Kristen Robinson has recently joined us as Head of Advocacy, and outlines five advocacy priorities for the open contracting community in 2021.
The motto for this year’s International Anti-Corruption Day is “Recover with Integrity”. Indeed, the pandemic has exposed the profound challenges facing effective government and public integrity as governments have rushed to spend billions under emergency conditions.
Public procurement has been on the frontline of the pandemic response. Governments spent hundreds of billions of dollars scrambling to secure personal protective equipment, medical supplies and other goods and services to deal with the emergency, often relying on companies with no relevant experience and dubious ties – from vodka distillers in the US, pest controllers in the UK to a raspberry farm in Bosnia.
But in those first three months, we also saw three years worth of innovation in countries such as Lithuania, with all contracts, prices and bidder information made available transparently, building on standardized open data and in collaboration with civil society. The government in Paraguay successfully turned to open electronic procurement even for direct contracts.
Now, to build back better we need to move from immediate crisis response and emergency spending to long-term, systemic reforms like open contracting and open, inclusive government.
Here are five fights that our global community needs to win next year to recover with integrity.
- Open contracting reforms scale to support the recovery.
Open contracting reforms have seen billions of dollars saved, reduced corruption, increased competition, thousands of new businesses working with the government for the first time and improved public services. Read all the evidence here.
The value of open data and collaborating with civil society and others has really come into its own in the pandemic, managing the unprecedented supply chain disruptions and helping to keep emergency spending accountable, leading a host of innovations from around the world.
Now we need to take what’s worked and make it a part of how government operates throughout the recovery and beyond. We‘re optimistic this moment can be a step change in how contracts are planned, awarded and delivered because we see more reform energy than ever before. But we need to answer that energy with sustained international assistance to make sure reforms stick and vested interests are confronted.
As we face economic headwinds and rising budget deficits from the pandemic, the time is now to scale these successes so every dollar of precious public money is invested in getting citizens and businesses back on their feet. We’ll do this by implementing open contracting across all stages of the procurement process, at all levels of government.
- International organizations embrace open contracting as the norm for doing business.
As part of its rapid financing support, the IMF encouraged recipients to publish their COVID-19 emergency contracts and beneficial ownership of the companies concerned. As IMF boss Kristalina Georgieva said, “spend what you can, but keep the receipts”. So how are countries doing? And where is the follow up from the IMF to make sure countries have remained accountable to their citizens and also to the Fund’s international donors in their actions? We are working with OpenOwnership to research whether and how well countries are implementing their commitments.
And we need to see other international institutions stepping up too. The World Bank has been quiet on requiring full procurement transparency throughout the pandemic, and they must now seize this opportunity to follow the IMF’s lead in publishing information about the planning, award and implementation of contracts that they finance and build open contracting into their long term reform support too.
- US reclaims its global open government leadership, leading by example with strong commitments to open contracting
The Summit of Democracies will be a watershed moment to reset and reinforce the US’ leadership role in promoting democratic values. Integrating open contracting best practice at the heart of this agenda from day one will make sure every budget is efficiently allocated, appropriately spent, and effectively delivers the goods and services that citizens are promised.
Black communities in the US have been severely disproportionately affected by the virus. Barriers of entry to participating in public contracting for minority-owned, women-owned, and other disadvantaged business enterprises are still way too high. Building on our research with the Aspen Institute Center for Urban Innovation, we will need innovative solutions that build on open contracting processes to ensure more inclusive and equitable procurement.
We will be calling on the American cities and regions to adopt open contracting and procurement practices such as favouring best value over lowest cost, such as in Philadelphia. This will ensure that every American benefits from open contracts, and the world’s most powerful democracy can lead by example.
- 2021 landmark declarations commit to clear action on open contracting
Next year will see the first United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Corruption and the UK host the G7. We need both international fora to push progress forward on implementing open contracting principles and open contracting for infrastructure — one of government’s largest expenditures. We can do this by building on the past commitments made by the G7 and G20, and updating the UNODC best practice guidance on procurement reforms to cover the rise of digitization and standardized open contracting data as well as embedding sustained support for civic activists and journalists who monitor contracts and drive change.
- Open up the vaccine deals to make procurement and delivery transparent
The COVID-19 Global Vaccine Access Facility (Covax Facility) is being developed to address vaccine development, procurement and access challenges. Without proper coordination, there will be continued national competition for vaccines, asymmetric information that harms the world’s poorest countries and unnecessary deaths. Mandating an open end-to-end procurement process for the vaccine planning, spending and delivery is a prerequisite to ensure that the purchase and distribution of vaccines is cost effective, equitable and efficient.
Following disappointing efforts on both ‘track and trace’ and PPE procurement in so many countries, the vaccine deployment is the next best chance for governments around the world to rebuild public trust in their ability to deliver critical public services in times of crisis. It can’t be missed.
We’ve seen the immense human costs of corrupt public contracts this year. The road to recovery involves rebuilding public trust. These five wins will build back a better society by ensuring that public contracts deliver the public services, the roads, the schools, the hospitals that we all deserve.