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September 8th, 2017
Infrastructure • Finance

Citizen's Visible Audits (CVA) in Colombia

In the 1990s and 2000s, the Colombian government was in receipt of significant income from mineral royalties. However, too little of this wealth found its way to local areas to fund public infrastructure projects. To address this problem, in 2008 the Colombian government launched the Citizen's Visible Audits (CVA) programme. Its aim was to encourage community engagement in scrutinising local public works, such as sanitation, water, and school-building projects. The CVA programme has enabled local authorities to improve their delivery of public investment projects, and it has been very well received by both local communities and international donors.

The initiative

In 2008, the Colombian government created the Auditorías Visibles [Citizen's Visible Audits (CVA)] programme. "Its goal was to strengthen communities' participation in monitoring royalties for the provision of local public goods, i.e. access to water and sanitation, buildings for educational institutions, housing, etc."[4]

The programme was set up with the following objectives:

  • "Builds communitiess' capacity to monitor and audit.

  • "Organises community forums that bring together local authorities, neighbours, and representatives of the firms carrying out an infrastructure project.

  • "The project is presented and explained to the community at these public gatherings where the community has the opportunity to voice its concerns during the entire cycle of a project.

  • "Conducts a final assessment of the project."[5]

CVAs were intended to involve communities in project monitoring and reduce corruption significantly. “In this programme, beneficiaries monitor projects within their communities to ensure that they are correctly implemented. The CVA programme brings together communities and local authorities to participate in public forums where firms responsible for the implementation of projects can provide answers regarding communities' concerns. This coming together of key stakeholders allows communities to provide direct feedback on the implementation of projects within their communities and holds local governments and contracting firms accountable for honouring commitments, so projects may be finalised in a timely and efficient manner."[6]

The Governance Partnership Facility (GPF) - a multi-donor trust fund from the World Bank destined for improving the management of public finances - took part in an evaluation of the programme and recommended some improvements to the methodology.[7]

The challenge

Thanks to Colombia's wealth in natural resources, the mineral royalties collected by the government increased continuously during the 1990s and 2000s, but their distribution to local government declined, because of government's mismanagement of the incoming funds. "In 2008, royalties peaked at more than COP6 billion from an average of COP1 billion during the 1990s. An important share of these royalties is distributed among sub-national governments (SNGs) to finance public investment projects. However, the transfer of royalties to 219 SNGs for COP1 billion  (12.5 percent of the total) was suspended due to mismanagement of these funds, including lack of information and adequate reporting, use of funds in activities not allowed by the legal framework, failures in the procurement processes, and problems in the execution of contracts."[1]

The Colombian government decided to turn to community participation and accountability as its main approaches to improve good governance and public effectiveness. The country's legal system had already adopted a legal framework that set the foundations for a participatory civil society. However, its implementation had been problematic from the start. A crisis in the royalties system in 2004 led to the dissolution of the Royalties Agency and further changes in the system. "The crisis in the use of public resources as a result of violence, insufficient local capacities, lack of government monitoring, and mishandling of public funds became a political issue because it damaged communities' trust in government institutions while significantly encumbering Colombia's attainment of more inclusive development."[2]

In response to the existing problems in local service delivery and the management of public resources, particularly royalties, communities demanded better-functioning institutions and more accountability. "This situation led the Government of Colombia to create two mechanisms in the mid-2000s to support the control and oversight of the use of royalties' funds. The 'Administrative and Financial Supervisor' aimed to strengthen control activities in the supply side of public investments, and the CVAs aimed to strengthen the demand side."[3]

The public impact

The CVAs were implemented successfully, and the World Bank report reviewing the programme in 2013 found the results to be largely positive:

  • CVAs were adopted relatively quickly by the population. “From its beginning, the programme expanded from 1 to 158 CVAs in 29 communities; by 2009, it covered public works funded by mining royalties to the tune of USD348 million. Between 2008 and 2010, 20 projects in the education sector were audited through CVAs, representing investments of USD36,000. In total, the project supported the organisation of 72 community hearings at the start of the public work projects, during their execution, and at their completion; 4,000 people representing more than 680,000 beneficiaries participated.”[8]

  • The programme raised awareness through the workshops provided so that communities understood better how royalty resources were managed, and achieved better coordination between communities and local authorities around the prioritisation of public projects.

