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Dodgy deals or disclosure: Towards more transparency in government spending

Foto: DFATD. Access to education. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When schools are build to substandard specifications in an earthquake zone, disasters are bound to happen. In Sichuan, China, contractors built schools in a cheaper and shoddier way than the government allegedly planned for. In 2008, disaster struck, killing over 5000 students and teachers. The government later arrested parents for protesting, not the contractors. This is happening again, and again. In Padang, Indonesia. In Haiti. No one benefits, except the contractors. 

Governments around the world spend about US$ 9.5 trillion on contracts that provide vital infrastructure, goods and services to citizens. But all too often these deals turn dodgy. Sometimes with deadly consequences.

Why is corruption still blocking the way? And what can be done about it?

In an upcoming workshop at the 16th IACC, we at the Open Contracting Partnership and our co-hosts from the World Bank have gathered an illustre group of changemakers and activists to share lessons from the frontline around the world. We will share how to open up data on government contracts data and look at how this data can be used to hold governments accountable, improve services, track results, and engage citizens.

The promise of open data for government contracts

At the Open Contracting Partnership, we believe that everyone will benefit from full information on government contracts and access to standardized, timely and comparable data about contracting as well as being able to see public contracts themselves. Governments get better value for their money, citizens the services they deserve, and good business will have a fairer chance at getting that government contract.  

When everyone has the same information to act on, the promise of open data becomes real. Preventing corruption from happening in the first place through a fair, transparent and monitored process is the best way to keep government procurement clean.

During the workshop, Transparency International Georgia will give an overview of how they used technology to make public procurement transparent and how they are keeping an eye on government contracts.

The Open Contracting Partnership’s Open Contracting Data Standard is the most comprehensive and open tool to classify and share contract data. We’ll be sharing our experiences of implementing it in countries such as Paraguay or the Ukraine. Governments are boosting accountability and saving money: you don’t see that everyday.  

Open data is not without its challenges. Nisha Thompson of Data{Meet} will share her experience, which highlights the the need for capacity building and supporting journalists in using the data. She’ll also offer some great examples on contract monitoring in India.  

How to get citizen engagement in public procurement right

A public procurement process is not complete without participation from citizens.

Opportunities need to exist to watch over the shoulders when government and private sector sketch and seal a deal. And not only watch, but provide feedback and make sure government acts on it.

During the last decade, civil society organizations and citizens’ groups have started demanding access to information about contracts to monitor different stages of public procurement. Thanks to the availability and reach of ICT and a movement towards open data, the ask for more openness in public contracting was pushed further.

Governments are beginning to see how critical it is to not only respond to these kind of questions, but also to collaborate with citizens to make real changes.

The Philippines has been a leader in engaging with civil society and in opening up procurement data over the last decade, generating a wealth of knowledge and lessons. This crucial question of how to work together will be complemented by  Transparencia Mexicana’s year-long experience of monitoring government contracts.

Finally, we are looking forward to key insights from Malaysia and Nicaragua on the challenges in their countries.

I hope you will be able to join us in Malaysia! Make sure to follow us @opencontracting and #16IACC and get in touch with questions and if you’d like more information. I will also present our work in one of the tech talks, so I will be looking forward to seeing you there too.

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