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Three cheers and three beers for Mexico’s open contracting leadership

This week, Mexico is hosting the OECD’s Digital Economy Ministerial Meeting. The relationship between the digital economy, government and social prosperity will be in the spotlight. It’s fitting that the meeting is in Mexico, which has been one of the countries at the forefront of innovation and collaboration around open contracting.

Public contracts play an important role in economic transformation as they are key to social prosperity: both in terms of delivering real services of value to citizens and in creating a fairer, better business environment for companies competing for government business. In short, open contracting is a key intervention to build trust between government, civil society and business. Also, given the amount of money and the discretion involved, contracts are also government’s number one corruption risk

At the core of open contracting is an open data standard, the Open Contracting Data Standard, that describes the full contracting process from the planning, to the tender, award, contract and implementation stages.

How the standard plays into public contracting may be best explained by using an analogy in another area of Mexican global leadership. Mexico is one of the top five beer brewing countries globally.

The ingredients for beer are fairly standard (especially when following the German tradition and a 500-year-old Reinheitsgebot or purity law): water, barley, and hops. But the magic is in how Mexicans are putting them together. Similarly, the Open Contracting Data Standard defines what data should be published as part of the procurement process and helps provide a standardized, structured approach to mixing the ingredients. What is really interesting is to see how Mexico is using that approach to come up with some great innovations.

Here are three examples:

  1. Mexico has been one of the first countries to express an interest in implementing the Open Contracting Data Standard. Since 2014, it has been exploring open contracting with the World Bank (resulting in a handy dashboard analysing Mexico’s contracts according to key indicators such as timeliness, cost efficiency and others). At the Open Government Summit last November, President Enrique Peña Nieto also made a high-level commitment to open contracting for Mexico City’s new airport,  which is expected to welcome up to 120 million passengers annually. The first data was released in March. This came hand in hand with a broader commitment to open data and steering the development of the Open Data Charter.

    Given the international signal of this commitment, with trillions of dollars in infrastructure likely to be spent worldwide over the coming decades, we’d compare this effort to the most internationally famous of Mexico’s many fabulous beers: a crisp and clean Corona. Served with a lime in a delicious Mexican twist.
  2. Mayor Mancera of Mexico City has led the charge on subnational implementation of open contracting. This week, Mexico City is publishing its first data, as the first city in the world to release its full contracting data from planning to implementation. It will allow citizens to not just track tenders and awards but also monitor implementation and how public contracts deliver services that matter in their daily lives.

    Mexico City is one of our dedicated showcase & learning projects, with which we aim to test and demonstrate better business and civic engagement, and to share what we learn. This learning is a fundamental component of our strategy and we have been working with Mexico City since April last year on how open contracting impacts on the city level.

    Perhaps open contracting in Mexico City is like a Modelo Especial. A little deeper and more complex in taste, reflecting the engagement and feedback loops that the mayor is hoping to develop. Modelo Especial originated in Mexico City and is hugely popular at home, as we hope open contracting will be. And of course, Mexico City aims to be modelo for other cities around the world who want to show their citizens how public dollars are spent.
  3. And if the cup was not already overflowing, Mexico is also innovating on open contracting elsewhere. At the UK Anti-Corruption Summit this May, Mexico led on the creation of the Contracting 5, a new group of leaders in open contracting that also includes Colombia, France, Ukraine and the UK.

    As part of its new commitments, Mexico will be exploring open contracting in the health sector and in the exploitation of the country’s oil resources by international firms in the Ronda Uno tender. A pilot is already underway, using the Open Contracting Data Standard in a public private partnership for the construction of a new telecommunications network in Mexico: Red Compartida.  

    This last project might well compare to a Bohemia: despite being a clear, clean beer, it is known for its dense, multilayered flavor, reflecting Mexico’s ambition to take the complexities of these award and oversight processes and render them accessible to citizens and investors

So there you have it. Three delicious, world-class beers and three exciting world firsts from Mexico on open contracting.

Of course, as any good brewer knows, it can take time and a little experimentation to get things right. Similarly, open contracting is not about dumping large datasets, but designing around specific needs for citizens and business to use the data and engage in a larger feedback process to provide better information. That way, open data on contracts can provide powerful analytics to shape more informed decisions and help choose the best solution for a given job.

Just as microbreweries take the recipe to create often superior, niche beers that appeal to distinct tastes, this contracting data can be used by civil society organizations, journalists, and civic tech start-ups to develop tools and platforms that analyze this information and cater to  specific needs.

So equally as important to open contracting is an active role played by civil society organizations such as Transparencia Mexicana and IMCO, who have been and remain crucial in building this more open, transparent and fairer society jointly. Mexico’s Social Witness regulation embeds civil society as monitors in the public procurement process.

Public contracts matter to all of us. They are behind the roads, schools and hospitals that millions of people depend on and keep a country functioning and liveable.

Making sure this happens efficiently, fairly and in the interest of the public is the promise of open contracting. Mexico is at the forefront of trying to put that promise into action.

So if you are in Cancun at the OECD event, raise a cool cerveza to Mexico’s innovation in the field of open contracting. Try any variety you like but remember that the best ones, like the best contracts, are crystal clear.

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