This is part of a new series of country data reviews looking at progress in publishing and using open contracting data by our partners. We will focus on: i) what the goal of using the data is; ii) what progress has been made so far; and iii) what’s working and what the challenges have been.
This blog looks at Afghanistan’s efforts to implement the OCDS to tackle corruption. We take a deep dive into the data available on the public procurement agency’s new open contracting platform, which is one of the government’s key tools in its efforts to reform the public procurement system.
In a very challenging context, Afghanistan has begun publishing Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) data to its new public procurement portal AGEOPS. The initiative is part of a campaign to tackle corruption in public procurement, launched by President Ashraf Ghani after he was elected in 2014. The National Procurement Authority (NPA) also has a dedicated team of open contracting data technicians in-house that regularly makes improvements to the portal and proactively engages with support providers at the Open Contracting Partnership and our helpdesk.
To understand how the OCDS data from AGEOPS could help support the goal of curbing corruption and other potential uses of the data, we downloaded the full dataset from AGEOPS in January 2020 and calculated some basic metrics on public contracting in Afghanistan. The data covers 6,952 contracting processes involving 71 procuring entities and 1,392 suppliers. Data is disclosed at the planning, contract and implementation stages and includes some information at all stages of the contracting process, to varying degrees of coverage. Much of the data relates to the implementation stage of the contracting process – publication of which is typically less common than tender and award information – and includes more than 28,000 milestones, 8,000 documents and 4,000 transactions. Note the slight variances from the metrics from the OCDS dataset and the live AGEOPS portal: the former is from a point in time, and the latter includes live data not yet exported as OCDS.
The public procurement challenges in Afghanistan can’t be overstated: rampant corruption, mafia-run companies, donor fatigue, and severe instability which affects project implementation, maintenance and monitoring. With very limited resources, the government must prioritize projects that have a realistic chance of success and develop transparent mechanisms for engaging with businesses and community groups. Since 2014, Afghanistan has introduced a series of procurement reforms, including the creation of the country’s first ever national procurement authority, to professionalize and modernize procurement processes and practices. Open contracting and open government commitments have been used as vehicles for delivering these reforms and tracking their implementation. We look at the influence these reforms are having on the public procurement system in a feature story here.
Progress in publishing open contracting data
Afghanistan has been publishing OCDS data since August 2018, with a focus on detecting corruption. In its open contracting commitments, the country pledged to set up a dedicated procurement portal. So far, the procurement agency has upgraded its existing system, the Procurement Management Information System (PMIS), to publish OCDS data via a new portal, the Afghanistan Government Electronic Open Procurement System (AGEOPS). This portal allows users to search, download and visualize procurement contracts, applying the Open Contracting Partnership’s releases and records model. It also publishes a change history of the contracting processes so that any modifications or new steps in the process are visible. A dedicated AGEOPS OCDS portal provides individual downloads of releases and records, bulk monthly downloads and an API.
Data availability & quality
Please note: While Afghanistan is continuously working to improve the quality and completeness of its open contracting data, we cannot make any guarantees as to the accuracy of the information in this data analysis; any findings should be verified with the National Procurement Authority.
The data contains information on 3,185 contracts with start dates ranging between October 2007 and January 2020 and end dates ranging between September 2006 and September 2023. This discrepancy between the earliest start and end dates suggests that there are some issues with data quality or completeness for contract periods in the data.
Buyers & Suppliers
The data contains 71 unique procuring entity names. Most procuring entities are identified using an identifier drawn from the Afghanistan Chart of Accounts register (AF-COA), however some procuring entities do not have an identifier. Some procuring entities also share the same identifier, in which case one may be a department or unit of the other.
These are the contracting processes for the top 10 procuring entities in the data, showing the وزارت دفاع ملی or National Defence Ministry, as the largest procurer:
The data contains details of 1,392 suppliers. Most suppliers are identified using an organization identifier drawn from the Afghanistan Tax Identification Number (AF-TIN) registers, however there are some examples of invalid identifiers (e.g. AF-TIN-0, AF-TIN-), which suggests organization identifiers may not be validated at source against the register.
The top supplier with 53 awards (out of a total of 3,362 awards) is the Afghan Telecom Company.
The data on contract implementation includes more than 28,000 milestones, 8,000 documents and 4,000 transactions. Providing data on implementation transactions allows data users to track both fine-grained and aggregated details of the spending transactions made against contracts. As a fine-grained example, the chart below shows the cumulative value of transactions and the total value of a contract between the Department of Finance and the Shiladiyeh Societe Enk for advisory services for supervision of Kabul highway reconstruction at Jalalabad with an ID of MPW/1527/ADB/QCBS.
Note: We found that transactions between 2014 and May 2017 for this contract appeared to be duplicated. Duplicates (based on date and transaction value) were removed to produce the above analysis.
Aggregated implementation transactions give a view of the scale of contracting processes captured in OCDS. Here is a summary of the published data on transactions for 3 currencies, AFN, USD and EUR, converted to USD:
Note: For convenience, we converted all currencies to USD at the current exchange rate (January 2020), however for more accurate results currency conversion should be based on the date of each transaction. Duplicates (based on date and transaction value) were removed to produce the above analysis.
We noted a number of transactions in the data where the currency was not stated, so these were excluded from the conversion. Omitting the currency from the data means that it is not possible to get a complete picture of spending.
Recently, NPA has been working with the OCDS Helpdesk, engaging with questions and clarifications, to map more fine-grained detail on implementation milestones using the OCDS metrics extension [https://extensions.open-contracting.org/en/extensions/metrics/master/]. This will enable users to understand the planned and actual progress of contract implementation, both in terms of physical and financial progress.
Afghanistan’s OCDS data includes documents as well as data: 16,150 documents attached to the contract section, and 8,112 documents attached to the implementation section.
Publishing documents as well as data is important because they allow end-users to perform detailed scrutiny of contracting processes, which is particularly relevant for detecting fraud and corruption, a priority goal for Afghan stakeholders.
What can’t we tell from the data yet?
Although data on 6,952 tenders was published, only the following fields are provided:
This limits some uses of the data, for example, it isn’t possible to understand what procurement method was used or how many bidders a tender attracted. Afghanistan is also planning to expand the awards section data in the future.
Finer-grained detail about which items are being purchased is not available since Afghanistan does not yet provide item-level details in tender, award or contract stages using an item classification scheme. This detail would allow end-users to calculate what types of goods, works, and services the government spends money on, as shown in our recent blog on Buenos Aires. However, we should note that Buenos Aires uses a local classification scheme, which supports comparisons between different contracting processes within the city, but not with data from other jurisdictions/publishers. For Afghanistan, as can be seen from the implementation section, more data on milestones such as date modified, title and description would provide further opportunities for analysis.
The system uses a mix of legacy and new electronic government procurement (eGP) modules to cover the entire procurement cycle, which does have its challenges; for example, a lack of shared identifiers (unique ID numbers for each contracting process) across modules makes linking up data more difficult.
Finally, while organization identifiers are provided for all organizations, there is room for improvement in how these are modeled in some cases, for example by ensuring that all award suppliers are listed in the parties array in compiled releases.
The NPA is constantly working on upgrades to the system that we hope will address these issues and will continuously improve the quality and completeness of Afghanistan’s open contracting data.
This blog covers Afghanistan’s progress so far in opening up public procurement. Starting from a ‘fantastically corrupt’ environment, reformers have put due processes in place and are working to create a transparent, integrated procurement environment that now covers all above- and below-threshold procurement. However positive, reforms have been volatile and faced continuous challenges against mafia networks, vested interests and security risks. But early results are promising, suggesting a total of AFN 58 billion (US$740 million) in savings. Where accompanied by civil society monitoring – now a component for the second wave of open contracting reforms – studies have shown that scrutiny of public procurement has an impact on service delivery.
“Fighting corruption, playing with crocodiles,” reads the Skype status of Afghan anti-corruption campaigner Ikram Afzali.
