Today is Open Data Day. As part of the Open Data movement, the opening up of contracts offers a revolution in public procurement. An estimated US$ 9.5 trillion is spent by governments in deals with business. If done more openly, efficiently and effectively, governments could save budgets otherwise wasted.
To drive this kind of social progress, Hivos launched the global programme on Open Contracting Data. This joint programme with ARTICLE19, funded by and in cooperation with the Dutch government, and in close cooperation with Open Contracting Partnership, supports independent journalists, hacktivists, artists, academics and civic watchdogs – in opening up contracting data and making them actionable and useful. This offers citizens possibilities to gain insight into what businesses and governments are doing, how they obtain and spend (public) money and to exert pressure where needed to strengthen accountability.
Also businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, have seen opportunities increase through more insight into the process of public procurement. For example, participation in bidding for government contracts has nearly doubled in Slovakia after disclosing tenders and contracts openly and putting in place simple and fair processes for awarding contracting. But in the end, it is citizens who benefit most.
Governments use public contracting to provide vital infrastructure, goods and services to citizens. When schools are built badly in an earthquake zone, disasters are bound to happen. In Sichuan, China, contractors built schools to cheap and shoddy standards. In 2008, disaster struck, the schools collapsed like ‘tofu’, killing over 5000 students and teachers. The government later arrested parents for protesting, not the contractors. Public disasters like this keep happening. This is why citizens all over the world are starting to rally behind the idea of open contracting.
In Nigeria, the Public Private Development Centre launched a project called Budeshi, meaning “open it”, to unlock and monitor contracts to build schools or primary health care centres. Having access to basic, useable data on the project gives the public a chance to track performance of the contractor and ensure it delivers on its promise of public benefit. This isn’t always easy to do for non-specialists but a number of great ways have been developed to assist citizens to fully understand and be able to play their part, such as for example Development Check.
Better data and public access to such information provides more opportunity to give informed feedback. For example, a public-private contract was signed in 2014 to build a $300 million waste treatment plant serving 2.5 million people in the metropolitan area of the capital of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte. During preparation, the project team operated under a policy of full disclosure and held around 20 public meetings for all potential stakeholders. Sharing and discussing this information changed the project dramatically: eventually, responding to the voices of citizens, the facility was relocated to a less populated area.
In Chile, the platform Compras Transparentes, built by the data journalism organization Poderopedia, visualises detailed information on contracts – following the money from the Ministry of Health all the way down to the level of a hospital. So, this type of social progress is not some abstract promise. We are looking forward to support this emerging movement and help accelerate its momentum for real change in people’s lives.