Contracts, Data and Investigations – COVID-19: Edition 2020-10-16

This week’s content: Tracing UK’s COVID-19 spending, a black hole of contracts in the US, hydroxychloroquine orders in Peru, and a textbook case of foreign bribery

This newsletter gathers stories covering the use and abuse of government contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. We’d really be happy about a like, and let us know about your stories and content. We, Sophie and Georg, would love to hear about them.


It’s raining management consultants in the UK: Some private sector consultants working on the UK’s COVID-19 testing scheme are being paid day rates of up to £7,000, reveals Ed Conway for Sky News. An openDemocracy investigation by Peter Gheoghegan and Russell Scott finds more evidence of unlikely firms, with links to the governing party, winning huge contracts. A Tory donor received £96 million worth of contracts without tender to supply laptops to vulnerable students during the pandemic lockdown, reports James Carr for Schools Week. While the firm is a leading reseller, the non-competitive nature of the process has raised questions. And legal action has been launched against the government amid accusations that it has failed to disclose over £3 billion in COVD-19 spending.

Spend Network has published an open database of UK contracts for medical equipment and protective clothing. The database can be accessed here and data can be downloaded as Excel or CSV. 

A black hole for contracts: As part of a program called Operation Warp Speed, more than $6 billion in spending to develop coronavirus vaccines will bypass the usual oversight and transparency requirements of public contracting because the deals are being done through a non-government intermediary, according to NPR’s Sydney Lupkin. But calls to disclose the contracts are growing.

$8.6 million for nothing: Peru’s Ojo Público finds that 80% of government purchases of the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine came from only one provider, even after health experts recognized there was no evidence the medicine was an effective treatment for COVID-19. 

Earlier this year Zimbabwean journalist Hopewell Chin'ono was jailed for “inciting violence” after exposing a COVID-19 scandal reportedly involving millions of dollars of inflated contracts. Now released on bail, Chin’ono has described his ordeal in a letter published by the BBC, highlighting the difficulties faced by journalists who dare to cover corruption in Zimbabwe.   

In what appears to be a textbook case of foreign bribery, a Belgian passport-maker paid at least $140,000 in unexplained fees to win contracts in Madagascar, an OCCRP investigation by Edward Maintikely unveils. This is a perfect example of the kind of corruption under scrutiny in Transparency International’s latest report Exporting Corruption, which rates the performance of 47 leading global exporters in enforcing rules against foreign bribery (only four are actively doing so).


In a statement on COVID-19, UN Secretary-General António Guterres spoke of the damage done by corruption, especially in public procurement: “Corruption is the ultimate betrayal of public trust. Governments may act in haste without verifying suppliers or determine fair prices. Unscrupulous merchants peddle faulty products such as defective ventilators, poorly manufactured tests or counterfeit medicines.” He also made the case for greater openness in public contracting: “Together, we must create more robust systems for accountability, transparency and integrity without delay. A vibrant civic space and open access to information are essential. Technological advances can help increase transparency and better monitor procurement of medical supplies.”


For our recommendations, resources and tools, check our COVID-19 resource page

This newsletter has been put together by the Open Contracting Partnership. Comments? Suggestions? Got a story to share? Write to Sophie or Georg at media@open-contracting.org. Thanks for reading.

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