For a decade and a half, Afzali has been working to root out graft in one of the most corrupt countries in the world. With a budget hemorrhaging money, a fragile government, and a four-decade-long conflict with no end in sight, it’s hard to overstate how challenging the environment is. But Afzali isn’t deterred.
“If you have to live among the crocodiles, you’re going to have to tame them if you can,” he explains on a call from his office in Kabul.
Afzali is the head of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, an organization that uses transparency to help “tame” the so-called corrupt crocodiles that threaten the country’s future, shining a light on their predatory behavior and the murky swamps in which they breed.
Improving public procurement is key to his work. The reason? “Crocodiles eat the big meat,” says Afzali. Public procurement accounts for a massive amount of Afghanistan’s public spending, up to 50% of its budget or as much as 33% of its GDP. For over a decade, Integrity Watch has been monitoring the implementation of public contracting projects at the community level, checking the quality of new roads and smaller construction works like schools and clinics, and where possible, their adherence to the original project specifications.
“We saw a lot of bad procurement, especially by international forces,” says Afzali. “A lot of Provincial Reconstruction Teams [or PRTs, which were responsible for rebuilding efforts at the local level] were doing all these contracts and nobody knew about them. In some places, they were just handing over money to people to do projects. So the construction quality was very, very low most of the time. People were complaining about the quality and the fact that buildings… were already falling apart immediately after they were constructed.”
And it’s not just buildings; the highway ring road project connecting northern Afghanistan to the western provinces is perhaps one of the most vivid examples of the country’s problems with procurement. In 2002, after the fall of the Taliban government, there were just 50 kilometers of paved roads in Afghanistan. Building roads was put at the heart of the strategy to rebuild the economy. The north-west section of the ring road, a project funded by the Asian Development Bank, had the potential to link underdeveloped but important farming regions to the Central Asian market. But the contract was canceled and the road was never built. The American-Turkish firm outsourced almost the entire project to subcontractors. After complaining about security issues, they left Afghanistan without completing the job, reportedly pocketing an advance of US$107 million, 25% of the total contract value. The continued lack of roads affects almost every aspect of Afghan lives, from the war effort and trade, right down to the distribution of medicines. In 2014, the newly formed National Unity Government, as a first case, took the American-Turkish joint venture to the Singapore International Arbitration Centre; the case is now in its last stages of arbitration.
Around five years ago, Integrity Watch began dealing with procurement at the central level, after President Ashraf Ghani invited them to become civil society observers of the newly established central oversight body, the National Procurement Commission (NPC). The NPC reviews all government contracts over US$1 million and includes as members the heads of key ministries and the Chief Executive Officer Dr Abdullah Abdullah, with Ghani as Chair. Meeting on a weekly basis, the commission jointly decides whether to approve or reject each contract, and all their decisions are made public. In the past, says Afzali, whilst civil society groups focused on the technical issues in public procurement, all the policy decisions were mainly made by international donors and the Afghan government. It seems a positive step that civil society is now invited to observe the decision-making process, even if they do not feed directly into the decisions themselves. Although, with the NPC being led by politicians, critics say its decisions are prone to being influenced by political considerations as well as technical, legal and economic ones.
Sweeping transparency reforms
When running for office in 2014, Ghani promised to reform public procurement to boost economic growth, effectively manage public spending and root out corruption, saying these factors were critical to addressing Afghanistan’s security challenges. The procurement commission was one of a series of changes introduced by the government during President Ghani’s first term (with the results of the recent elections disputed, it remains unclear whether he will secure a second term).
The job of reforming the procurement system was entrusted to Yama Yari, a former civil engineer in his mid-thirties. Yari trained in the UK after fleeing from the Taliban as a teenager, returning in 2012 to set up Afghanistan’s first railway authority. After witnessing the widespread corruption in government, Yari proposed launching the country’s first ever national procurement authority (NPA) to regulate state purchases, and did so successfully over a period of six months along with other industrious young Afghans. He has described it as “the most strenuous and difficult experience” of his life.
“We inherited, and I quote, a ‘fantastically corrupt’ system consisting of weak legal frameworks and fragmented institutions often parallel with government institutions,” Yari says. “These were the institutions set up by the international organizations to carry out procurement of the projects funded by them. At the same time, an intricate mafia network had formed over the years that colluded with corrupt elements within the government, taking advantage of an almost non-existing capacity in the civil service.”
The government also restructured some of the largest procuring entities, and introduced new legislation to make public procurement more efficient and transparent. Yari spearheaded the NPA’s adoption of open contracting and facilitated Afghanistan’s membership to international initiatives like the Open Government Partnership (OGP), often coordinating with Integrity Watch Afghanistan. These approaches became vehicles to increase transparency and actively involve business and community groups in public affairs. Other reforms included the creation of a radically transparent online procurement system, financed by the World Bank and launched in August 2018, which publishes data and documents on thousands of contracts for anyone to see, and a new access to information law that ranked as the best in the world in 2018. New regulations require all procuring entities to centralize their procurement via this portal.
Opinions are mixed on just how successful the ambitious reforms Ghani laid out in his election manifesto have been (as the president said himself, they’ve been “building a house while putting out a fire”). But there seems to be a general consensus that the procurement reforms are working, even in such a difficult environment, with the graft watchdog Transparency International describing the National Procurement Agency as a “bright spot” in Afghanistan’s efforts to fight corruption.
In the five years since the reforms were introduced, savings from procurement add up to around AFN 58 billion (US$740 million), according to government figures (calculated by subtracting the actual contract cost from the estimated cost). Authorities have published more than 3,000 contracts online and blacklisted 210 fraudulent companies. In 2019, the average number of bidders per tender for above-threshold projects facilitated by the NPA was 4.5 (on 377 tenders with 1,698 total bidders). For the first time, the public works ministry spends around 98% of its budget, up from around 47% over the last 17 years. Comprehensive figures on competition and other key performance indicators are set to be calculated by the NPA in the near future when Afghanistan introduces e-tendering. Over time, open contracting reforms will help to improve the accuracy of these estimates.
Open spending is wise & efficient spending
Yari believes the open contracting and open government approaches have fundamentally helped make the procurement reforms a success.
“It’s important to make sure that whatever resources we have, we spend them wisely, efficiently and transparently,” said Yari. “There are more than 30 million people out there and the money belongs to them. They have the right to know how the money is spent, and what difference it’s going to make in their lives.”
Having the OGP commitments and publicly tracking progress, he says, puts pressure on resistant partners to act. Transparency is also important for prioritizing realistic projects in a volatile environment, he adds, and winning the public’s support for them. He describes a case where these planning challenges were apparent.
“We have the money and the project and the contractor, but can’t implement. There was an incident last year; the Taliban attacked one of our contractors’ camps. They took 43 people, burnt down all the machinery, and we had to cancel the project. If we had factored in the security aspect [from the start]… we may have delayed the project for security reasons and spent the money somewhere else. Instead everyone lost,” says Yari, who served as director-general of the procurement agency for almost three years, before becoming Minister of Public Works in 2017, and subsequently Minister of Transport in December 2018.
Building relationships with businesses
Importantly, the NPA has brought a host of feedback and engagement approaches with Afghan stakeholders, particularly with the private sector to create incentives for companies to participate in public procurement and improve service delivery. This is a “total social change” notes the NPA’s Director for Private Sector Capacity Accreditation and Acting eGP Director Safiullah Kamawal, who says that in the past there was no way for public procurement officials to interact with the private sector in a formal and professional setting.
“I couldn’t even have a dialogue or a handshake; it was accused of being corruption,” Kamawal says.
The NPA has been working hard to build positive cross-sector relationships, establishing monthly business lunches in which business and industry representatives sit down with members of government and civil society. There is no set agenda for these three-hour meetings and each table includes a “procurement integrity director” to ensure the conversation remains above-board.
