1. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD SET UP A COMPREHENSIVE CENTRAL PUBLIC PROCUREMENT PORTAL
Currently, 23 of 34 DIGIWHIST countries already have a single national public procurement portal publishing all regulated tenders and contracts, albeit information content, usability, and reliability varies greatly. Providing comprehensive public procurement information free of charge in an easy-to-use format to all interested parties is expected to increase market transparency, decrease transaction costs, and facilitate government accountability. This has also been recommended by the G20. Hence, a well-functioning central public procurement platform should contribute to achieving value for money in public procurement as well as increase integrity throughout the public sector.
The DIGIWHIST portal www.opentender.eu featuring all of the above functionalities will be launched in 2018, filling the gap where source data quality allows.
2. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD COMMIT TO PUBLISHING PROCUREMENT DATA BY DEFAULT IN AN OPEN AND EASY-TO-UNDERSTAND DATA FORMAT
Publishing public procurement data in a timely and easy-to-understand format and publishing information as machine readable data are essential for lowering the barriers to data use and reuse by all stakeholders. Having a set range of few reporting formats makes the understanding and processing of public procurement information the least cumbersome and thus represents the optimal scenario.
As recommended by international civil society organisations like the Open Knowledge Foundation, the Sunlight Foundation or the Open Contracting Partnership, governments should adhere with machine-readable file formats such as CSV, JSON, and XML to ensure usability. Users should be also able to download data in bulk either as .csv or through an Application Programming Interface (API).
The number of data publication forms should be kept to the very minimum in order to minimize complexity, facilitating stakeholder engagement with the data. To ensure data format and accessibility meet user needs, governments should establish a monitoring, evaluation, and learning process involving data users as well as data producers.
3. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD REQUIRE LOW REPORTING THRESHOLDS WITH THE SAME REGULATORY FRAMEWORK FOR ALL PUBLIC BODIES AND SPENDING AREAS
Governments should implement low monetary publication thresholds and apply public procurement rules to all public bodies and spending areas. Ideally, monetary thresholds requiring publishing tendering information should be close 0€ so that all or most public spending through public procurement systems is transparently published. With the widespread use of e-procurement systems and electronic administration of public purchases the cost of such widespread transparency more or less equal to the fairly minimal cost of adapting government IT systems (most if not all information published in public procurement announcements must be recorded as part of standard record keeping anyways!). When it comes to applying procedural rules for example requiring open bidding, the public expectation for open competition, the expected benefits of competing bids, and the associated administrative burden of administering open and highly regulated tenders must be carefully balanced. A lighter procedural regime should be applied to the smallest value contracts, with full procedural and transparency rules required for higher value contracts starting from about 20-40,000€.
The scope of public institutions outside the remit of public procurement law and publication requirements such as public utilities or local governments and sectoral exceptions such as defence and national security should be minimised in order to reap full benefits of market transparency and minimise gaming of exceptional rules.
4. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD INCREASE THE DEPTH OF PROCUREMENT DATA PUBLISHED, IN PARTICULAR PUBLISHING CONTRACT IMPLEMENTATION DATA, RELIABLE DATA ON CORRECTED AND FAILED TENDERS, AND ORGANISATIONAL IDS BY DEFAULT.
Procurement processes typically span over a long period of time and include various stages, such as call for expression of interest or pre-announcement; a formal call for tenders; announcements of the winning bidder(s); contract implementation; and ex-post assessments of performance. Any of these stages may also be subject to modifications, cancellations, or legal challenge. As public procurement typically implies a highly structured and complex procedure, there are many variables or bits of information which should be reported at each stage in order to provide sufficient information to interested bidders and civil society.
Governments should increase the depth of public procurement data publication in order to allow for the comprehensive monitoring of public procurement processes underpinning good government, efficient competition, and government accountability. In particular, we recommend that governments:
- publish public procurement data relating to the whole procurement cycle on existing public procurement platforms, including at a minimum: call for tenders, contract awards, and contract completion/ implementation announcements
- publish information on amendments, modifications, and failed tenders in a structured and reliable format so that up-to-date information is available on all tenders
- publish at least a minimum set of variables essential for government accountability and transparency of bidding. Crucially, unique organisational identifiers linkable to external registries such as company registries is a fundamental precondition to monitoring organisational performance
DIGIWHIST proposes a minimal list of variables and their publication location for governments. This list is close to the Open Contracting Data Standard to connect to already existing international standards but contains some specific variables for the European context, underpinning effective monitoring across the continent.
5. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD FACILITATE THE LINK BETWEEN PUBLIC PROCUREMENT DATA AND FURTHER DATASETS
Storing public procurement data separately from linked datasets is problematic as public procurement is a cross-cutting government function with numerous links to organisational financial performance, such as public body budget deficit, and to sector-specific outputs, such as hospital mortality or road usage.