  • CVAs also generated greater demand for accountability. “As a result of the initiative, and shown by an impact evaluation, communities have started asking for greater public accountability by showing their concern about the allocation of royalty resources and insisting that these funds be invested in priority areas that communities can identify for themselves.”[9]

  • There was also evidence of communities' increased satisfaction with projects and their execution. "The programme also had a major impact on the percentage of communities who reported that they themselves or their families received a benefit from the project, proving that implementation and completion of the project have been directly reported by communities. On the whole, the CVA programme succeeded in increasing project performance."[10]

Stakeholder engagement

The formation of the programme involved collaboration at different levels of government, as well as integrating communities into the CVA process.

The Presidential Anticorruption Commission launched CVAs to promote community involvement in the management of royalties. The 2007 National Development Plan (Law 1151) assigned the main responsibility for implementing CVAs to Colombia's Departamento Nacional de Planeación [National Department of Planning] (DNP), and a USD700,000 GPF grant was commissioned in 2008 to support the DNP in the design, implementation, and institutionalisation of CVAs.

Similarly, consultations with communities and hands-on training were a key part of the programme. Training and guidance were intended to give communities the confidence to engage in the programme and provide their opinion on how to implement the CVA process, as well as increase their ability to judge the quality of the work carried out.[11]

Political commitment

The government's commitment to the programme meant that it had an almost immediate effect after its launch in 2008. "The CVAs were developed by the Presidential Anticorruption Commission, and were a landmark initiative in the country's long-term collaboration with the World Bank. In 2009, the DNP completed 158 CVAs of public works in 29 communities representing approximately USD348 million of royalty funds, and by 2010 an Aide Memoire was signed between the DNP and the World Bank.”[12]

Similarly, the fact that community participation is an important part of the governing principles in Colombia also shows the value of the government's approach. This commitment remained years after implementation, with a renewed commitment from the government. "A new loan will be approved in FY14 to strengthen SNGs' capacities, which will support the implementation of CVAs in Colombia. The Government of Colombia is also allocating funds to continue their implementation."[13]

Public confidence

Colombian communities were very supportive of CVAs, as was evident from various evaluations of the programme. A World Bank assessment stated that:

  • “More than 60 percent of the population ranked the performance of the investment projects monitored with CVAs above or well above other infrastructure projects in their community that were not monitored through a CVA.

  • “CVAs were shown to have an impact on the percentage of communities that reported having themselves or their families receive a benefit from the investment project -which can be used as evidence that giving voice to the community can help improve the alignment of public investments with communities' needs.

  • “The use of CVAs improved the level of community engagement with municipal affairs, as 30 percent of all participants remained in contact with their local government authorities after their CVA programme was completed."[14]

Clarity of objectives

The programme's objectives were clear, although quite broad and difficult to measure. When the USD700,000 GPF grant was commissioned in 2008, it was done so "with three explicit goals:

  • “To raise awareness among communities regarding royalty sources

  • “To increase confidence in community monitoring as a tool to hold governments accountable

  • “To improve collaboration between communities and local authorities on transparency and accountability issues."[15]

Strength of evidence

There is no information on any pilot projects to test the validity of the programme before its 2008 launch. However, in 2011 the Wold Bank collaborated in a pilot programme to evaluate the implementation of the CVAs' methodology. “Through a Bank-Executed GPF-financed grant, the Bank supported 25 communities in the implementation of 25 audits covering 25 public works representing investments of USD75 million."[16]

These pilots enabled significant improvements to be made to the methodology, and facilitated later analysis and publications of improvement projects. “The piloting of adjustments to the CVAs' operation, which has enabled improvements to the participatory mechanism, including enhancing efficiency through improved monitoring of public works, accountability through strengthening communities, and transparency through standardised methodology... Based on an initial strategy paper and a monitoring framework, a set of analyses have been prepared, including a 'Report on Participatory Planning in Colombia” and “Strengths and Weaknesses of Participatory Mechanisms'.” These papers were used to improve the design of the CVAs' methodology and provide inputs for the preparation of the “Sub-national Institutional Strengthening” Project."[17]


Colombia already had a legal framework supporting community participation, and funding from the World Bank and other international institutions gave the programme its necessary financing.