Another weekly event, “Transparency Thursday”, seeks to hold government leaders accountable, with the NPA’s chief executive answering questions from the private sector in the presence of civil society organizations and access to information commissioners.
“If there is something wrong, we try to fix it, and all those decisions are followed up,” Kamawal adds. “There has been a good shift in perceptions of procurement being limited to only a few companies, to the NPA being open to the private sector.”
AGEOPS: A powerful open data tool
The new procurement platform, the Afghanistan Government Electronic and Open Procurement System (AGEOPS), is a key tool in the government’s transparency arsenal. AGEOPS is modeled on a universal open data format, called the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), which is being used in a range of other innovative procurement reforms around the world. The OCDS allows data to be collected, centralized and published in a standardized and structured way, using a unique ID for each contracting process. Once the data is structured, it can be presented in visual formats, like charts, tables, and graphs, that explain what’s going on in procurement systems.
The AGEOPS platform’s easy-to-use interface allows users to search for detailed information about tenders and contracts awarded by government institutions dating back to 2010. According to an analysis conducted by the Open Contracting Helpdesk in January 2020, the database contains data and documents in OCDS format on 6,952 contracting processes involving 71 procuring entities and 1,392 suppliers (figures visible on the AGEOPS site may vary slightly because of differences in how the results are calculated) .
Users can also analyze key performance indicators through simple visualizations on the site’s business intelligence dashboards, such as contract value and number by province, award status, procurement type, amendments and challenges in contract implementation.
The creation of this open contracting portal is a huge achievement in itself, and a notable development when compared to Afghanistan’s old procurement system. This progress is a testament to the NPA’s dedication, despite facing some pushback from ministries reluctant to publish or move from a manual to digital system. The NPA’s staff has worked continuously on improving the system and engaged proactively with support providers from the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) and OCDS Helpdesk.
AGEOPS is also noteworthy for publishing a lot of information on contract implementation, which the NPA’s new director general, Alham Omar Hotaki, sees as “a first step required to tackle corruption and enhance service quality.” Mr Hotaki notes that implementation is the longest and most vulnerable stage of the contracting process.
Tracking contract implementation is particularly relevant in Afghanistan because the widespread use of informal subcontracting often contributes to the poor quality of projects. Afzali from Integrity Watch describes how their community monitoring projects revealed that companies who had relationships with the government or international forces were getting projects and selling them on to others, with this practice continuing for several layers. The firm that eventually implemented the project would see about 30% of the total payment, which they had to make up by cutting corners.
Afghanistan’s procurement law permits up to 20% of non-essential works to be subcontracted. But in practice, companies are subcontracting almost all of the projects, says Mohammad Naser Timory, Integrity Watch’s advocacy manager. This means small companies are forced to make informal agreements with the main contractors and have no legal recourse if there are contractual disputes. Better information on contract implementation and vendors could help the government detect issues early on and make adjustments, as well as helping to set better regulations for subcontracting at the policy level.
After successfully piloting the AGEOPS platform, the NPA plans to make further upgrades to the system, in particular adding more information on the planning stage of contracts to determine whether contracts are delivered according to plan and track spending against estimated costs. An e-tendering function is being developed, which will allow procurement deals to be carried out in real-time and reduce the risk of manual data entry errors or missing information thanks to automatic capture of the details in the database.
There are some rare exceptions when data isn’t published – when there are legitimate security, privacy or commercial confidentiality concerns – but transparency is the rule, says the NPA’s director general Hotaki.
“There is no such thing as ‘absolute confidentiality’ in procurement. We respect the privacy of businesses and personal data, but open the rest for the wellbeing of the society.”
Contract monitoring works so monitor contracts
The procurement agency hopes information from the portal will help communities understand public projects in their neighborhoods and alert central authorities when things aren’t going to plan. There’s an effective precedent for community monitoring in Afghanistan: a rigorous academic study of road works projects found that in neighborhoods where the community monitored the implementation of the project, new roads were of significantly higher quality and more durable. The randomized controlled trial, a robust evaluation methodology, showed that oversight by citizens had a positive effect on the whole road, not only the section near the monitors’ village. The paper attributed the effectiveness of the monitoring project to two complementary mechanisms. The first was information: the community could learn the quality of service provision because monitors were trained on technical features of construction quality and had access to documents with the original contract specifications. The second was enforcement: the community was given recourse to hold providers accountable because the program established regular meetings between the Afghan government, international donors, and the news media where it updated parties on its monitors’ reports and contractors’ performance.
Involving citizens in monitoring the reconstruction projects in their communities has a number of benefits. The central government lacks the capacity to effectively monitor all contractors and, like international donors, they often can’t send monitoring teams to many communities due to security concerns. Community monitoring relies on the power of strength in numbers, putting pressure on vested interests that they can’t ignore.
Integrity Watch’s community monitors currently rely on local contractors to share all the documentation about the contracts with them. Afzali hopes the AGEOPS portal will help them to cross-check the documents they gather locally against the central government’s records. Making the data available would also help Integrity Watch to analyze bigger contracts, like national-level projects approved by the NPA, and track their progress.
Integrity Watch has seen a significant change in how easy it is for community monitors to obtain documents from local contractors in recent years. They now have access to more than 90% of project documents at the site level, compared to around 20% when they started ten years ago. Afzali attributes this to the access to information law, which Integrity Watch helped draft. They referred to the Open Contracting Data Standard in the law, and added language to ensure every ministry is obliged to proactively publish information on as many important details about public contracts (before, during, and after) as possible. There is still a gap between the law and practice – but, local contractors provide them with the information most of the time, and if they don’t cooperate, the monitors can ask for information at the central level. “There is a culture of transparency in the making,” says Afzali.
Other groups that monitor major public projects have begun using the AGEOPS contracting data, such as CoST – the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative, which analyzes the data along with datasets from other government sources. Research by CoST shows that Afghanistan proactively publishes more infrastructure data since introducing the OCDS-based procurement system. Disclosure increased from 27% in 2018 to 36% in 2019, according to the organization’s most recent assurance report, a yearly review of the accuracy and completeness of data available on a sample of infrastructure projects with recommendations for improvement.
In addition to the NPA’s outreach with suppliers, the agency is collaborating with academic researchers and plans to use the findings, for example on contract implementation and vendor registration, to inform its own internal processes.
The government also committed to opening up data on beneficial ownership to understand who profits from public contracts and where there is a conflict of interest. But progress on this reform has been slow.
“Beneficial ownership is important anyway, but in our circumstances, it is particularly important,” says Integrity Watch’s Afzali. “There is a very blurred line between politics, crime, and business in Afghanistan. You would find some criminals have close relationships with politicians, [and] some politicians who are criminals at the same time but no one can touch them because they are too powerful. There are cases where contractors cannot implement a contract without being backed by a powerful person, like a militia or illegal arms group as they call them here. Mostly these are backed by MPs, for example.”
Integrity Watch’s biggest lesson from their engagement in public procurement in recent years is the importance of independent institutions. With the National Procurement Council composed of high-level politicians, there’s a risk of technical processes being politicized and resources being misused, says Afzali. And it leaves the government vulnerable to accusations of partiality, whether it’s the case in reality or not.
That said, the threat to anyone who dares to challenge unscrupulous power brokers is real – be that person a civilian, journalist, election candidate or civil servant. While Minister Yari was leading reforms at the public works ministry, insurgents attacked the premises, killing more than 40 staff and injuring 32 more. But it keeps him going knowing that he can make a difference to ordinary Afghan lives.
As President Ghani said, “lasting stability for Afghanistan is not the absence of bullets, it’s the fair application of the rule of law and the protection of citizens’ rights and freedoms”.
In the crocodile pit, progress is slow and hard-won, but thanks to the continued persistence of dedicated teams, both inside and outside government, reformers are edging closer to gaining the upper hand.
