What does changing the status quo in public procurement mean to you?
Changing the status quo in the public procurement landscape would mean prioritizing open dialogue and co-creation among government agencies, businesses, civil society actors, academia, media, citizens and other on-the-ground actors, to develop new and effective solutions to various existing social challenges. Most contracting efforts continue to happen in silos and remain opaque, increasing the risk of corruption, market concentration, and inefficient outcomes. This often results in a substandard quality of public service delivery and infrastructure, posing the greatest threat to vulnerable populations and citizens at large. With proactive efforts towards building more open and participatory public procurement processes, we can enhance data-driven planning, increase local innovation, and support MSMEs from diverse backgrounds. These efforts will open up new avenues of socioeconomic growth and resilience for India and other developing countries.
COVID-19 showed us more than ever that the status quo isn’t working. What’s the #1 procurement lesson you’ve learned over the past year of the pandemic?
India was badly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 34 million cases and 462,000 reported deaths. The whole public health infrastructure was shaken-up, drastically impacting marginalized communities and slowing down the overall supply chain in the country. Through our work on Himachal Pradesh’s Health Procurement Performance Index(HPPI), we identified several systematic gaps in public procurement related to health, water, and sanitation at a district-level. It’s a clarion call to invest more in fiscal reforms, open contracting practices, and build robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Government agencies can start small by better managing their public procurement information through activities like: adopting open data standards, publishing timely procurement data, creating project registries, conducting pre-bid meetings, and enabling community-led audits. Such efforts will soon translate into increased citizen trust and participation in the entire contracting process.
What is the #1 question you would ask before trying to reform a public procurement system?
Are there enough key stakeholders that are ready to co-create a pilot reform with their limited resources, capacity, and time? And based on the experience of the pilot, are they prepared to unlearn and charter together on a journey of bringing more data-driven transformations to the procurement landscape?
What is one thing you would say to an open contracting reformer who wants to break with tradition?
My suggestion would be to start with a small prototype and work with the global community to show some early results to your target audience. Demonstrate your key learnings and analysis to local government officials and on-the-ground partners, get their critical feedback, and gradually build these partnerships to plan a robust procurement reform in your region. Setting up open contracting practices generally takes time, so do stay patient and perseverant. And whenever you feel stuck, please reach out. We—the global open contracting community—are just a ping away.
If public procurement was a sport, which one do you think it would be and why?
As I am learning more about public procurement, the more I see it being a multidisciplinary team sport, much like Kabaddi—a contact team sport played in the Indian subcontinent. Kabaddi is played between two teams and the objective of the game is for a single player on offense, referred to as a “raider”, to run into the opposing team’s half of a court, touching out as many of their defenders as possible, and returning to their own half of the court, all without being tackled by the defenders, and in a single breath.
In the context of public procurement, I imagine several malpractices being on one team and the community of procurement reformers on the other end. Every now and then, we observe a new procurement malpractice or a crucial problem emerges, and like a plague it will try to infect as many ongoing contracting efforts as possible. Thus, it becomes our duty, as the wider open contracting community, to strategize and work collaboratively to reduce contact with these malpractices and tackle them in due time to win the game.