Contracts, Data and Investigations 65
This week: A new tool for screening sanctioned people & firms, a priceless commendation letter in Australia, school books in Nigeria, and an analysis of procurement data in 109 countries
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. We’d love to feature your stories and hear what you are working on! Do like this edition if you’ve enjoyed the read.
[What we are keeping an eye on]
To whom it may concern: In Australia, a letter of recommendation from a health minister can be worth billions during a pandemic, finds the ABC’s Four Corners. Linton Besser, Ali Russell, Lucy Carter and Patrick Begley looked into AUS$1bn in government PPE contracts given without public tender to Aspen Medical, a firm that was inexperienced in large-scale procurement. Read the story or watch the program. With elections this week, no wonder comedians are having a field day: Check this fake game show The Pork is Right where contestants guess the price of dodgy contracts awarded by the government.
Drawing the curtains: In Indonesia, civil society organization Indonesia Corruption Watch has identified a suspicious US$3.3m (IDR 48.7bn) tender for curtains at official residences of parliamentarians, reports Moh. Khory Alfarizi for Tempo. While 49 companies registered interests, only 3 companies submitted the bids of which 1 had the required interior design license. As a result, the parliament decided to cancel the tender. Unfortunately, often the response to uncovering red flags during the procurement process is canceling a tender rather than fixing it transparently.
Notebook scandal: An investigation by Dataphyte’s Olanrewaju Oyedeji found irregularities in the award of a N998m (US$2.4m) project to purchase secondary school exercise books in Oyo State. The price of the materials was 10 times more than expected. Using the state’s open contracting data, they revealed three of the four contractors were owned by the same person. But the case has a twist: in a follow up to the story, evidence shared to refute the claims surfaced information on other companies awarded contracts with ties to the governor’s associates.
Kyrgyz Republic’s Kloop analyzed spending at the local Ala-Buka hospital where patients complained about extortion for everything from a referral to prescriptions. Using open data, the media group found the hospital spent 2.5 million soms in December 2021 alone on laundry soap (US$30k), or 2500 soms per piece ($30). In total, half of all direct purchases for the year were made in December raising questions about the hospital’s funds are being managed effectively.
Who publishes what data on public procurement? Most countries publish some data on public procurement. But it usually isn’t enough to really understand who is buying what, and for how much. Much less whether it gets delivered. Ideally, to analyze public procurement you need timely information that is machine-readable and open. The Global Data Barometer analyzed 109 countries on whether that’s the case and found only 50 countries released machine-readable data. Only nine countries publish data for all key stages of the procurement process. Read our quick analysis and dig through the full details for all countries. The report also looked at the availability of data on health, environment, public finances, and political integrity.
[Tips from practitioners]
RuAssets is a new tool for screening companies and individuals sanctioned in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Veronika Boyko (Вероніка Бойко), the social direction manager of YouControl, the Ukrainian firm that built the platform, offers some tips for procurement watchers who want to check whether companies bidding on tenders are linked to sanctions:
See what you can find on publicly available information sources, such as search engines, government databases and social media platforms, before deciding whether to launch into a deep investigation. Tip-offs from insiders can be a starting point for your research, but they must be corroborated by data and documents. Open databases are useful for proving rumors are true.
Use a variety of sources to understand what’s happening. Compare company registers, tax registers, databases of politically exposed persons (PEPs). RuAssets aggregates from these sources automatically (the tool is free for journalists).
It isn’t that someone is a PEP that’s important. It’s why they’re a PEP that tells the story. Who are their family members and connections? You might find that the entrepreneurial businesswoman interested in your tender is the mother of a high-ranking military officer in Chechnya.
If you’re investigating an individual’s hidden connections to companies and people in a platform like RuAssets (or even manually gathered records), follow one trail of evidence to a prominent figure, take a break for a few days, and come back to the same data and documents with fresh eyes. If you’re lucky you’ll find another trail that reveals the person has other, even more powerful ties.
Look for clues in someone’s circle of influence - who are their first and second degree connections? An oligarch always has a big entourage.
[Tools & resources] What can you do with public procurement data?
A number of platforms provide insights into the data published across the European Union. Transparency International’s EU platform Integrity Watch analyzes red flags in public procurement co-funded by the EU or by national budgets. Tenders Guru monitors public procurement processes in Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Spain using primarily national sources. And Opentender.eu analyzes indicators including competition, efficiency and integrity building on the data published through the EU’s Tenders Electronic Daily service among other sourcers.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
This newsletter has been put together by the Open Contracting Partnership. Thanks for reading. Did a friend forward you this email? Click here to subscribe