What does the changing the status quo in public procurement mean to you?
The qualitative change we seek is to involve the public as much as possible in the control of public procurement—promoting the idea of the responsible taxpayer who cares about what their money is spent on.
COVID-19 showed us more than ever that the status quo isn’t working. What’s the #1 procurement lesson you’ve learned over the past year of the pandemic?
The pandemic and corruption in Kazakhstan’s non-transparent public procurement system has made our country more vulnerable, and has directly affected the quality of medical care provided to the people of Kazakhstan.
Unfortunately, corruption did not take a “time-out” because of Covid, but instead blossomed even stronger. It has endangered the health and lives of many thousands of people. Had there been extensive public scrutiny of budget spending on the public procurement website in the country in 2020, many human losses would have been avoided. Stealing from the budget is harder when the whole country can see it. We and other journalists have only been able to follow a small fraction of corruption cases and this shows that our country needs clearer mechanisms to monitor public procurement and to involve civil society in this process, so that spending control starts from the smallest municipalities and reaches the national government level.
What is one thing you would say to an open contracting reformer who wants to break with tradition?
Our country badly needs the simplest possible controls over budget expenditures to detect attempts to collude with contractors at an early stage, preventing corruption.
If public procurement was a sport, which one do you think it would be and why?
I would compare public procurement in Kazakhstan to cycling. In theory, a cycling race should involve thousands of athletes (contractors) and the hardest, most responsible and fastest athletes (contractors) should come to the finish line. And it should all be in full view of a large crowd. But here in Kazakhstan, they love to hold indoor cycling races for one athlete—the contractor, who is a hundred percent sure to finish first, because no one else is in the race. And the winner gets a guaranteed medal (state order). And spectators are not invited to such bicycle races. Our task is to make cycling (contracting) as fair as possible in Kazakhstan.