We recommend that governments establish the link between public procurement data and related datasets describing organisational behavior and performance through the use of common organisational and contract IDs across different data systems, such as public procurement, payments, company registry, or court rulings. Sectoral public sector outputs such as quality of roads is what ultimately matters for citizens, hence increasing the trust in complex public procurement systems and minimizing corruption risks should build on linked data. Linking datasets would not only allow for better understanding how public money is spent but also for better risk assessment of public procurement processes. Data on company ownership and the data on individuals involved in public procurement could be linked in order to measure and eventually control the risks of favouritism.
6. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD LINK PUBLIC PROCUREMENT ANNOUNCEMENTS TO ORIGINAL PROCUREMENT DOCUMENTS BY DEFAULT
Typically, public procurement data as published in public procurement platforms only contain summary information of the original full procurement documents like full tender specification or the signed contract. Directly linking announcements to the original full documentation greatly decreases transactions costs and decreases the probability of corruptly providing crucial tendering information to selected bidders.
Hence, governments should link procurement announcements to all relevant original documents. Those should include the full tender documentation and maps, plans, etc. Ideally, signed contracts should also be linked and easily available. Here, information on sub-contractors as well as contract amendments, invoices, and completion reports submitted should be linked to the dataset. Submitted bids, or at least parts of them, may be exempt from these stringent transparency rules for protecting commercially sensitive information or privacy of individuals.
7. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD INTRODUCE CONTROL MECHANISMS TO ENSURE DATA QUALITY IS MAINTAINED
Missing, incomplete, and erroneous data is one of the fundamental problems in European public procurement data systems. Even in countries with comprehensive templates for data reporting and a central public procurement authority overseeing the data generation process, the quality of the administrative data is low, predominantly due to poorly designed online platforms and the lack of enforcement.
Accordingly, we recommend that existing data reporting requirements are adequately enforced and data quality is increased to the legally mandated minimum throughout Europe. To ensure all required data fields are filled out with truthful information, governments should introduce centralised control mechanisms and penalties for non-compliance. Punishment of non-compliance in extreme cases can include the freezing of the tender or interrupting payments until records are corrected, practices employed. But more light-touch enforcement may also produce the desired data quality, such as sending automatic clarifying questions back to the reporting public bodies until all missing information and inconsistencies are resolved. While data completeness and adequate publication may not appear crucial for public procurement outcomes, more information in an easily accessible format leads to better competition and better outcomes.
8. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD LOWER BUREAUCRATIC BURDEN BY LINKING PUBLICATION SYSTEMS TO TENDER, CONTRACT AND PAYMENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
Currently, public procurement data is only rarely automatically filled in from linked administrative databases such as corporate registries (see above on data linking), as such links are not established to start with. This means that in most European countries, standard elements of public procurement announcements and records such as winning company name and address have to be manually entered, which creates additional unnecessary work and increases the potential for error.
If administrative datasets are linked, the officially verified (and supposedly correct) information should be automatically added to public procurement records to lower public procurement administrators’ administrative burden as well as minimizing the risk of erroneous data entry. This is also recommended by the G20 and should be followed by the EU as a guideline. G20 Principles for promoting integrity in public procurement.
9. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD ENCOURAGE THE REGULAR USE OF PUBLIC PROCUREMENT DATA BOTH INSIDE AND OUTSIDE GOVERNMENTS
As there is very little structured data, there are only few government agencies and non-governmental organisations which actually make use of public procurement databases in a substantive way. Reuse of public data has the capacity to contribute to greater competitiveness and more accountable government if stakeholders can understand it, act on it, and pursue change.
Governments who are the principal data guardians should promote the use of public procurement data within government and facilitate data reuse by non-governmental stakeholders such as civil society watchdogs and data provider firms. The use of public procurement data should be facilitated first by creating direct feedback mechanisms throughout the entire procurement process cycle (i.e. planning, tendering, awarding, implementation) involving all stakeholders from within and outside government. Second, governments should support non-governmental organisations which monitor, analyse, and investigate issues in the process as a friendly ally to both procuring entities and monitoring bodies such as prosecutors.
There is plenty of global good practice of engaging stakeholders in verifying, monitoring, and acting on public procurement data and analytics. For example, European Commission (2017) Integrity Pacts and Social Witness programs in Mexico provide potentially effective ways of strengthening the importance of user views and civil society monitoring. Open Government Guide (2017) Country Example. In Mexico “social witnesses” oversee public procurement. In addition, stakeholders can be given the opportunity to provide feedback to existing procurement processes in the case of irregularities, for example in the implementation phase, but also on the data published (for instance, by marking incomplete datasets). Some countries like the UK have already started working on stakeholder engagement practices, with one example being the construction of Heathrow Terminal 5. OECD (2016) Public Procurement Toolbox. Country case: Stakeholder engagement during the construction of Heathrow Airport Terminal 5.
This is a condensed excerpt of the original blog post by our DIGIWHIST members Mihály Fazekas and Mara Mendes published here: https://opentender.eu/blog/2017-03-recommendations-for-implementation/
Besides more in-depth information the original blog post also offers interactive graphs based on DIGIWHIST research results as well as a downloadable PDF version of the recommendations.