Colombia's legal system provided a solid foundation for civil society participation in the CVAs, which made Colombians more receptive to the programme. “The constitution protects the right of community participation and Law 80 of 1993 establishes that all contracts entered into by state agencies are subject to surveillance and social control, and that the national government and local authorities must establish mechanisms to ensure that these contracts are controlled and supervised by the community.”[18]

The programme receive substantial external funding: “A USD700,000 grant from the GPF helped the Government of Colombia to efficiently and transparently distribute public funds".[19] It also received additional funding from the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) Public Sector Group at the World Bank, and a grant from Princeton University.


CVAs are managed by the DNP, which implements them through a decentralised approach involving local government, local communities, and the private sector.[20]

Government representatives, the contractor, technical staff, the community, la Dirección de Regalías [the Directorate of Royalties], and other relevant stakeholders participate in the audit of a specific project. The structure requires the execution of at least three forums for discussion during the different stages of a project in order to keep participants informed about its progress. Communities then raise their concerns and suggestions, generating commitments for the execution of each project. The follow-up and verification of such commitments is done by the same group of beneficiaries, formed by members of the community and the Directorate of Royalties.[21]

The approach followed by the DNP has been praised by many commentators, including the World Bank, for its success in engaging and collaborating with stakeholders. "By using a strategy of leadership for change, identifying incentives, understanding drivers of change, and facilitating the process, with a strong focus on community involvement, the DNP engaged and exercised leadership, built trust, and coordinated with different stakeholders."[22]


There is no evidence of indicators used for the ongoing measuring and tracking of progress for this programme, but there have been audits and reviews over the years aimed at improving the methodology of the programme (see also Strength of Evidence).

The first review was planned not long after the programme was launched. "In 2009, talks between the DNP and the World Bank led to an agreement with the World Bank to analyse the CVA methodology and begin the GPF project. In 2012, an impact evaluation was conducted and recommendations emerged on how to improve the CVA; the DNP used a focus on results for communities, evidence to achieve results, and a multidisciplinary team that adapted to changing circumstances during implementation."[23]

Similarly, evaluations by the World Bank provided insights that were consequently implemented to improve the CVA programme through additional financing. "The impact evaluation demonstrated that CVAs would maximise their impact if applied at the different stages of the public investment cycle. It was also suggested that the use of ICT would decrease the cost of CVAs and increase participation. As a result, the World Bank presented a follow-up programme aimed at expanding CVAs throughout the Public Financial Management cycle and inserting the use of ICT tools in the process. This follow-up programme is financed through another GPF grant and will be implemented throughout fiscal 2013-15."[24]


The programme was characterised by a positive alignment between the interests of the Colombian government, the World Bank, and the communities that benefited from CVAs.

The CVA programme was implemented in response to the government's desire to improve accountability and local participation. "As part of the policy dialogue developed since 2009 by the World Bank and the Government of Colombia to improve Colombia's decentralisation process, the Bank identified CVAs as a mechanism with high potential to improve transparency and accountability in the execution of public investments, as well as to empower communities to voice their demands."[25]

The World Bank subsequently provided the financing and support to make this happen. “The grant contributed to consolidation of CVAs as a mechanism of communities' oversight of public investments in different sectors such as education, health and water infrastructure. Finally, it proved that CVAs can be a useful mechanism for extractive industries to channel their corporate responsibility efforts."[26]

Finally, there was very positive uptake and involvement from the private sector, local authorities and local communities involved in evaluating CVA projects. The degree of cooperation between the various stakeholders made the initiative work smoothly:

  • “Communities' requests made authorities and contractors visit communities to explain details of the investments; made contractors deliver the public works' guarantees to authorities; asked for the completion of works in the approved timeline and that authorities commit to do it; and made contractors hire local workers...

  • "Communities committed to contribute to public works' maintenance; they demanded the identification of public works' beneficiaries, and information on financing and tariffs.

  • "Authorities agreed to organise workshops to explain the public works financing as well as the structure of tariffs...

  • "The evaluations of the role of local government officials that helped manage the project were also found to be positive."[27]

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