More than a dozen open-source tools now exist for publishing, analyzing, visualizing and working with government procurement data published according to the Open Contracting Data Standard. The great thing about many of these tools is that – theoretically – others can reuse them in new and different contexts instead of having to build new tools from scratch. But in reality, this doesn’t happen as much as you might expect. This blog explores what makes practitioners more likely to repurpose existing open contracting technologies, based on new research we did in partnership with the Open Contracting Partnership and the World Bank Procurement Global team. You can download the findings, as well as guidelines for tool re-users and tool developers at the end of this post.
In practice, these benefits are generally under-realized. In 2019, we looked more closely at why. What conditions enable successful re-use of open source tools in a new context, and what causes re-use attempts to be unsuccessful? What are the challenges encountered and how can they be surmounted?
Many factors that contributed significantly to success were related to support, learning and funding, including:
In-person support from the tool author or a support provider with in-depth knowledge of the tool: In almost every case of success we documented, whether in open contracting or in civic tech more generally, direct support played a crucial role – particularly where support was provided under contract and with dedicated funding.
Spaces and events where knowledge could be shared with others in the field: A key draw of re-use is the opportunity to become part of a global community of people involved in related work, grappling with similar challenges and potentially able to offer advice or support. Community-building spaces can include in-person events, GitHub, mailing lists and Google Groups.
Training and learning resources: More resources for new implementers are needed, particularly on a relatively intermediate level.
Adequate financing: This includes funding for costs such as developer time (for adaptation and implementation of the tool), project management, long-term maintenance and sustainability, and infrastructure.
Clear and thorough tool documentation: Clear, thorough documentation is key to successful re-use of a tool. Elements that help include statements on what a tool does and how it does it, a step-by-step outline of the setup process, reference materials, and use cases and examples. (More tips and resources can be found here).
Other findings were more closely related to open contracting tools themselves:
Tool re-users we interviewed generally expressed a preference for smaller, more modular tools that could be extended or used together, rather than complex platforms.
The barrier to entry for many tools was felt to be too high for many of the intended users of these tools, and interviewees noted a need for more web-based tools.
As the field of open contracting continues to grow and tools continue to be developed, organizations re-using tools are a critical part of the open contracting ecosystem. We hope that the following guidelines extend an invitation to new tool re-users, while also providing insights for existing practitioners.
We’re also always open to hearing your feedback! If you have thoughts you’d like to share, please send them to email@example.com.
Practical advice for potential re-users and tool authors
Tool re-use in open contracting: A Primer. For organizations interested in re-using an open contracting tool. It includes an introduction to some available tools, a step-by-step guide to help an organization formalize exactly what they need, and a detailed look at how to evaluate whether a tool is the right fit and whether the right conditions are in place for successful re-use of that tool.
Evaluation Matrix.A matrix designed to accompany the evaluation framework introduced in the primer.
When conducting investigations with data, we often want to explore something more than once: we might want to update the data quickly as the story develops, show whether new policies have an influence in practice, or simply be transparent about our method so others can understand the scope of the data and even perform the same analysis with other datasets. But working with public data can quickly become challenging when trying to reproduce or replicate results either in your own country or elsewhere.
The biggest challenges when working with government datasets include data that is in closed or the wrong formats (text instead of a number), poor data quality, data availability that is not guaranteed, data that is spread across multiple entities, and data standards that are not implemented properly.
Public procurement systems are constantly adapting and evolving and can impact data use. Earlier this year Colombia Compra Eficiente made adjustments to their system during which the open data on its contracts became unavailable for some days without prior notice to the users.
As open data systems adapt and evolve we need to keep the data clean so that our queries can run smoothly. To ensure that this burden does not increase, we at Red Palta started implementing practices of reproducible research in our data analysis workflows.
The importance of reproducible and replicable analysis of open contracting data
When we talk about being able to re-do our data analysis we must ask ourselves if the data structure we are analyzing is the same. If not, we will have to start from scratch or manipulate the data in a way that can be plugged into our predefined structures. This is one of the benefits of using data standards, such as the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) – it allows us to assume that our data has the same structure. With this, our analysis becomes reproducible: that is, when we input the same data we used in the past to the analysis or code, we can expect to get the same result as before. And the procedure is replicable if we can run the same analysis with different data (either containing new samples or all brand new data) that follows the same structure.
These concepts emerged originally in the context of science and specifically in open science, but they can easily be applied to analyze open contracting data.
One of the main objectives of Red Palta is to create reproducible and replicable frameworks to ease the work of journalists reporting on corruption issues using open contracting data. For the members of our network, this constitutes a great challenge to solve, as we face different scenarios that we have to account for technically to be able to streamline data analysis and visualization for our investigations.
The challenge is due to different contexts and levels of access to information in the participating countries. Some countries like Mexico have very good access to information laws, while others like El Salvador have little public openness. In countries like Colombia you can analyze large data dumps of public contract data, while in others like Peru, you must devise ways to bypass the lack of open information systems to have access to data in bulk. Even in countries where OCDS data is available like Colombia and Mexico, in practice, it is sometimes better to resort to a tabular format, which is more practical to work with. In countries where OCDS data is somewhat available, like Uruguay and Argentina, in practice it could not be used, as the data was either available only at the federal (Uruguay) or local (Buenos Aires) level only. Differences in the granularity of the data was also something to take into account, as some countries have detailed tender data and even item information at the contract level, while others did not.
Despite data discrepancies in journalistic investigations, open contracting data serves a great purpose at the exploration level to get different investigative leads, especially those pertaining to red flags in open contracting.
For this first series La Leche Prometida each media outlet presented an individual investigation.
In El Salvador, for example, the investigation showed that milk, destined for public schools, was not reaching all institutions. And in the case of the schools that did receive the milk, it was in powder form, without considering that many of these institutions do not have access to drinking water, according to the report.
In Peru and Guatemala, the investigation showed conflicts of interest and million-dollar contracts in the supply of this product. While in Uruguay, the issue had a more economic perspective. For example, the report said that the State has failed to grant subsidies to family farming enterprises, although the law allows it.
During the reporting period, Red PALTA members fed data into a database that would eventually allow them to discover patterns in the region: the role of transnational companies that are often the main beneficiaries such as Colombia and Mexico and the role milk plays in delivering social programs increasing the risks of being linked to political campaign financing, as the example of Grupo Nutresa’s contracts in Colombia shows, or nepotism when the political agenda benefits a family company as in Guatemala.
Connecting over the same issue across countries helped paint a more complete picture of the often complex regional realities and identify common angles.
Scaling Open Contracting Data Investigations
Finding common grounds for the investigations and data exchange only solves part of the equation. As we scale the fight for transparency and accountability we need to push for ways to streamline the process of transforming data into insights quickly enough for journalists to react. This is why implementing reproducible and replicable frameworks is crucial.
Here are some tips:
Use version control systems: set up repositories to track historic changes to the code being used for analysis.
Use literate programming when possible: Use executable documentation on the scripts and reports, that is, scripts that not only generate charts and graphs but that are inherently accompanied by documentation.
Automate testing: When doing reproducible analysis we not only need to ensure the data is the same, we also need to make sure the code is the same. Using versioned packages is desirable to replicate the exact computer environments and ensure the exact same code is running under the same conditions.
Publication: Having a workflow that allows you to easily re-run analysis and output intermediate reports is very valuable at the data exploration phase with the team of journalists or context experts. Once the analysis is approved we only need to run them with as much frequency as the data changes to be able to monitor possible research leads.
Here’s how we are applying this to Red Palta:
We use static site generators for all our reports. Red Palta’s site was built with Hugo. In the same repositories we keep the scripts to generate reproducible analysis, and we are working on making it more coherent as we develop further investigations. A lot of the code for the analysis and visualizations was done using the R language and reproducible reports using Rmd. Different software packages are being developed, tested and versioned, especially around data visualization and simplifying analysis of open contracting data.
Some others things we are tinkering with:
Interconexión: A protocol for exchanging information in a decentralized way with different civil society and journalism organizations in Latin America.
