Several years ago, Moldova made a very ambitious open government commitment: to increase transparency in the public procurement field. From 2017 to 2019, a new e-procurement system, MTender was developed. The system has its benefits and constraints, but we have to admit that it guarantees a decent level of transparency from the planning to contract award stages.
Moldova has partially fulfilled its commitment to increase public procurement transparency. Since October 2018, all above-the-threshold procurement is conducted through the MTender system. A survey conducted by IDIS Viitorul revealed that 53.3% of civil society representatives believe that transparency significantly increased in 2019. However, MTender does not cover the entire procurement cycle. Civil society currently has access to all procurement-related documents from planning to contract award stage, but not the contract implementation stage.
There’s another important factor we should be considering: does transparency solve all issues in a procurement system? We don’t believe so. According to the open contracting implementation cycle and principles, the publication of data is only the first step! And then comes engagement with stakeholders, analysis, data-driven changes in policy and constant improvements, again and again. That is why we, at the civil society organization IDIS Viitorul, continuously monitor not only individual tenders but developments in the procurement system in general. We also engage with different stakeholders and are focusing our efforts on a systemic change!
IDIS Viitorul has been monitoring developments in the procurement sphere for many years. With support from the European Commission, UK Aid, the Hanns Seidel Stiftung and UNDP, we prepared a series of analytical reports, including the Confidence Index in Public Procurement, policy papers, and dozens of policy recommendations to make procurement reform really impactful. Over the last couple of months, we have been monitoring the implementation of the Sectoral Anti-Corruption Action Plan in the field of public procurement for 2019. Our findings show the plan’s implementation is unsatisfactory.
The monitoring results reveal that only 10% of the actions set out in the 2019 plan have been accomplished (that is one out of the 10 commitments, which aimed to inform potential vendors about opportunities to participate in public procurement procedures and curb anti-competitive practices). Another 40% were partially accomplished, while the remaining half of the actions were deemed unaccomplished. In addition, some 60% of the actions were evaluated as producing no impact.
Advancing procurement reform in Moldova is important to ensure the efficient spending of limited financial resources and proper economic growth. One of the main objectives of the National Strategy is to eradicate corruption, in particular in the public procurement sphere. Also, the country has to fulfill its commitments under the Association Agreement with the EU. Accountability and integrity must be added as priorities, in addition to transparency. As an organization, we understand the political challenges and constraints and try to provide constructive feedback with a clear set of actions to improve the situation.
What do we recommend now to improve the anti-corruption efforts?
- Finalize and conduct a public consultation on regulations governing the procurement of goods, works, and services by state-owned enterprises or by joint-stock companies with full or majority state capital. This huge piece of the procurement pie is still conducted behind closed doors. We suggest elaborating on an assessment of the benefits of centralization (in different sectors/regions) with an analysis of the best international practices (piloting one to two sectors/regions).
- Assess the opportunity to (re)introduce preventive data-driven control based on automated risk indicators (including data from beneficiaries registry, asset declarations etc.). Open contracting data generated by MTender and structured according to the OCDS schema opens a lot of opportunities in this direction.
- Amend the legal framework to be able to enforce violations. Those who offended the rules have to be punished, there should be no impunity!
- Create even more transparency. All contracting authorities have to use MTender, even for low-value purchases.
- Eliminate all inconsistencies of MTender with the provisions of the legal framework.
- Finally, we suggest completing the development of the electronic procurement system in order to cover the full contracting cycle, from planning to contract implementation.
For us, it is obvious that making the e-procurement system transparent and publishing data are only the first steps of the open contracting journey. We, at IDIS Viitorul, want to make our procurement sphere open, accountable, efficient and corruption-free. That is why we are continuing our monitoring activities and offering our permanent support and expertise to our partners in government, civil society, and business.