Contracts, Data and Investigations 66
This week: Investigating mental health in Latin America, stories from Nigeria, Uganda and the UK, and tips on using data to probe road paving in Brazil
In this newsletter, we cover stories about the use and abuse of public contracts and provide tips and insights on how to investigate public procurement. Are you investigating a public contract right now? Get in touch – we’d love to help.
[What we are keeping an eye on]
Investigating public health spending: Latin American media network Red Palta’s latest investigation looks at public spending on mental health in six countries. They found a growing market – due in part to the pandemic – that is both underfunded and highly concentrated, with few bidders who often secure awards directly. It’s a good example of how medicine procurement typically consists of many smaller markets that focus on specialized niches. This creates lots of opportunities to unduly influence the procurement process and keep costs high. Check out the detailed state of play in each country, thanks to the excellent reporting of OjoPúblico (Perú), LaBot (Chile), Ojoconmipisto (Guatemala), la diaria (Uruguay), PODER (México), and La Nación (Argentina).
Nigeria’s investigative outlets continue to shed light on government spending. Ripples has identified six agencies who made N.28 billion (US$67 million) in untraceable payments related to 22 government deals in a timespan of two months. By comparing publicly available open contracting data with a site visit, ICIR Nigeria has uncovered more dodgy deals from the COVID-19 pandemic, including purchases of cleaning chemicals and unaccounted spending of COVID-19 funds by one of the largest federal hospitals. On our website, Dataphyte explains how it is working with citizens and data journalists to monitor $120 million worth of government projects.
A register of blacklisted companies and persons that details entities under investigation or suspension is a good tool to improve the procurement process – in theory. In practice, Handelsblatt’s Christoph Herwartz finds that such a list run by the EU Commission has only 18 entries.
School meals provide a huge opportunity to improve children’s nutrition and support local providers. But procuring food services is challenging. In Colombia, Bogotá’s open contracting reforms increased competition and exposed a price-fixing scheme in a school meal program serving more than 700,000 students. Now, after five years, the suppliers who colluded to avoid competition and keep prices high have finally been sanctioned and fined US$8 million, El Tiempo reports.
In Uganda, Monitor’s Frederic Musisi reports on the country’s increasingly costly road infrastructure. The unit price per kilometer has been on the rise for more than a decade – and is about double that of roads in Kenya and Rwanda.
In the UK, Financial Times’ Kate Beioley and Gill Plimmer detail how ten companies colluded on tenders in London and Midlands to rig bids for contracts worth £150 million. The contracts were for demolition and asbestos removal projects, the specialized nature of which made them prone to cartels.
In an effort to better understand public spending patterns in the Atlantico region of Colombia, La Contratopedia Caribe reviewed 312 large public contracts and identified six common practices that test the limits of what is legal and prop up a network of powerful local politicians and businesses. Some of the practices include a reliance on businesses offering multiple services, a heavy reliance on credits, and spending on marketing services. Explore their series of investigations. (The work was supported through an Open Contracting Partnership story challenge).
In Mexico, $500 million was reportedly spent on risky businesses, firms under investigation or sanctions, or recently registered companies, according to El Economista’s Maritza Pérez. The story builds on the latest corruption risk index by Mexican civil society organization IMCO.
[Tips from practitioners]
When Folha de S.Paulo Flávio Ferreira’s feet got stuck in melted asphalt on a hot day, he knew something was amiss.
Abraji’s newsletter Investigadora provides a fascinating deep dive into Flávio’s recent investigation together with data scientists Guilherme Garcia and Mateus Vargas, who examined how regional state-run economic development enterprise Codevasf got into the road-paving business.
Initial Google searches with keywords such as “paving” and “Codevasf” helped to detect patterns in tender title descriptions. Identifying the relevant Official Gazettes in this way pinpointed auctions that mentioned the winning companies and bids. The journalists used this information to create a simple spreadsheet that allowed them to uncover a jump in the number of bids and a specific beneficiary. To find out how the state-owned enterprise secured the budget for pavement works from parliament, the team used the online federal budget platform and access to information requests on lobbying meetings with parliamentarians. Data scientist Guilherme structured the data collected and linked it together from start to finish.
To summarize in Flávio Ferreira words: “This is an example of how you can use data journalism to go into the field much more prepared and knowing where to look.”
[Tools & resources] What can you do with public procurement data?
Pinpoint is a tool to explore and analyze large collections of documents. You can sort and filter documents as the tool identifies key people, organizations, and locations in the text. The tool, which was developed by the Google New Initiative, helps convert audio files to text and search them. Brazil’s Abraji has created a Pinpoint collection analyzing the contracts of the logistics department in the Ministry of Health and the regional state-run enterprise for economic development Codevasf, who were both at the center of corruption scandals over the last years.
For our followers in Kyrgyzstan, this competition for using public procurement data might be for you. As part of the challenge, there are a number of webinars and resources at http://opendata.kg/tenderdata. The deadline for submissions is 10 September. For inspiration, check out the latest data-driven story by our partners at Kloop who look into tenders that were awarded, but there’s no evidence they were followed up with a signed contract.
You can also review our tipsheet for journalists and this guide that we developed together with the Global Investigative Journalism Network. For recommendations, resources and tools on COVID-19 contracts, check our COVID-19 resource page. Interested in a training or background conversation? Just reach out to Sophie and Georg at email@example.com.
This newsletter has been put together by the Open Contracting Partnership. Thanks for reading. Do give us a like if you’ve enjoyed the read. Did a friend forward you this email? Click here to subscribe