects of corruption are especially severe on the vulnerable in society, who are most reliant on the timely and cost-effective provision of public services, are least able to pay the extra costs associated with bribery, fraud, extortion and other forms of corruption, and are often most severely affected by defective and poor quality construction.


In general, the rural poor lack the voice to express their dissatisfaction about the poor choice, inappropriate design or poor quality of construction projects.They have limited avenues through which they can complain. Importantly, citizens often do not have

adequate information about the scope and nature of the intended works to be able to assess whether the outcome has been satisfactory and achieved value for money.

This lack of information and lack of opportunity to voice their complaints leaves people powerless to change the status quo.


A new initiative funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) seeks to change this situation by improving transparency and accountability in the construction sector through enabling greater scrutiny over public spending.The Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST), aims to make information available to stakeholders to enable them to make informed judgements about the cost and quality of the infrastructure constructed.The core concept is “get what you pay for”. CoST takes its lead from a similar initiative in the extractive industries (EITI), which has achieved a measure of success and promoted civil society scrutiny of company payments and government receipts.


Although the starting point is for countries to recognise the value of transparency at all stages of the construction cycle, the main focus of CoST is on contract award through to final build.The complexity of the causes and types of corruption in the construction sector are such that they cannot be addressed by a single initiative. CoST will therefore build upon, and not duplicate, country and international initiatives that exist already to increase transparency and reduce corruption. At the heart of CoST is the Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG), a representative body comprising key stakeholders from government, the private sector, civil society and donor partners. The MSG plays a critically important role in the oversight of CoST. Experience from EITI indicates that this approach can enhance trust amongst the different parties, improve credibility and lead to innovative ways of working. CoST proactively

includes civil society groups in the process, improving their capacity to hold governments and companies accountable.


CoST is currently at the pilot stage with a number of countries, including Tanzania, Zambia, the Philippines,Vietnam, and United Kingdom, working towards implementation with the support of various donors. A consortium comprising Oxford Policy Management (OPM), IT Transport (ITT) and Transparency International (TI) has been involved in the design of CoST.


For more information please contact:

Rachel Flanary

IT Transport