A joint repository of multiples public databases in different Latin American countries, curated and maintained by the members of the network.
We are still working on finding better ways to do version control, not only for the code but also for the data itself. Public data may appear and disappear for many reasons.
Ensuring data discoverability with the introduction of https://datatxt.org/ specifications in our workflows as a way to automate data exchanges.
OCP recently worked with the Presidency of Taiwan to hold an international hackathon, inviting participants from around the world to propose solutions for building better, more sustainable infrastructure, using open data. The event was a huge success, and we were very impressed with the smart and innovative work produced by all participants. We’re proud to feature the top teams’ projects in this blog series.
Honduras has mixed land uses and faces tough challenges in striking the right balance between development activities and environmental concerns. On many occasions, infrastructure projects have been developed without proper planning or consideration of environmentally sensitive locations. Additionally, there is often poor coverage of basic services, which in turn leads to social conflicts across the country.
CoST Honduras put together a team of policy and technical experts to brainstorm innovative ideas to help improve the planning process for infrastructure projects. From our early analysis, we discovered that infrastructure projects are often:
approved and built in inappropriate places including environmentally-vulnerable areas;
the cause of severe environmental impacts during construction, such as degradation and deforestation; and
compromised or damaged as a result of extreme weather events.
Upon closer inspection, we also discovered that in most cases, the criteria and/or reasons for granting environmental licenses for proposed infrastructure projects were unclear or in the worst cases unknown.
What we did
So we came up with an idea for a tool named INFRAS to provide detailed information on the environmental risks of proposed infrastructure projects (see system architecture below).
Our vision for INFRAS is to benefit government officials, the private sector and civil society representatives by
enhancing clarity and understanding of the extent of environmental violations;
improving decision-making and processes toreduce environmental impacts and risks;
identifying opportunities to develop more sustainable infrastructure projects.
This will prevent infrastructure projects from being built in environmentally-protected areas such as rainforests, or environmentally-hazardous areas like those prone to flooding or landslides.
In a first step, we collected data from different sources, including:
SISOCS – an infrastructure transparency portal disclosing data on 1,445 infrastructure projects across their whole project life cycle: from planning to completion. (In the near future, SISOCS will publish OC4IDS data);
SINEIA – the national system for Environmental Impact Assessment managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources;
Land use maps managed by the Institute of Forest Conservation that contain data on environmental licenses and protected areas; and
SINAGER – an early warning system run by the National Agency of Contingencies that provides maps on risks and vulnerabilities.
Using this data, we built INFRAS, a user-friendly tool with a visual analytics dashboard including an interactive ‘red flags’ map. In the concept phase, INFRAS shows:
Approved infrastructure projects and corresponding environmental licenses (or lack thereof);
Discrepancies between approved projects and environmental regulatory requirements;
Approved projects without environmental impact assessments (EIAs) or failures to disclose EIAs.
With INFRAS, citizens will gain access to more detailed information on infrastructure projects across Honduras and on the extent to which these projects comply with environmental regulations. We are also working on a public monitoring or feedback mechanism so that citizens can send real-time updates and observations on ongoing projects.
We presented our work at the Taiwan Presidential Hackathon and, along with the Mentadak Team from Malaysia, emerged as one of the two winning teams!
What we learnt
Some early results from the data sample fed into INFRAS were:
75% of approved infrastructure projects had been granted an environmental license
BUT 72% of projects with an environmental license (that is, 54% of all projects in the sample) showed inconsistencies or errors in the type of license granted (what was legally required vs what was granted);
76% of the projects with discrepancies were financed by national funds;
94% of the projects with discrepancies were managed by one procuring entity.
The remaining 25% of projects went ahead even though the required environmental licences had not been granted.
The hackathon also helped us to identify new extensions that can be added to the existing SISOCS platform and the Open Contracting 4 Infrastructure Data Standard, specifically those related to the environmental assessment within the project planning stage.
What we will do next
Our prototype was limited to identifying irregularities between environmental licensing requirements and licenses granted. However, we will expand this project to include additional parameters, such as data on forestry or environmentally-protected areas, as well as weather patterns, including the likelihood of extreme weather events that can cause landslides and floods. This will ensure proper evaluation of the vulnerability of the infrastructure projects and enable decision-makers to better plan for and design climate-resilient infrastructure.
Next, we plan to incorporate data and indicators to analyze the social, institutional, economic and financial sustainability of the projects, such as land acquisition and resettlement needs, as well as expected project lifespans and maintenance plans.
SDG 9: To build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation
SDG 11: To make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
SDG 15: To sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss
With Honduran farmers already fleeing the effects of climate change, economic and human development in the country will depend on the construction of sustainable and climate-resilient infrastructure. This touches on many of the goals enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Building sustainable infrastructure (Goal 9) is crucial to make cities safe and resilient (Goal 11), as well as to protect and promote sustainable use of our forests and land (Goal 15). We’re excited about our tool’s potential to arm decision makers with better information about infrastructure projects, and in turn, help them to make the right choices for the citizens of Honduras and the environment.
OCP recently worked with the Presidency of Taiwan to hold an international hackathon, inviting participants from around the world to propose solutions for building better and sustainable infrastructure, using open data. The event was a huge success, and we were very impressed with the smart and innovative work produced by all participants. We’re proud to feature the top teams’ projects in this blog series.
In July 2019, MasTeam was successfully shortlisted for the finals of the Taiwan Presidential Hackathon. Our team members from the Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Planning Unit (MAMPU) were extremely excited to have been chosen from almost 30 other talented groups from across the globe for the final round in Taipei.
Our project sought to improve the planning and delivery of public health and education infrastructure by developing a data-driven tool for identifying optimal locations for schools and hospitals. We were inspired by the huge investment needed for education and health facilities in Malaysia. In 2018, our government allocated more than RM650 million (US$155 million) to build preschools, primary schools, matriculation centres and other educational facilities. Similarly, the government spent around RM1.4 billion (US$334 million) on building hospitals and other healthcare centres that same year.
Given this significant investment and its potential for transforming or saving lives, we wanted to develop a tool to help the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to more accurately assess and determine the best locations for schools and healthcare facilities by joining up procurement data with capacity and utilisation data, as well as user needs data. Specifically, the tool would analyse relevant information for each group of facilities, such as past/current procurement data, population growth, facility capacity, global standards (for example student-to-teacher ratio or hospital beds-to-population ratio), distance to facilities, types of services offered, and other parameters (see system architecture below). These details would allow procuring entities to make better and more informed decisions to build the right infrastructure in the right places, so that citizens truly benefit from these investments.
Given the infrastructure spending gap and limited resources available, it is paramount that such vital infrastructure is built in locations where there is the greatest need – not only for citizens to gain access to better services, especially those in the low income category, but for our government to get better value for money too.
Building the prototype
So how did we go about this? To demonstrate our prototype, we focused on sample data from all the districts in the country.
We plotted the distribution of Malaysia’s entire population (including low income and school-attending age categories), schools and health facilities (both current and under construction) to gain an understanding of the current situation and get some figures on facilities/population ratios. We also used population projection data to estimate the capacity gaps in 2025.
Then, we converted the school and hospital project data obtained from the government’s project monitoring system (SPP II) into OC4IDS format, as this standardized format allows interoperability. So far, we have already converted data from almost 1,500 schools and hospitals into OC4IDS. This open contracting approach helped us join up different datasets to provide metrics on health and education facilities construction, which will guide policy makers in planning and delivering the needed infrastructure. We then added this project data into the existing visualisation layers created, based on population, enrolment etc.
From our initial data analysis using the prototype, there are districts that are overpopulated and schools oversubscribed, meaning the local children are forced to travel significant distances to the adjacent districts to gain entry into schools. As for hospitals, the majority of them fail to meet the recommended standards set by World Health Organisation, for example the minimum number of beds requirements. As the prototype uses minimal parameters as a starting point, additional parameters that are unique to the respective areas (education and healthcare) may yield different results.
