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A Strong African Future Needs A Strong Public Service

From a worker’s morning commute to a child’s school day, citizens across Africa utilize and rely on public works and services every day. The quality of these services are critical for a thriving continent: well-maintained roads keep communities connected and well-resourced hospitals and schools save and transform lives. These every day services directly impact the quality of life of citizens and the ability for a community to succeed economically.

The importance of the individuals and institutions that enable these services cannot be forgotten. A robust dialogue between citizens and local, national and regional civil servants is key to maintaining and delivering high-quality infrastructure. But they’re not alone in cultivating and advocating for these services. A strong future for Africa needs strong public service: one that business helps to build.

The private sector cannot ignore its place as a leader in building African infrastructure. Business action to deliver public services is necessary to bring the just future that the Sustainable Development Goals envision to life. An estimated annual USD $130-170 billion will need to be invested in African infrastructure to deliver a sustainable, equitable future across the continent.

From a private sector perspective this is not a challenge to be met, it is a business opportunity that will yield high returns for investors and local stakeholders. To help businesses access these opportunities, I’ve joined other African leaders to form The B Team Africa. This group of dynamic leaders is accelerating a new way of doing business, one which will be profitable and equitable, driving the creation of a prosperous Africa and world.

Many of us are attending the upcoming Ibrahim Governance Weekend in Kigali. Along with other global and regional leaders, we’ll be discussing public service in Africa, its relation to good governance, its challenges and ways to strengthen it. It’s a conversation and a movement that needs business-driven solutions.

Some private sector companies have realized this, most have not. We need to help companies that are already focused on this new economy to access and invest in these markets. Simultaneously we need to highlight the data and success stories that will show a wider group of investors and operators why these opportunities should not be missed.

Across Africa, and the world, more and more companies are recognising the importance of taking action on tax for a sustainable future. The UN estimates that Africa loses more than USD $50 billion through illicit financial outflows per year, primarily linked to tax avoidance and evasion. Business is increasingly stepping up to help combat these losses and corrupt practices.

In February nine leading multinationals, including Safaricom, endorsed The B Team’s Responsible Tax Principles. This signaled their commitment to responsibly managing tax policy to provide healthy, robust and adaptive resources for citizens. Corporates are recognising that the shift toward a sustainable and prosperous future can’t happen without a shift in their approach to tax.

In Africa, the dialogue on responsible tax is gaining necessary momentum with dialogue and partnerships between companies, civil society organisations and governments forming. Businesses are working closely with these actors to collaborate not only on tax, but also on responsible and transparent public procurement.

On average, across the continent, half of government spending goes toward public contracts. But often, governments don’t know who they’re buying from or if they’re getting a fair price. Many times, vendors don’t even complete the work they’ve been contracted to do. This leaves communities debilitated with failing infrastructure and inadequate public services.

There is, however, a solution: open contracting. By making contracts open, data on the entire procurement process, from planning to tendering to performance and contract closure is made available to the public. It holds governments accountable and opens market opportunities for business.

In Africa, open contracting is growing. Uganda has implemented a strong open contracting system and other African countries are following suit. The African Partner Pool has also opened up opportunities for African small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs). Since its launch last year, this platform has provided USD $15 million worth of tenders for more than 800 SMEs. Through transparent and fair bidding, open contracting systems build and provide strong public services while providing market access for often overlooked businesses.

Beyond funding and constructing, the private sector must also champion the mechanisms and policies that allow for a healthy dialogue between citizens and public servants. Across Africa, civil society participation and civic space are deteriorating. Business has a role to play to ensure citizens can voice concerns around public services, hold officials accountable and access information. And while many companies are realising this, more need to join them to ensure an enabling environment for strong public service in Africa.

From changing operational practices to advocating for key policies, it’s time for African business to focus on strengthening the continent’s public service. This is not just the work of governments or civil society. A strong, thriving and just future for Africa is on the line. And it’s up to all of us – ”business, governments and civil society – ”to deliver.

Dr. Amy Jadesimi
Managing Director, LADOL

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