28 March 2023 –
Our world runs on public contracts and public procurement is the government’s number one corruption risk, as the Open Contracting Partnership likes to remind us. This renowned organization, and a member of the UNCAC Coalition, takes an open government and open data approach to rethinking public procurement so it becomes fairer and more inclusive. It empowers governments to buy transparently, effectively and efficiently, to achieve better results for our communities and businesses.
As anti-corruption organizations, we have much to benefit from understanding the principles and the approach of open contracting for our work to prevent corruption in public procurement. We will also have the opportunity this year to advocate on these issues at the global level in the forthcoming 10th Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (10th UNCAC CoSP) taking place from 11-15 December 2023. This is why we organized a training session by the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) for the UNCAC Coalition Europe network, on March 9.
Following members’ demands, the workshop focused on two areas: advocacy capacity building and public procurement open data. Coming from about 15 European countries, the 25 participants in the session were guided by two trainers from OCP, Kristen Robinson, Head of Advocacy, and Camila Salazar, Lead Data Analyst, as well as by Karolis Granickas, Head of Europe.
Advocacy opportunities for national and global advocacy in 2023
The first part, led by Kristen Robinson, was dedicated to advocacy strategies. Our framework for public procurement in the UNCAC is Article 9. Public procurement and management of public finances, which addresses public information on tenders, clear bidding terms, timely information, internal controls for risk management, conflict of interests provisions, and systems of appeal. However, it leaves aside contract implementation which is precisely where OCP wants to look, as well as shifting the focus to an “open by default” policy so that we have open, standardized data throughout the procurement cycle. In this sense, technological developments are an ally for reforms as they enable fully electronic procurement processes, which are more efficient and with more opportunities for detecting corruption risks.
According to OCP’s assessment, most information in public procurement should be public and cannot arguably be classified as confidential. In the first place, citizens have the right to know how their tax and the state’s public resources are spent and how services are delivered. However, when looking at the European context, OCP’s experience is that the “business case” for transparent public procurement resonates with governments better than public interest arguments. Effective advocacy could focus on how companies lose opportunities and are impacted by corruption in public procurement and how open contracting engages businesses.
To build political momentum ahead of the 10 CoSP, participants learned from Kristen about insights, tools, and arguments that can be used by civil society activists who would like to champion open contracting principles with their governments and other stakeholders. In particular, OCP has developed an Open Contracting Advocacy Toolkit that can be adapted to every country and context and help organizations identify opportunities for reform, design their strategy and messaging, implement tactics, and overcome the most common barriers.
What can open contracting data do for anti-corruption activists?
The second part of the session led by Camila Salazar demonstrated why open data matters, where to find open public procurement data published using the Open Contracting Data Standard and how to use it. That is, what methodologies and datasets are available for civil society organizations to monitor procurement, prevent corruption and empower citizens to hold governments more accountable.
Availability of public procurement data and information differs, as data from the Global Data Barometer demonstrates. And this happens even in the European Union context in which electronic procurement has made considerable progress: often there is some information, but specific data are missing or are not processable, especially for contracts below the threshold value that makes publication of the tender mandatory. Since “we cannot manage what we cannot measure”, the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) promotes the use by governments of a “common language” on what information to collect, publish and in which format. This helps not only governments manage public procurement and identify gaps, but also businesses and civil society wanting to access the data and allows for inter country analyses. The OCDS touches upon every phase of the cycle, with an emphasis on disaggregated information.
The OCP Data Registry is the most comprehensive source for civil society organizations wishing to get started and look at their country’s or at regional procurement data. The portal created by OCP with standardized data enables filters of the data based on different criteria, provides a description of the source and overview of the processes covered by the data, and links to the publisher’s page.
Analyzing data is also about asking the right questions In drawing the session to a close, Camilla recommended that when trying to understand and prevent corruption, we should not only look at the scandals, but to investigate further, as scandals often point to systemic problems. There are numerous examples of governments and civil society partners in Europe and beyond who are using OCP’s methodologies and guidance. As a key takeaway from this session, we are reminded that advocacy for public procurement reform which has the most impact always builds on evidence and reliable data.
We are planning more sessions for other regions – watch this space!