Recommended locations for schools based on capacity gap (<10,000) [that is, the difference between a district’s expected school-going population in year 2025 and the number of students that schools in the area can accommodate] and capacity:population ratio (0.7) [that is, the number of enrolment places for every person in the district]
Expanding the project
Having delivered a proof of concept in Taipei, we are now working to improve the prototype to include updated datasets, better visualisation, and scalable caching mechanism for faster data retrieval and display. Currently the proof of concept uses five years of procurement data, which encompasses over 140 districts in more than 16 states/territories, and the construction of about 80 schools, 10 hospitals and 100 clinics over that period. As more datasets and integrated, scalability and usability will be critical.
Secondly, based on the initial exploration above, we will develop a comprehensive list of optimal locations for schools and health facilities for the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025), according to the most urgent or greatest needs. Our recommendations will prioritise infrastructure projects that offer the best return on investment in terms of social impact and value for money. Essentially this tool will help align investment with needs so, for example, the areas with the greatest needs receive the greatest investments. This will ensure a fairer distribution of funds across regions whilst reducing the strain on public services by improving the facilities to population ratios.
Finally, we also aim to incorporate related procurement data such as cost and duration of construction projects to identify patterns, variations, anomalies and other insights that may further enhance the utility of this tool.
All of this will be provided as an interactive dashboard that displays the visualisation map. Users can make parameter selections and the appropriate results will be updated on the map. This provides an easy interface for users to self explore various options for building the infrastructure and also to discover insights about current and future infrastructure projects.
For decision-makers in the education and health ministries who are involved in planning for the 12th Malaysia Plan (2021-2025), our tool offers an evidenced-based, joined-up reference that will add value to their internal processes. It will also help in better budgeting and project management planning by referring to current construction cost and duration. Ultimately, the benefit extends to the public as schools and health facilities are built in areas that are in need, thus maximising the number of people served.
In the long term, we will continue to develop this prototype and enhance its scope so that it is continually improved. We will aim to integrate additional parameters, for example transportation data (the distances/time taken to travel to schools/hospitals) as we know that this is one of the major barriers and cost centres which prevent poorer households from accessing these health and education services. We hope that the prototype can evolve to cover more facilities such as tertiary education, welfare homes, dialysis centres, special needs schools, vocational training centres and so on.
We believe that once this prototype is completed and its value-add clearly demonstrated, the relevant government agencies procuring health and education infrastructure will be eager to provide the project and contracting data in OC4IDS format, which in turn means that they will have successfully delivered their open contracting commitments as expressed in the government’s 2018 campaign manifesto. This can then feed in automatically to our tool, ensuring interoperability and quality data across all the relevant data sources, thus enhancing efficiency. This will make the work much easier. We look forward to working with the government to help create API or scripts for the system to enable automatic generation of data in OC4IDS format. We truly believe that this tool will help Malaysia deliver the right infrastructure in the right places, at the right time, for the right reasons!
OCP recently worked with the Presidency of Taiwan to hold an international hackathon, inviting participants from around the world to propose solutions for building better and sustainable infrastructure, using open data. The event was a huge success, and we were very impressed with the smart and innovative work produced by all participants. We’re proud to feature the top teams’ projects in this blog series.
The Malaysian government spends about RM220 billion (US$55 billion) a year on public procurement for development and assets. However, public procurement is one of the government activities that is most vulnerable to corruption. According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), out of the 10 sectors most prone to corruption in Malaysia, the highest number of complaints received between 2013 and 2018 was in public procurement. The National Anti-Corruption Plan 2019-2023 (NACP) also listed political governance, public sector administration, and public procurement in the top six corruption risk areas. For every dollar spent on public procurement globally, 20 to 30 cents is lost due to corruption, according to an estimate by the World Bank.
This is why my colleagues and I from the Malaysian Administrative and Modernisation Unit (MAMPU), an agency within the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) formed our Team – Mentadak. We wanted to develop Cartelogy, a proactive and preventative tool to help the Ministry of Finance and other procurement agencies identify potential bid-rigging and corruption risks in public procurement, specifically at the tender stages before contracts are even awarded.
Cartelogy joins up procurement data, company profile data and political persons data to create a “red flag” mechanism/tool to analyse, evaluate, and detect potentially suspicious activities from the outset so that respective decision makers (as well as oversight committees and relevant authorities) will be better equipped to make informed procurement evaluation and contract award decisions (see system architecture below). This will reduce the probability of contracts being awarded to ‘phantom’, ‘crony’ or colluding companies and expose conflicts of interests or personal relationships between public officials and companies. Thus levelling the playing field and creating fairer competition. Companies winning contracts are more likely to be able to fulfil their contractual obligations to deliver the goods, services or works to the quality or standards expected at a reasonable price.
In this working prototype, Cartelogy will produce Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) data from the various data sources. OCDS is especially important for opening up all phases of the planning, tendering and contracting process, and will help connect complex datasets from multiple sources to deliver useful and incisive analysis, which the government can use to reform public procurement processes and practices so that it is more efficient and effective. It also offers an opportunity for the government to resolve data interoperability issues in their data sharing initiatives.
As part of this work, we successfully converted almost 7,000 contracts into the OCDS format. We also built an interactive test website that is free to use, and once fully operational, would allow anyone to run searches on companies or contracts to check for ‘red flags’. In the future, we hope that the OCDS will be fully integrated into ‘e-perolehan’, the Ministry of Finance e-procurement system so that it can automatically feed into the Cartelogy application from the start. This will make the tool much more efficient and enable greater scale and scope.
We presented our prototype at the Taiwan Presidential Hackathon in July and were thrilled to place in the top 2 teams out of almost 30 applicants! We learnt a lot from the other competing teams as well as the open contracting mentors and technical experts.
The results we gathered from the prototype are encouraging. We were able to validate our rules and red flags (that is, we confirmed they worked!) by comparing them against the findings of the first bid-rigging case in Malaysia. In this scenario, we analysed two out of the eight companies which were fined for bid-rigging on March 4, 2019. The validated result was a major breakthrough of our prototype.
Test site visualisations:
Now that we have a proof of concept, we intend to continue developing this prototype so that it can be fully integrated into our federal procurement systems. We will begin talks with the Ministry of Finance on how to integrate Cartelogy into e-perolehan, the national procurement system. We also intend to present this tool to a Cabinet Special Committee on Anti-Corruption, which is chaired by our prime minister, in an effort to ensure high-level visibility and strong mandate for our tool.
Although this project was developed by focusing on public procurement practices at the federal level in Malaysia, it is also relevant and applicable to the state and local levels, as well as to other government-linked companies (GLC) – which are historically exempt from many procurement laws and regulations, and statutory boards – and others that are affected by this type of corruption risk in their procurement processes.
Beyond improving competition and fighting corruption at home, our broader aspirational goals are for Cartelogy to contribute best practice and lessons that can be shared across Southeast Asia, and over time, help to create a new norm for better governance, especially in public procurement in the region, which has to date, been relatively poor.
The Cartelogy prototype is only the start of an important journey; its success in achieving our ambitious goals will require full support from the Government to further enhance and fully adopt the application, and in tandem, the collaboration of NGOs, industry and academia so that we can work together to improve public goods, services and works and ensure all Malaysians benefit.
Challenge: To maximize state revenue through effective and impartial asset sales
A lot of what we focus on at the Open Contracting Partnership is how government is spending your money on public contracts, but there is an equally profound challenge with the management and sale of government assets. Lousy management, poor inventory oversight, and dodgy dealings are rife. It’s a particularly evident challenge in post-Soviet countries, where states own huge amounts of assets (after all they were the economy) and there is little to no culture of economic returns.
