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Recommendations to open access to COVID-19 contracting information to improve transparency and accountability

Open letter to Heads of Multilateral Development Bank Procurement

The COVID-19 pandemic is placing public procurement systems around the world under unprecedented pressure. We recognize that both national and international procurement decisions must be taken rapidly to respond to the emergency with little time for consultation. Clear and transparent decision-making processes will be essential to maintaining public trust and to getting much needed medical equipment to the frontlines of the pandemic. Bad procurement will cost lives and waste vital resources. The response to the pandemic and a just, equitable and open recovery needs to be guided by open government principles – accountability, transparency, inclusivity, and responsiveness.

Low levels of transparency, digitization, and coordination in public procurement risk creating a ‘Hunger Games’ scenario as hospitals, public health agencies, subnational and national governments, and international organizations all compete with each other for essential equipment, medicine and services for the COVID-19 pandemic. In many of the countries that you operate, emergency procurement is an acute corruption risk undermining an effective response. Multilateral Development Banks have a critical role to play to ensure their support is delivered efficiently and saves lives. 

We think that it is possible to buy fast, and buy openly and accountably. In Annex 1, we share best practices examples from countries in which we work, where better data is directly helping with planning, coordination, and delivery of vital material. 

There are important opportunities for your organization to show leadership and foster global best practice:

1) Recommend that all emergency procedures are public. Your partner governments should be coordinating and centralizing procurement of essential goods, works and services, setting a clear test and a written justification for emergency procedures and providing public information on all emergency contracts regardless of procurement method and funding source.

2) Recommend that partner governments publish and use open procurement data to analyze and share information to predict demand and manage critical health supply chains. This would involve tagging and collecting all relevant contracting processes and budget lines with “COVID-19” in a timely manner to ensure high-quality, open and complete data as well as disclosing technical comments from suppliers, and publishing all contract awards under the emergency frameworks. The Open Contracting Partnership has prepared guidance notes on how to use the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) to monitor COVID-19 procurement.

This will not only improve transparency and accountability for COVID-19 related procurement, but also help buyers and suppliers to more easily connect with each other, improving competition and the supply of urgently needed goods, works and services for the health systems fighting COVID-19. Three examples of countries already publishing COVID-19 related open contracting data are provided in Appendix 1. With good data, prices and supplier performance can be compared, red flags identified, and these insights can be used to quickly adapt planning, procurement, and contract management processes to improve outcomes. 

We appreciate that new emergency processes have to be developed and a good example is the World Bank Group’s Fast Track COVID-19 Facility which enables the streamlining of procurement documentation and provides process guidance. That guidance should also recommend publishing open data on procurement to encourage accountability and efficiency, whilst reducing the risks of inefficiency or corruption in the use of such emergency funds. This will also provide the data for the effectiveness of such initiatives to be evaluated. 

3) Encourage and support partnerships with civil society and public procurement authorities to monitor effective spending and delivery of goods and services, especially to the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. 

4) Provide new financing and technical cooperation with your partner governments to enable them to use existing open source tools or develop new ones to publish open contracting data concerning COVID-19 procurement captured by their existing e-procurement platforms. The Open Contracting Partnership, and its global partners, have a wide range of services that could be accessed by your partner governments to support any new open contracting projects of this nature. 

5) Provide open free access to COVID-19 related procurement information for all MDB-funded procurement. MDBs can make all health and in particular COVID-19 related Procurement Notices and Contract Awards accessible for free on the United Nations Development Business (UNDB) website and any other paywall sites used by MDBs or their member states to publish COVID-19 procurement notices. 

The UN Development Business website plays an important role for Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) by providing a one-stop shop for the publication of Procurement Notices and Contract Awards for their clients’ projects. UNDB along with the SIMAP (Information about European Public Procurement) have taken the initiative by providing dedicated sections, for COVID-19 Procurement Notices and Contract Awards which we warmly welcome. We think that these are a public good and in that spirit should be made openly available.

All MDBs should create a single window or dedicated pages to publish their own COVID-19 Procurement Notices, Contract Awards (including those that don’t qualify for international competitive bidding), including those under redesigned Loans and Grant Agreements. On both their own pages, and under the UNDB and SIMAP, the information should be made available to download and reuse under an Open General Licence using an Application Programming Interface (API).

Open government approaches applied to key functions such as public procurement are critical. For example, the Open Government Partnership has 78 national members, many of whom have attempted to reform their procurement systems in recent years and can lead by example in the response and recovery to the coronavirus. We believe that providing critical procurement information and open contracting data would not only increase transparency and accountability in the use of public funds but it could also enable and improve communication with the private sector, stimulating supply of live-saving equipment and delivering efficiency gains, saving the lives of many patients and health care workers that would otherwise be lost to COVID-19 through inefficient or corrupt procurement practices. 

The Open Contracting Partnership has developed specific guidance and tips for monitoring public procurement during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Many thanks and we look forward to hearing from you.

Sanjay Pradhan, Chief Executive Officer of the Open Government Partnership
Gavin Hayman, Executive Director of the Open Contracting Partnership

Download the full recommendations with annex.

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