The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.
In Nigeria, the government’s anti-corruption campaign relies in part on this data NGO
By Brendon Bosworth
Nigeria has a less-than-rosy reputation for corruption. The country ranks 136th out of 176 on Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index.
This is a widely understood domestic reputation, too. President Muhammadu Buhari came into office in 2015 explicitly pledging to stamp out corruption. And indeed, the government’s campaign has since seen the revival of institutions such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Yet there remains a need for improved transparency, asset declaration by public officers and open contracting, says Oluseun Onigbinde, co-founder of BudgIT, a civic tech organization that tracks public spending in Nigeria.
“Bailouts have been given to state government without adequate transparency mechanisms,” he said. “The anti-corruption war needs to be properly thought [through] and reviewed.”
To play its part in improving transparency in Nigeria, BudgIT since its 2011 inception has rolled out various data-driven initiatives. Those include simplified reports and infographics on state and federal budgets. The initiative has also created an online tool — Tracka — for tracking the implementation of government infrastructure and service provision projects at the sub-national level.
The online tool is supplemented by work on the ground. Tracka officers meet with communities to discuss budget provisions for local projects, and in turn support residents in communicating with public officials about these initiatives.
The initiative has important implications for Nigeria’s cities. Tracka officers have used the tool to keep tabs on the Lagos state government’s progress on road construction in the Lagos metropolis, for instance, documenting as many as 263 shoddy roads, according to BudgIT’s impact report.
“I believe corruption requires at least three things to thrive: excessive discretion, iron-cast opacity and weak institutions,” said Onigbinde. “We do our best to give this information to the citizens, incentivizing them to demand effective service delivery and efficiency.”
While federal government data in Nigeria is publicly available, state-level data is very difficult to get, said Onigbinde: “It’s very important that the information is used for community impact.”
With offices in Lagos and Abuja, the BudgIT team produces and shares a host of budget-related documents, available from its website. These include proposed and final state and federal budgets, as well as budgets for federal government departments like the ministries of water resources and transport.
These state budgets directly impact Nigeria’s cities. They contain financial allocations for urban development, housing, urban renewal, street lighting, road rehabilitation and construction, and other city-related services and infrastructure.
BudgIT currently engages with communities in 14 states. It aims to expand to 20 states by the end of year.
The group’s efforts have found support with the Omidyar Network and Gates Foundation, which recently committed close to a combined USD 3 million for the organization’s work over the next three to four years.
“BudgIT stands out as a great example of an organization that is deeply committed to ensuring that citizens have the information they need to hold their government accountable,” Ory Okolloh, Omidyar Network’s director for investments, said in a statement.
National Assembly ‘watchdog’
While BudgIT works on the ground with communities, it also actively engages with governments at all levels.
The organization was instrumental in prompting the Nigerian government to join the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral anti-corruption and improved transparency initiative.
“We are trying to get more transparency in government,” said Onigbinde. “Whatever we find, we also make sure that we push it across government.”
A recent report looking at the federal government’s proposed 2017 budget identifies “frivolous and suspicious items.” It painstakingly picks apart proposed allocations by each department, with comments about why certain allocations are under scrutiny. For instance, the report asks why there is a nearly 656 percent increase over 2016 levels for “office stationeries and computer consumables” in the legal aid council’s proposed budget.
BudgIT uses reports such as this to engage with government officials on spending. The group sends its findings to the National Assembly, with which it has a partnership, thereby acting as a “watchdog,” according to Onigbinde.
“At any time we find that there’s an opportunity for engagement, to have conversations, we do that,” he said.
And thus far, he says, national-level officials have been welcoming of the BudgIT findings.
“We want to make sure that there is a conversation around issues, around transparency in Nigeria,” Onigbinde said. “I’m happy that the National Assembly appreciates the work that we’re doing.”
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When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.
So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?
If you want a healthier community, you don’t just treat illness. You prevent it. And you don’t prevent it by telling people to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. You help them find jobs and places to live and engaging schools so they can pass all that good on, so they can build solid futures and healthy neighborhoods and communities filled with hope.