The national state asset sales system has been sclerotic and looted for many years, with restricted competition, unclear tender procedures, no data on performance or inventory, and no public oversight. These shortfalls reportedly restricted access to deals, which resulted in below-market transaction prices.
Now, the open contracting approach that was so important in improving Ukraine’s public procurement was adapted to help fix this problem as well. The ProZorro reforms, developed for the public sector by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade in partnership with Transparency International Ukraine, technology experts, and businesses, are guided by the key principle of “everybody sees everything.” This approach builds on radical transparency, centralized performance monitoring, customer participation, and an enhanced buyer experience.
Solution: Secure & user-friendly online auctions that are visible to everyone
In 2016, the transparent electronic state asset sale system called ProZorro.Sale was developed to allow anyone to bid on auctions that are tamper-proof and visible to everyone. Compared to the traditional auction system, data seen by OCP suggests that sellers on ProZorro.Sale generate more revenue (especially from small-scale privatization) and trade items faster, while buyers have more confidence in the system.
The two-tier auction system consists of more than 50 commercial e-trade platforms that connect to a central database (using APIs), meaning the auctions are visible on all platforms and sellers and buyers can choose to deal through whichever one of the 50 or so service-providers best suits their needs. All data about previous auctions is accessible through the central database (bids, dates, contracts, etc). And the system’s performance and integrity can be monitored by anyone via the public business intelligence (BI) module: https://bi.prozorro.sale.
At present, the system can be used to sell and lease around 34 different types of assets, including those from failed banks, as well as other government national and sub-national agencies and some commercial firms. Items up for auction include credit portfolios, state-owned enterprises, mining licenses, land, vehicles, billboard advertising rights, buildings, scrap, and minor assets, such as cars or computers. With complementary regulatory reforms, the system could be expanded to other areas, such as timber auctions, renewable energy and private bankruptcy procedures.
How open contracting helps
ProZorro.Sale is powered by open source, open data technology, modelled on the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), a universal schema that allows information to be collected, centralized and published in a standardized and structured way. The OCDS guides governments what information to publish at each stage of the public contracting process—from planning to tender to award to implementation of contracts—using a unique ID to link information across different datasets within government. Repurposing existing technology that used the OCDS allowed the asset sales team to build the e-auction system within four months and for a cost of US$100,000.
It enables users and partners around the world to publish shareable, reusable, machine-readable data, to join that data with their own information, and to create tools to analyze or share that data. For Prozorro.Sale, the OCDS was adapted with relevant extensions to collect and publish information around assets.
We are studying the effects of Prozorro.Sales in collaboration with Kyiv School of Economics, Transparency International and the Prozorro.Sale team. We want to share some of the very promising early indicators here.
1. More revenue
In less than three years, ProZorro.Sale has generated UAH 17.6 billion (more than US$600 million) in revenue, according to figures from the system’s business intelligence module. In small-scale privatization alone, the system has generated UAH 1 billion in a year, more than the amount raised through conventional privatization sales in Ukraine in the previous four years.
2. Better prices
Prices are rising to market value. For small privatizations, the average auction starting price has increased by 75% over six months. According to Ukrainian Railways (Ukrzaliznytsia), which leased a small number of train carriages via ProZorro.Sale to determine the market price, the carriages’ starting price reportedly increased by 100% over 450 successful auctions, indicating that they were dramatically undervalued before. Starting prices for property leases have grown by 25% on average and sales by Ukrainian Post have risen notably too.
3. More buyers
The number of users is increasing steadily; almost 800 sellers and 13,000 bidders have registered as of June 2019. Potential buyers can access information about items up for sale through more than 50 different platforms across Ukraine. They can also see all historic data on sales & statistics. This does help: buyers gain analytical capacity, allowing them to make better buying decisions. In the past, the majority of sales failed to attract any buyers, according to practitioners from various government agencies, while the new system has an average competition of 2.5 bidders per item. In 2016, the top 5 buyers generated more than 80% of overall revenue, while the latest figures from 2019 show a drop to just above 50%, indicating an increase in buyer diversification. Most buyers are Ukrainian, but several big purchases have been made by foreigners, such as a German company that bought ferro alloy from a state-owned enterprise for around US$1 million.
4. More successful and efficient sales
Fewer attempts are required to make a successful sale. Around 60% of items are sold within the second auction announcement. While accurate figures on successful auctions before ProZorro.Sale was introduced are unavailable, experienced practitioners report that most auctions failed to attract buyers. It takes a month and a half on average for a transaction to be completed after a successful auction.
5. Improving trust
Most buyers perceive the system as useful and trustworthy. A survey of 275 companies registered on the system found that almost 75% trust it, about 70% said it improved their business and more than 30% used information from the system for other purposes beyond identifying opportunities, such as analysing market composition and prices.
If you would like to find out more about the Prozorro transparency reforms, or whether such an approach is right for you, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Open contracting matters for health and the Open Government Partnership Global Summit is a key platform for us at the TI Health Initiative’s Open Contracting for Health team to learn, discuss and influence the agenda. This year, it was encouraging to see open contracting featuring so prominently in the program, allowing for some deep-dives into specific sectors and intersections with other open government priority areas such as beneficial ownership and gender. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that just over half of all OGP members are implementing open contracting commitments. According to the independent reporting mechanism (IRM), these commitments achieve generally better results compared to others and have contributed to increasing transparency in public procurement.
Even more exciting has been witnessing the growing interest in the health sector. This gave us the opportunity to share our work and learn about the many complementary initiatives across different continents. Health is one of the policy areas of the OGP and the second-most common public services-related category after education, with commitments mostly centered around data publication, participation in decision-making, and accountability.
Health is also fourth among the sectors with open contracting commitments following infrastructure, education and extractive industries, with countries like El Salvador and Romania having very specific health targets. Yet lack of transparency, weak health systems and patchy data on health sector governance are hindering results, and ultimately impacting people’s ability to access the high-quality standard services they need.
An estimated 40% of the total spent on health globally doesn’t contribute to better health for the majority of people – an enormous $3 trillion! This figure is actually much more than the amount needed on an annual basis to reach the SDG health targets, $370 billion, as we’ve described here. According to the World Health Organization, five of the ten leading causes of inefficiencies in the health sector are procurement related. This is an even more significant problem in countries where public resources are severely constrained and each dollar, shilling or kwacha saved matters. The Open Contracting for Health initiative directly targets procurement across a number of low and low-middle income countries to address these inefficiencies, thus giving more people access to healthcare.
The OGP summit brought many of these issues to life, with a strong focus on implementation, pathways forward, and what the open contracting community can do to advance transparency and accountability in procurement. These are my top 4 highlights for open contracting in the health sector:
The Open Contracting for Health project has a major focus on the local and regional level – so we really welcomed Hivos’ Local Open Contracting Initiative event and panel. It was a great opportunity to share experiences and learn from governments and civil society organizations across the five continents. Despite the many successes, however, there is an underlying tension between central and sub-national governments. We experience it in the health sector, where procurement is often a shared responsibility and where devolution processes may be underway. Understanding political systems and (vertical and horizontal) power relations remains crucial and should inform our approach. We can build on the strengths of communities, civil society, and the private sector to work together with local authorities to push for policy change and meaningful reform.
‘Make the overwhelming less overwhelming’ was a message that was heard a lot, including in the session we co-hosted with OCP. This can be achieved through a modular approach, such as the one adopted by Mexico City, or agile procurement management that focuses on users and outcomes. Easier said than done in the public sector, but not impossible. As a team, we found the benefits of more flexible and adaptive project management helpful and we encourage our implementing partners to do the same, particularly to generate quick lessons and close the feedback loop. The challenge: working creatively with governments, procurement officials, vendors, and civil society to engrain agile management in procurement and procurement monitoring.
