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Guestblog by Oxford Insights

Concerned Citizens of Abra for Good Government (CCAGG) is a community monitoring group based in Abra, one of the Philippines’ poorest provinces. Since 1987, CCAGG members have monitored construction projects in the region, built capacity in their local community through education on infrastructure issues, and empowered citizens to know their rights. 

The overarching goal of CCAGG was ‘to challenge the government and make sure that public services are used judiciously and for the development of the people.’ They have gained national and international recognition for their work, including Transparency International’s Integrity Award in 2000. CCAGG has also branched out over the years into other monitoring activities. For example, in 1998 and 1999 they worked with the Department of Education to monitor preschool services. 

The initiative

CCAGG was formed in 1987. Their volunteers had previously been involved in the National Movement from Free Elections (NAMFREL), conducting election-monitoring in Abra. These volunteers wanted to continue their engagement and to promote freedom and democracy. They saw the new government as an opportunity to tackle corruption in Abra, improve its infrastructure, and promote greater citizen participation.

CCAGG takes a grassroots approach by building capacity in the local community. Their monitors visit construction sites and conduct a technical inspection, as well as a social impact assessment. By 2006 CCAGG had monitored over 600 projects worth US$7million. 

However, continued poverty and political violence in Abra have limited structural change, with 75% of national and provincial roads in the province still unpaved as of 2012. In addition, access to information for the general public remains low. CCAGG also stated that their presence as observers in the bidding process has had little effect on corruption at that stage of procurement.

Key insight

Maintaining a strong base of support outside of the government can help an initiative stay independent and preserve the integrity of their work. 

Outcomes

Identifying corruption: CCAGG monitoring has been able to identify corrupt projects in Abra. One of their landmark achievements was to facilitate the investigation and suspension of 11 engineers over their embezzlement of public funds. 

Fostering a culture of citizen participation: CCAGG’s work to get citizens more involved in local government means citizens have higher levels of engagement in community politics. CCAGG also reported that local officials’ attitudes to citizen monitors had improved over time, and that citizens viewed infrastructure projects as more responsive to their needs. 

What helped 

Developing relationships with local stakeholders. CCAGG’s close relationship with the Catholic Church was critical to its success. The local church commanded respect, and its support for CCAGG’s work gave them credibility and helped win over local officials. 

Effective use of the media. CCAGG also used the local newspaper and radio station to promote its work, and to put pressure on local officials. This also allowed the group to raise their profile within the local community, and broaden their reach.

Political mandate and favourable policy environment. CCAGG has benefitted from the Philippines’ policy environment, where successive governments have encouraged civil society organisations (CSOs) to take part in monitoring activities. CCAGG has benefitted in terms of resources and training from a positive relationship with the government. 

What didn’t help

Fund-raising, while maintaining independence. CCAGG are committed to financial independence. Initially, they sustained themselves through small community fund-raising activities and all of its members were unpaid volunteers. However, high volunteer turnover made this a challenging strategy to maintain.  

Background conditions of poverty and disorder in Abra. Enduring poverty and poor quality government services in Abra have meant that CCAGG serves multiple roles in the community in addition to citizen monitoring. For example, they have also tried to tackle biodiversity issues in the area, and help citizens settle boundary disputes. The group’s resources have been stretched even further as a result.

Lessons 

Maintain independence. CCAGG always had a firm stance against bribery, and wanted to be financially independent from the government. As a result, they relied either on fund-raising by volunteers, or they sought money from organisations with a similar vision of challenging corruption and promoting transparency and accountability.

Build capacity for your own organisation and for the community as a whole. CCAGG focused in the early years on building their technical expertise so that they were up to the task of infrastructure monitoring. They also stressed that this capacity should be transferred to local people as well, building a wide grassroots base of empowered citizens within the community.