Project Pitch and Q&A
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Poder Ciudadano created the Public Procurement Observatory COVID-19 with the aim of improving the integrity of public procurement based on parameters of open information, transparency, and accountability.
It is the only open data portal that monitors emergency public procurement at the national level in Argentina and its database was used by control agencies, CSOs, and journalists for its clarity and potential to detect irregularities in public procurement to address the health and social emergency.
Its methodology can be replicated at the subnational and regional level, and extended to the entire procurement cycle, especially the procurement of vaccines to address COVID-19.
After the appearance of the first cases of COVID-19 in Argentina, the National Government declared a State of Emergency and adopted measures to streamline public procurement and contracting processes. With an already deficient procurement system in terms of integrity, transparency, and efficiency, the measures adopted deteriorated the situation by increasing the margins of discretion of the authorities, decreasing accountability, and delaying the publication of information related to the pandemic.
This deterioration in the integrity of procurement had a direct impact on the guarantee of basic rights such as health and access to social protection in emergency contexts. Argentina quickly invested millions of dollars in emergency procurement and contracting, faced with the need to purchase medical supplies, hospital equipment, and basic consumer goods to reduce the effects caused by COVID-19. Irregularities were also quickly detected in these processes. One of the most resounding facts was the detection of huge overpricing in the millionaire purchases of food for the most disadvantaged sectors of the country, carried out by the Ministry of Social Development.
Based on this scenario, in April 2020, Poder Ciudadano created the Public Procurement Observatory COVID-19 to promote higher levels of transparency and increase social control over public funds allocated to the emergency. The main objective of this Observatory was, and still is, to detect risks of misappropriation of funds and possible acts of corruption through concomitant social control. With an accessible and friendly format for citizens, with centralized and reliable information, the Observatory aims to provide citizens, civil society and journalists with the necessary tools to carry out effective control of the expenditures made by the national State to guarantee fundamental human rights.
During 2020, the Public Procurement Observatory COVID-19 had a significant impact on the media, the public agenda, and civil society organizations in Argentina. Some of these achievements are:
- Consolidating a database with available information on more than 800 public purchases made by the National State through its various agencies and dependencies. This implied a citizen control over USD $235,065,395.00 applied by the National Government to palliate the effects of the pandemic.
- Mapping the risks of corruption in emergency procurement and contracting processes, based on a technical and expert analysis carried out by experts from the organization, based on a rights perspective and with a focus on the regulatory framework.
- Activate the right of access to public information, using requests for information to access data on purchases made by state agencies to address the effects of the pandemic.
- Establish the Observatory's website as a reservoir of accurate, systematized, accessible and re-processable information.
- To place on the public agenda the importance of integrity in public procurement as a guarantor of rights, through debates open to the community.
- Introduce recommendations for improvements in state processes aimed at raising the levels of transparency, accountability, and integrity of the national public procurement system.
- Engage in dialogues with public authorities to improve the procurement system.
The work and results obtained by the Observatory had a significant impact on the media, the civil society sector, and the public sector in general.
Numerous media outlets replicated the results of the Observatory and used the database to conduct their own investigations on procurement processes related to pandemic care.
The Observatory is now considered a best practice in social monitoring of integrity systems from the perspective of CSOs in Argentina and other countries. As a result, some of the organizations replicated the experience in their own jurisdictions, initiating their own projects for monitoring and control of procurement and contracting.
Finally, the public sector also echoed the results of the Observatory, being the starting point for the establishment of spaces for dialogue with authorities to promote greater transparency in procurement and contracting.
Project Impact and Potential for Scaling, Replication, and Sustainability
The methodology developed through the Public Procurement Observatory COVID-19 has become an excellent means of monitoring and evaluating the integrity and effectiveness of national public procurement. Based on the definition of processes and general parameters that constitute the procurement processes, it allows for expansion of its scope, both geographically and in the different phases of the procurement cycle, emergency or regular. In the near future, we will seek to analyze the complete public procurement cycle, i.e., including the distribution and delivery of the goods and/or services purchased.
The proposed procedure is highly adaptable to other jurisdictions. Its multi-source public information collection mechanism, the operational definitions of the processes, and the production in open formats allow the methodology to be replicated in subnational jurisdictions as well as in other countries. This instrument can be appropriated by CSOs or civic spaces without the need for complex technical capabilities. Poder Ciudadano has incorporated years of experience in this area into this methodology, based on exchanges with CSOs, authorities, and specialists in social control of public procurement.
The leadership of Poder Ciudadano and its work networks with the media, CSOs interested in the issue, and with control bodies, providing sustainability to the Observatory in the public agenda and allowing it to deepen its work of social control. This also relies on the channels of dialogue generated with national and provincial authorities: these, sensitized by the demands of the post-pandemic recovery context, find value in increasing the levels of transparency, accountability, citizen participation, and technological innovation in the field of public procurement.
Finally, from the financial point of view, the International Cooperation has shown interest in the Observatory. The Observatory has received contributions from the Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives (FCIL), key to the consolidation and development of the initiative, from the Partnership for Transparency Fund, Inc. (PTF), which made it possible to strengthen and broaden its scope, focusing on the methodology for monitoring the distribution and storage phases of medical supplies, the development of a network with other CSOs, and the expansion of technical recommendations. In this line, it is expected to have the support of these two institutions in 2021 and to add other financing oriented to the replicability and scalability of the Observatory.
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