Data, data, data… and more data! There is a deep hunger for access to good quality data in a sector that is highly technical and where predicting needs is challenging. By working more closely with all stakeholders, we can combine different sources of health data sets to make more sense of the procurement information available. OCP’s new strategy – launched during the OGP Summit week – commits to support better quality and use of data. More importantly, the strategy brings attention to the importance of a data-driven and problem-focused approach to designing reforms, to go beyond data publication or transparency as the ultimate goal, and aim for a more radical transformation based on the needs of the users.
I loved the emphasis on intersections at OGP – mostly gender and indigenous knowledge/businesses – and how these are reflected in procurement and on data. Several sessions highlighted the challenges and the long road ahead. We know that disaggregating data and referring to gender and historically-disadvantaged groups in a policy or a public procurement notice is just a first step. Inclusion requires a more systemic approach to integrating indigenous knowledge and gender perspectives and understandings in decision-making. I look forward to learning more from the Feminist Open Government Initiative on how women and other underrepresented groups can be brought in to inform and shape reforms that are truly inclusive.
I came back from Ottawa with the feeling that despite the challenges, we have achieved a lot in open contracting, in a relatively short time. It’s the time to celebrate, but also to be more ambitious if we want to seize this momentum and – to quote OCP’s strategy – move from making data ‘open by default’, to ‘making the whole system open by design’.
Taiwan is full of typhoons, and increasingly, heavy torrential rains. In the last decade, there has been an average of eight critical floods per year. For example, on August 23, 2018, an extreme rain brought over 600-mm of precipitation. Seven people were killed and more than 100 were injured. In addition, nearly 7,000 people had been evacuated and 70,000 households suffered from power outage.
Over the years, the government has spent a significant amount of money in flood management, nearly NT$180bn (US$6bn) since 2006 and has committed an additional NT$250bn (US$8.4bn) before 2024. Billions of dollars and thousands of projects later, mostly in the form of construction projects, we would like to ask a simple question: has the government done a good job and has the public money been spent where it was needed the most?
A social innovation hackathon organized by the Presidential Office of Taiwan to seek solutions to societal problems through the use of open data provided the perfect springboard to dive into the data.
During the three-month competition (yes, it was a marathon, not just a one-weekend sprint), a team of computer engineers, data scientists, civil engineering researchers, and journalists worked together to:
Understand the flood patterns
Identify flood causes
Understand the government procurement patterns
Compare flood hotspots with construction project values and locations
Measure the suitability of these projects
Evaluate the cost-effectiveness of these projects
Diving into the data
First, the team looked at the different data needed to respond to our question, including data on floods, as well as the data on procurement. The hackathon proved helpful to access never-before-published raw data behind historical flood reports via the organizer.
The second key dataset included awards related to water resource management or flood management from a web-scraping project by other civic hackers, mostly construction projects.
However, the data quality was not as good as the team hoped.
After examining the procurement data, the team realized that some key information was missing from the construction projects, such as:
Exact location (no latitude/longitude, only the vicinity such as city or county)
Project evaluation benchmark (for example, if an embankment can hold the peak streamflow from a 100-year flood).
Similar problems occurred in the flood data. The details of each flood, such as the cause, was not well-documented.
First of all, the team plotted the location for each flood on a map. Thousands of locations between 2004 and 2015. The team also tried to identify the causes of floods and find a way to tell if a flood was caused by river-(or ocean) flooding or sewer flooding.
However, due to the lack of detailed information regarding each flood, they eventually adopted a simple, quick-and-dirty method: if a flood’s location was close to a river or the coastline (say, within 1 km), the team would label the flood as “river/coastal flooding”. If a flood occurred in a dwelling area and the distance to the nearest river was farther than 1 km, it would be labeled as “inland flooding”.
The team then created heatmaps of impact based on the two flood causes. The following example is Tainan, a city with a population of 1.8 million.
The procurement data contained geolocational information, in the form of “city/county”, so that the team was able to count the number and value of construction projects in each city over the years.
The team noticed an uneven distribution of government spending. Some cities awarded a large amount of money every year, and some, very little.
The team continued its investigation to see if this procurement trend was related to the degree of flood risk.
Connecting the dots between flood and procurement patterns
The geolocational information in both datasets was different: the flood data is stored in “point” data type, i.e., the latitude and longitude of each flood and the procurement data was recorded as an “area”, i.e., cities, counties or villages. For the purpose of this analysis, the team decided to use the area as the common dataset writing some code to assign each flood location to a city or village.
The emerging results
The team identified three types of pattern that require further investigation.
Lots of floods and a lot of spending (dark blue, top-right)
These areas see lots of floods and a lot of spending.
Some of the related questions the team asked: Have the contractors applied the optimal construction methods to manage water resources and control floods? And if they did, why did the floods keep occurring? Is it due to human error, or are the floods simply too powerful? And finally, are there any public audit reports, so that we can better understand the projects.
If the best construction methods were applied and the floods just kept occurring, one can’t help but ask: should we keep fighting the water head-on in these regions?
Few floods, lots of spending (green, top-left)
These regions are characterized by only a few floods, but a lot of spending, posing the key question why are the flood risk and government spending are, relatively speaking, out of proportion?
Is it that because they were located in the upstream area or rather because of the gap in regional development between the east and the west?
It might be because of a different government decision on whether to spend more or spend less on flood management independent of the flood risk level. Some of these regions are one-time victims of an extreme typhoon. It could imply an oversized disaster recovery plan covering a lot of projects across a relatively short period of time.
Lots of floods, little spending (pink, bottom-right)
These regions tend to be the less populated areas in Taiwan that see a lot of floods, but much less spending. Could population density be a determinant factor for budget allocation?
If so, did the government consider the interaction between terrain and rain on a larger scale, such as upstream mountains and downstream urban areas?
Because of the time constraint, data availability and a lack of a commonly accepted definition for project performance, the team was not able to appropriately evaluate the suitability of these projects and the cost-effectiveness.
However, in Taiwan, it was probably the first time that a data-driven approach was applied to water resource management, as opposed to civil or environmental engineering methods.
This small, investigative project born from the Presidential Hackathon, although rough and incomplete, is a proof of concept that government procurement data can be used for examining the water resource management projects.
With more information about construction project details, such as engineering methods, exact project locations, and project outcomes, it would be possible to develop scalable measures for project suitability and cost-effectiveness.
For other countries, we hope this project can serve as an example of using open contracting data to examine critical areas of public investment, such as we did in analyzing the performance of flood management projects.
Governments around the world are adopting and implementing a new data standard that has launched today and which seeks to make public procurement more robust, transparent and accessible. Countries at the forefront of this process include: Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico, and Paraguay. Read More
Yet, if data relating to public contracts is released in a clear, reusable and timely way, the rewards will be great. Governments will have data to make better decisions and enhance their effectiveness, private companies will be better able to compete in the market and citizens will be able to hold their governments accountable for how they spend public resources.
To help unlock these benefits, the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) is pleased to share for broad consultation the Beta Release of the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS).This Standard is currently being developed for the OCP by the World Wide Web Foundation through the support of Omidyar Network and the World Bank.
The objective of the Data Standard is to support governments to publish contracting data in a more accessible, interoperable and useful manner and to enable the widest possible range of stakeholders to use contracting data effectively.
Some of the features provided by this Beta Release include a description of the overall Open Contracting Data Standard Model and a JSON Schema for open contracting releases and records that includes a set of recommended fields.
The development of the Open Contracting Data Standard is an open process and inputs and feedback are encouraged. Although this will be an ongoing process, those comments provided before September 30, 2014 will be more likely to fully inform version 1.0 of the Standard. These comments will help refine the standard, both the structure and fields, in preparation for the initial release version.
Those interested in providing comments can do so in two different ways:
Inline comments on the document – Log in to the Open Contracting Data Standard Github site and then highlight portions of text to add comment. To “reply” to an existing comment, highlight the same portion of text, and then add your comment. See instructions at the top of the Github login page for more help on commenting.
Mailing list – If you have more general comments that don’t fit well as inline comments, please join the OCDS mailing list and start a discussion with your thoughts.