In the past couple of weeks, news about fraudulent tendering processes has been making headlines. The scourge of flawed procurement processes has denied many Kenyans crucial services such as health, education, water and infrastructure amongst others. While discussions in public discourses lightly delve on proper mechanisms to fight corruption, billions of taxpayers’ money continue to be lost in corrupt procurement schemes. It’s a dim picture of closed contracting processes riddled with a culture of informal influence in decision making and dominated by the political and economic elite.
Dodgy deals can be unmasked through transparency
According to statistics from the Uwezo Fund, public procurement deals in Kenya are estimated to be worth Kshs. 1.6 trillion (US$ 15.4 billion) involving the supply of essential goods and services to citizens in all counties. Essentially, efficient public procurement is often the biggest indicator of socio-economic transformation.
The issue of public procurement in Kenya has proven to be perverse over the years. While the government has been keen on fast-tracking major reforms to enable efficient procurement procedures in contracting, far much more needs to be done to realize some of the gains envisaged in the existing legal frameworks such as the Integrity Act, the Procurement and Asset Disposal Act and the Public Service Act. It’s also worth noting at this point that Kenya has widely been recognized for being amongst the pioneer countries in Africa to establish the first ever Open Data portal. So it’s not a question of non-existent policies or systems to increase accountability and efficiency in procurement processes but rather the critical steps that can be taken using the existing frameworks to wade off corruption.
Let’s start from unearthing what public contracting entails: government spending through companies to deliver essential services to citizens. It’s often deemed as a dull, complicated and technical process on paper with little public scrutiny. Huge transactions are usually made in secrecy making it vulnerable to corrupt deals. This is where the usefulness of the revolutionary open data comes in to increase transparency. Innovative approaches such as open contracting offer a solution where government deals are open to the public and transparent enough in a bottom-up approach where citizens can demand accountability.
The power of open contracting in fighting corruption
Open contracting, though not an end in itself in fighting corruption, is about publishing and using open and accessible information on government contracting to engage citizens and businesses in identifying and fixing problems.
This new approach, vital in improving the efficiency and transparency of public procurement systems, is useful in detecting fraud and corruption, encouraging competition for public contracts, demonstrating value for money and monitoring service delivery. It further provides data of the contracting process from planning to implementation; including termination.
At the UK Anti-Corruption Summit in 2016, 14 countries committed to implementing the Open Contracting Data Standard. The government of Kenya- a member of the OGP- adopted open contracting as part of its anti-corruption measures to curb corruption resulting from procurement irregularities in its Open Government Partnership action plan.
Open contracting can complement existing systems such as the open data portal and the Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS) to convert data into usable information using actors such as infomediaries. The translated data can be actioned upon by the citizens, government, and businesses.
The private sector recently endorsed a landmark legislation; the Anti-Bribery Act 2016 which will be a great tool for fighting corruption. With a huge role to play in advancing a good business environment, the private sector can promote open contracting to fight nepotism and corruption. This will, in turn, enhance a robust relationship between the private sector and government that will drive new markets and create business opportunities for marginalized companies and groups such as the youth, women, and persons with disabilities.
With the latest development in freedom of information; the new Access to Information Act 2016 has the potential to promote a culture of responsiveness and improve delivery of services. In such instances, citizens can use this new law to monitor public contracts especially when it comes to misappropriation of funds. Open contracting comes into the picture by giving citizens comprehensible data which is published at all stages of the contracting processes. With such a system in place, as a citizen, I am justified to get answers to questions like, ‘’Why doesn’t my local clinic have medicine until now yet the tender was awarded two years ago?’’
Open contracting has proven useful in countries such as Slovakia where publishing of government contracts in re-usable formats has been beneficial in exposing wasteful spending and enabling a healthy business environment for competition.
In Kenya, a culture of openness triggered by approaches such as open contracting could significantly improve the quality of life of citizens. Open contracting is not only good for business but development.
Photo: By Hansueli Krapf [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons