UN General Assembly recognizes transparency in public procurement is key to fight corruption
Analysts welcome commitment but say concrete action is needed to mobilize power of markets and public oversight amid record government spending
New York, 2 June — The UN General Assembly Special Session against corruption today took the important step of recognizing the need to increase accountability and transparency in public procurement to effectively fight corruption, in a move welcomed by the Open Contracting Partnership.
Gavin Hayman, OCP’s Executive Director said: “This is the right place to start, but the wrong place to stop. The procurement systems of the past failed during the pandemic. Governments are clearly struggling to keep their COVID-19 spending open and accountable. But that needn’t be the case. Building digital procurement systems with end-to-end transparency can help ensure the trillions being poured into the pandemic response and recovery are spent wisely and save lives.”
To end the pandemic and rebuild their economies, many governments are pledging spending not seen since the Second World War. The US budget for 2022 alone is expected to reach $6 trillion — equivalent to almost half of the estimated annual public procurement expenditure globally. Key information about spending on government contracts — over 97% — is not properly documented, according to research by OCP and Spend Network. The opacity and scope for discretion in public contracts make it the government’s number one corruption risk, as evidenced by the abuse of emergency procedures during the pandemic.
OCP welcomes the commitments by 187 countries to:
- increase transparency throughout the whole public procurement cycle
- strengthen data collection systems and open databases that are accessible and user-friendly
- increase the transparency of decision-making processes
- make information more accessible through the use of digital tools, open data and web portals
These measures will improve the quality of information available to enhance corruption prevention and detection as well as provide insights to optimize public service provision. Governments need to and can take action now to implement the commitments. That means the use of non-competitive emergency procedures starting to publish existing tenders and contract data, and committing to equity and end-to-end transparency in the use of stimulus monies. Lastly, they need to commit to, and resource, civic engagement across the planning and delivery of public contracts.
Gavin Hayman: “We need to move beyond transparency as a chore and a “gotcha” exercise to open, data-driven insights that engage civil society, the public and the market. Bringing procurement into the 21st century using digital public services and fostering meaningful multi-stakeholder dialogue with businesses and civil society can unlock the true power of procurement. This will change not just the way we buy, but the way we govern and deliver for citizens on their most critical needs every day.”
Notes to editors:
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, emergency contracts have been misused to award contracts to a raspberry farm for ventilators, seen empty soda bottles passed off as test tubes, and even to procure camels, without transparency or competition. Stimulus monies have gone to purchase camels for a national holiday in Spain. Since April 2020, OCP has covered corruption and mismanagement in public contracts in its newsletter at http://opencontracting.substack.com and can provide a country-based list of key investigations and stories.
- A report from the Open Contracting Partnership and Spend Network estimates that globally governments spend US$13 trillion a year on public contracts for goods, services and works. But less than 3% ($363 billion) is published openly. Opaque contracts shut out businesses, journalists and civil society from analyzing and interrogating the data. The report is available at www.open-contracting.org/global-procurement-spend
- The UNGASS declaration paragraphs related to public procurement are 10, 11, and 22. The document is available at https://undocs.org/A/S-32/2/ADD.1
10. We commit to increasing transparency and accountability in the management of public finances and in government procurement, funding and contracting services to ensure transparency in government actions in the use of public funds and during the whole public procurement cycle. We commit to strengthen data collection systems and open databases that are accessible and user-friendly, in accordance with domestic laws, to better understand and to better enable oversight and accountability, including by supreme audit institutions and oversight bodies.
11. We recognize that public procurement faces serious corruption risks, including in our efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and deserves focused and tailored measures for the whole cycle of public procurement. We encourage, where appropriate, the inclusion of anti-corruption contract provisions and when awarding public procurement contracts, will take into account whether natural or legal persons have been determined to have committed acts of corruption and any mitigating factors as appropriate, as well as considering establishing appropriate registries, in accordance with domestic law and while respecting the protection of personal data and privacy rights.
22. We will respect, promote and protect the freedom to seek, receive, disseminate and publish information concerning corruption and ensure that the public has effective access to information in accordance with domestic laws of States. We commit to increasing the transparency of decision-making processes, in accordance with fundamental principles of domestic law, as a means to prevent and combat corruption and facilitate efficient processes, including by adopting appropriate and necessary procedures or regulations, and designating and enhancing bodies responsible for facilitating information access, as well as through the use of digital tools, open data and web portals to help make information more accessible, with due regard for data protection and privacy rights.