Blog

From bottom-up energy to sustainable impact: open contracting in Latin America

18 Dec 2017

By Gavin Hayman

Latin America continues to be the hotbed of open contracting. Some of the earliest implementations of open contracting have been in the region as has some its most striking impact. The largest infrastructure project on the continent, the new international airport in Mexico, is publishing its contracts through the Open Contracting Data Standard including through a handy data dashboard to provide a quick overview of the project. Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, and Uruguay have shown a commitment to publish open contracting data and engage with stakeholders in its design and use.

Meanwhile, civil society and others have been pushing for both improved data and more accountable procurement processes as a key part of their drive to foster government accountability. In Paraguay, citizens and journalists have been using open data to hold their politicians to account, exposing padded, ‘golden’ contracts for everyday products. In Mexico, PODER has been working with journalists to analyze the airport data, highlight missing information and visualize connections with the owners of contracted companies. Transparencia Mexicana, a pioneer in using open contracting to lead the conversation on publishing data, has just established a partnership with industry associations to work with construction companies in Mexico to a similar end.

The field of actors in the region besides the OCP is impressive: IDRC and Avina, the Latin American Open Data Initiative (ILDA) and ALTEC, the World Bank and Hivos are just some of the regional actors. ILDA, the leading network for open data in Latin America has been both an advocate and a technical expert supporting the regional expansion of our technical helpdesk for implementing the Open Contracting Data Standard. The Interamerican Network for Government Procurement (RICG), hosted by the Organization of American States, has just established an open contracting working group for its government members. Its first study explores the status of implementation in 10 countries in the region.

At the OCP, we are excited to see so many actors taking on this issue. One of our objectives is to put ourselves out of business, and a thriving ecosystem of actors and interventions is a key part of that.

While we have continued to be present at some of the most relevant meetings in the region throughout 2017, we have encouraged others to lead. A lot of our partners though have told us this might have been too early.

The feedback to us has been pretty clear, especially at the OGP regional meeting and our global meeting Open Contracting 2017 in Amsterdam. Despite its impressive progress, the field is still new. We need to find the right balance of empowering new actors in this conversation and being present and using our leverage and ‘brand’ to ensure the best possible breadth and depth to open contracting interventions.

Fabrizio Scrollini, our ‘partner in crime’, has reflected on his expectations for Latin America in a recent blog post: “The path [for open contracting in Latin America] will depend heavily on the puzzle configuration of politics, infrastructure and use to advance changes in the society, and crucially the involvement of an important part of the private sector in this agenda. (…) We believe there is still a need to contribute to collective learning, knowledge transfer and expectations in this field, that should involve governments and the society at a regional and national level.”

Our allies want help in engaging with the scale and scope of open contracting projects, especially as they touch so many parts of government (and need to bring so many actors together), they want systematic approaches to improve and monitor the quality of open contracting data, and better links and a more sustained process to engage movers and shakers in the region’s government modernisers. Given the growing diversity of players, people naturally also want to make sure that everyone stays linked up and add the most value. And that the knowledge and insight, what works and what doesn’t, is shared effectively.   

Message received loud and clear!

One of our next steps will be to hire a senior manager to lead the charge of open contracting in the region. Another will be to bring together a critical mass of players from the region together in the first quarter of the year to co-design a systematic regional strategy for open contracting.

So we want to hear from you. We want your ideas, your participation, your proposals. We are just in the process of recruiting our regional leaders, and they will front this. That said, there is no time to engage like the present. Georg will be based out of Colombia over Christmas and January, and Katherine is in Mexico so write to us. We would love to hear your thoughts.

This is a perfect time to nail a regional master plan. Latin America will be in the worlds’ spotlight next year with Argentina leading the G20. And, the region will see over ten elections, meaning a lot of political change. Some of that will be challenging, others will open up new opportunities. Together, we can make sure open contracting can be a story of positive change and social transformation that lasts embedded beyond the region’s fast-changing political landscape.