Beyond digital procurement: open contracting

5 Apr 2019 15:45h - 16:30h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 2nd Western Balkan Digital Summit]

The panel Beyond Digital Procurement: Open Contracting, focused on how to reimagine public procurement, focusing on concrete cases, where Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) are used for public databases. The moderator Sanja Nasevska (Junior Project Coordinator – Open Data UNDP) stated that addressing OCDS is not yet considered as standard, when talking about public procurement and corruption. Her question for all the panelists was whether we can think about OCDS and its philosophy as a method for improving daily lives. And if so, in which way.

Karolis Granickas (Senior Program Manager at Open Contracting Partnership) expressed his dissatisfaction with the reality of open data research results, after being in the field for 10 years, in comparison to the usual high expectations existing around the potential of the technology.

He then explained that the most useful purpose he found for this technology was within Open contracting Partnership, where they use open data solutions in the field of data procurement.

Open contracting Partnership offers open contracting data standards, intelligence and insights to improve procurement in countries.  Policy is slowly catching up with technologies, and almost 40 countries include open standards. The main  question for him is  how to facilitate intelligence on digital procurement systems. He mentioned the example of Ukraine, saving 12% of procurement budget since the new system of 2015. Ukraine managed to actually change the public perception of corruption, complaints became more effective, and they also developed an intelligence tool to research what is the competition in a certain sector in a certain geographical area at a certain timeframe.

If the prime minister or mayor don’t know basic data on procurement, they base their decisions on opinions, not on the valuable data which is available. For him the main focus for improving lives is the question where do we want our procurement offices to go?

The panelist, Eliza Niewiadomska, (Senior Counsel, Legal Transition Programme at EBRD) started by saying that there is a huge gap between what the law says and what the market does. Governments spend a lot of money and they have a huge impact on the market. To deliver on transparency, EBRD looks into how to translate the law into digital tools.

They work on new digital government solutions, open contracting partnership working with the market and with governments, working with data in OCDS format which is published once and which works for everyone. The regions where they work usually don’t have enough faith in the government, so OCDS format is the perfect solution. Ukraine was the first partner in how to make use of this data for government and for the citizens, and how to implement on the market. In some countries where they worked, such as Armenia, there were several existing procurement systems where the public sector is struggling to extract data. Other successful examples of OCDS implementation for public procurement are Belarus and Moldova.

She noted that businesses do a better job in public services when they are scrutinized by the people, not when they are penalized from the public sector, and this is where open formats come in, to give precise, publicly available information.

In terms of improving daily lives, she mentioned that, besides helping whole countries, citizens, businesses and governments, OCDS help make the jobs and lives of public procurement officers more meaningful.

Gresa Smolitca, (Project Coorninator NGO Levizja FOL, Kosovo*), started by introducing the official E-procurement platform in Kosovo*, which was formally existing at the time her NGO started researching public procurement, but it didn’t provide transparency and didn’t prevent corruption from happening.

As a civil society organisation they wanted to make the regulatory bodies publish all public documents. They decided to create a parallel web aggregator, scraping data from public documents, from the official e-procurement website so that media can see more transparently all the contracts which are signed by public institutions. The type of data they provide is such as: name of contracts, types of procedures, including the end date, whether an activity was concluded in due time. With the first launch when encountering huge amounts of data their focus was how to show this data that will help journalists to use the platform for monitoring public procurement activity. Now that there is a regulation which demands that each public authority publishes all their contracts, they started even helping public institutions in this process. In that sense, the Open procurement platform is currently getting most of the data from the official Public procurement regulatory platform. Her conclusion was that when we cross the potential of technology and human resources, it is possible to help the actual lives of people.

The last panelist, Mladen Alimpijević (Independent Adviser for Serbian Public Procurement Office) started by mentioning that the Public procurement office is currently undergoing strategic reforms, in the process of changing the law. The strategy is for the period 2019-2033, with the goal to make an effective system and decrease the risk of irregularities. The draft strategy includes the options of open data standards within the public procurement portal. Currently, he noted, it looks like the public procurement market is very small and they hope the new system will motivate small companies to be involved in the public procurement market. The online portal, which is in the last phase of development, will include options of digitalising physical submissions, which will be the main challenge, because in his opinion, citizens like papers. He also stated that the main difference with the development of the new system is that it will be machine readable, while the current portal is only partially machine readable. He also acknowledged that the government sector is slow at changing, unlike the NGO sector which is not afraid of changes. Nevertheless, the public procurement office in Serbia started with open data already in 2015, with the idea to bring new open data opportunities which they will continue to work on.


By Darija Medić


[1]          This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.