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Asia rising: the next frontier for open contracting

Scaffolding at the Patan Durbar Square in Lalitpur, Nepal. The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal damaged the square.

Big things are happening to open up public contracting in Asia and the Pacific. Here’s a quick regional tour, hot off the heels of the recent Open Government Partnership regional meeting in Seoul this month.

From Australia to Thailand, more countries are committing to open up their public contracting and procurement processes. Some reformers are still very new to the concept and building their knowledge, others have started to move ahead. We see a lot of promise for progress and concrete plans.

Here’s a quick tour of what’s cooking in the region.

Korea. The Korean Public Procurement Service co-hosted OGP Asia-Pacific. Over the course of the day, they shared their significant experience of digitization and transparency of public procurement. The introduction of an end-to-end electronic procurement system called KONEPS has already saved huge amounts of time, money, and won multiple awards around the world. One internal estimate suggests that KONEPS has saved the public sector $1.4 billion and businesses $6.6 billion in costs. The time to process bids dropped from 30 hours to just two. Korea has now started publishing open data and is encouraging the private sector to use this information.

Indonesia: The city of Bandung has been one of the first to engage in open contracting and launched a new platform they hope will promote transparency and reduce corruption. The state of Bojonegoro has been moving forward as well. Is it now time to bring this success to the rest of Indonesia? Civil society groups like Indonesia Corruption Watch have been putting a spotlight on corruption in procurement already. The country also aims to disclose infrastructure data at the local level for monitoring under the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) over the next two years. At the OGP Asia-Pacific meeting, the Indonesian government made commitments to a large-scale anti-corruption plan with a transparent procurement system as one aspect of this plan.

Malaysia: The Ministry for Modernization has embraced open contracting and made references to this commitment in their new strategy. After the ramifications of the multibillion-dollar scandal, #1MDB, and several high-level corruption scandals in public contracts, we are looking forward to work with groups like the Sinar Project and IDEAS to make sure those commitments follow through.

Philippines: The Philippines embarked on a journey to increase oversight and citizen engagement in public procurement some time ago. The government and civil society are still working together to drive improvement, particularly by piloting new approaches with local governments. The government’s Procurement Policy Board will also support different government offices with their procurement planning and management. It aims to adopt a risk-based approach to such planning taking into account the Commission on Audit’s perspective to help identify and anticipate risk-prone areas in public procurement.

Australia: Australia has committed to publishing open contracting data in its new action plan. More importantly, stakeholders are starting to see the benefit of how open contracting data could be used. For example, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia is seeking to attract investment through its joint project pipeline with New Zealand.

Kyrgyz Republic: The Kyrgyz Republic has recently embarked on a project with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to publish OCDS data. They are working with IBLF to engage the private sector to collaborate on improvements to the system, raising awareness about the opportunities, and encouraging more competition in the public procurement market.

Thailand: Thailand has made quick progress in public procurement reform over the last few years. It went from passing its new procurement law in 2017, which requires civil society monitoring for high-volume contracts through Integrity Pacts, to developing an open data portal for real-time infrastructure monitoring to be launched in early 2019. The Integrity Pact scheme already saved approximately $7.6 million since 2015, with bid prices falling between 14-28% lower than the estimated budget. Currently, Thailand is also strengthening its implementation of CoST with the support of UNDP. Moving forward, the open data portal developed by the Comptroller General’s Department would facilitate not only monitoring of public infrastructures for increased transparency, but it also expects to increase public satisfaction with project delivery by keeping citizens informed and able to provide feedback.

And so many more: A project in Taiwan is using open data to track flooding and water management and suggests that open contracting is the solution. Nepal is tracking gender and social inclusion data as the country moves to a federal system and looks at the contracting sector.

This is an exciting place to be in and a vibrant community is emerging. We’re going to keep an eye out and work with our partners to provide support and turn the open contacting promise into results.

Stay tuned and we’ll update you on the progress and learning as it unfolds!

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