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Open letter to the leaders of the Americas

Open government is not a one-off reform, but a way of delivering inclusive, sustainable democracy together with citizens. Public contracting represents governments’ number one corruption risk. In the face of global instability and fiscal challenges, leaders must double down, not slow down, on making sure public money is spent openly in the public interest.

This year’s IX Summit of the Americas takes place against the backdrop of a fragile recovery from the pandemic and an uncertain economic and political future. From masks to ventilators to vaccines, transparency standards in public procurement in many countries slid backwards during the pandemic, with governments failing to account for their emergency and recovery spending, despite the warnings by civil society in the region. Some governments failed to buy with transparency and accountability, sacrificing the progress made by the region over the last years.

Latin America can show the world what’s possible when you open up government to citizen participation powered by data and digital transformation. So let’s look back at the road from Lima to Los Angeles and the many things that went right to inspire us to double down on what works: open government. 

Building on the Lima Commitment at the VIII Summit of the Americas, countries in the region made progress in advancing reforms to fight corruption in the procurement of goods, public services and public works. According to the Citizen Anticorruption Observatory, governments count with policies and legislation for 65% of the commitments to prevent corruption in public procurement. Governments also presented advancements on the implementation of a little less than half of them. 

Where governments have shown a real commitment to open contracting, they have been able to deliver better public services for their citizens. When transparency, open data and collaboration between government, civil society and business happened, we saw real results. 

In Chile, open data and civic monitoring enabled reforms to medicine procurement processes that led to increased competition and a drop in drug prices, saving millions of dollars for the government and citizens. In Paraguay, procurement digitization and availability of open data across the entire procurement cycle has increased the amount of resources devoted to schools serving low-income students. In Ecuador, the collaboration between government and civil society enabled opening up procurement during the COVID emergency, which in turn helped identify and raise legal cases against questionable awards. In Argentina, open data and the implementation of digital tools for the publication, procurement and monitoring of public contracts and public works strengthened social control. In Mexico, being a federation, public contracting is decentralized. Civil society monitoring at the federal and municipal level catalyzed some state governments to publish open data on its emergency spending and economic impacts on dedicated microsites.

Now more than ever, the region’s leaders must renew their commitment to open contracting reforms to make sure public spending delivers and no money is wasted. 

We call on the Organization of American States and participating member state governments to renew and strengthen their commitment to open contracting. As a coalition of regional civil society organizations driving this agenda, we’ve identified four top priorities to serve as a starting point:

  1. Increase the availability and quality of open data on public contracts from planning to implementation, including vaccines and COVID-19 treatment, enabling citizen monitoring and participation throughout, with extra attention paid to emergency procurement.
  2. Strengthen public procurement digitization efforts by improving the interoperability of e-procurement systems and open contracting data with the wider systems used for public financial management.
  3. Regulate conflicts of interest with accessible registers and incorporate beneficial ownership interest information of contracted companies in procurement data and publish this information through the public contracting portals.
  4. Clearly define what constitutes an exceptional or emergency procurement, providing justification and documentation for any special procedures used and why these are in the public interest, and strengthen institutional capacity for the use and control of these purchases.

One of the ways to address the implementation gap is by expanding the scope and financing of the Inter-American Open Data Program to Prevent and Combat Corruption, PIDA, an outcome of the Lima Declaration of the VIII Summit of the Americas.

We are ready to help, and propose convening procurement experts, open government civil society organizations, and the private sector to build a road map for advancing implementation of open contracting and open government commitments.

We will continue to work tirelessly to sustain and progress the open government agenda for a recovery that is transparent, fair, sustainable and equitable for the many, not the few.

Signing organizations:

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