Discover more from Contracts, Data and Investigations
Contracts, Data and Investigations - Edition 72
This time: Stories from Australia, Bolivia, Colombia, the Philippines and the UK. Secret Canada, data from the Netherlands & what the EU Barometer says about public procurement
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]
We call it the original sin in public contracting: campaign promises that don’t materialize. In Bolivia, it’s the topic of an investigation into nearly 1,000 public works promised under an ambitious infrastructure plan. The result: abandoned worksites, design flaws, and projects often awarded to new companies without experience, but powerful connections. At least $15 million was lost, benefitting a group of 20 companies. Read the full investigation coordinated by Daniel Rivera for Acceso Investigativo and CONNECTAS, in alliance with Erbol, El País and El Deber.
Sinking billions: The Australian Defence Department’s new Frigates project is a jobs merry-go-round for former military officers, bureaucrats, and weapons makers, finds Michelle Fahy for Declassified Australia.
Building better bike lanes: This research by Filipino civic tech organization WeSolve reviewed contracts worth P1 billion (US$18m) for 500 km of pop-up bike lanes during the pandemic – and provides useful lessons to do it better. Check out the data.
What happens when you don’t do your job right? In the UK, the penalty is not much more than a fine, it appears. According to the Guardian’s Andrew Kersley, the 40 companies playing the biggest role in running outsourced government services have received well over £500m in financial penalties from regulators since 2010, but continue to top the list of government suppliers.
All under control: This investigation by FLIP in collaboration with La Contratopedia Caribe explores how official advertising is used by the local government in Barranquilla, Colombia to control its public image – and silence critical journalists.
How common are corrupt practices in the EU’s public procurement? The latest Eurobarometer polls provide some interesting insights on the opinions of companies and Europeans. About six in ten businesses (61%) think tailoring tender specifications for particular companies is a widespread practice. Among citizens, more than four in ten (44%) think corruption is widespread among officials awarding public tenders. Check out the results of the business survey here (jump to p.39 for procurement findings) and download the open data. Get the results of the citizens’ survey here and download the open data via the EU’s Open Data portal.
Here’s a quick look at what businesses think are the key risks, by country.
The lovely things you can do with data: In our latest story, we highlight how the Netherlands is making sense of procurement data thanks to an analytics team and open contracting data. Read some of the most recent analyses on the top 10 innovation-friendly public buyers, most common purchases (using CPV codes), and the substantial increase in hiring of consultancy firms (readers of this newsletter might remember some stories…). You can access the latest open contracting data via their open data platform or our Data Registry.
Anfani.org is Dataphyte’s platform that uses open data to connect the dots between procurement and beneficial ownership for journalists, civic activists and anti-corruption organizations in Nigeria. Learn more about the platform. And here is how Dataphyte used it to uncover shell companies used to rig school book purchases (a story we covered in 2022).
The art of simulating contracts: More than US$18m in contracts went to a network of businesses that didn’t comply with legal requirements and that didn’t have any staff, finds an investigation by CONNECTAS, AVC Noticias and Proceso, revealing the modus operandi of the Judiciary Council in Veracruz, México.
[Tips from practitioners]
Secret Canada: Secret Canada is a project by Globe and Mail journalists Tom Cardoso and Robyn Doolittle that exposes how secretive Canadian government agencies are. In a 20-month-long investigation, the journalists produced a database of responses to more than 300,000 FOI requests from hundreds of public institutions.
It’s a great resource to inspire your own requests and investigation. Most entries are from 2021-22, but new information is being added, for example on hospitals, as Tom and Robyn prepare to send out a new round of FOI requests.
Running quick searches, I found 13,646 requests for "contract,” 1026 for "bid" and 686 for "tender." Other terms to check out are "RFP," "scoring," "supplier" and "vendor."
Tom Cardoso shared some insights and hard lessons from the first round of requests in a recent Twitter thread. He says the key innovation was a kind of FAQ guide for FOI offices on how to handle the requests, which the journalists’ linked to in the inquiry letters. This helped to avoid semantic debates about what their specific requests were about and what format was most appropriate. “If even a fraction of offices read this guide, we'll save a TON of time,” Tom writes.
In this segment on CTV’s The Social, Robyn also mentioned they interviewed hundreds of public officials as part of the investigation. Remember there are humans behind the process and in most cases, Freedom of Information (FOI) coordinators are not trained on FOI legislation. There is one course at the University of Alberta, with six modules.
[Data tools & resources]
Check out Bellingcat's Online Investigation Toolkit. The spreadsheet includes some useful tools that readers of this newsletter could use to support your investigations into public contracts and the companies that win them. Perhaps start with our Data Registry to access the contracts, or you can check on the supposed company headquarter or progress of public works via satellite and mapping services, see if companies are on a sanction list, or dig into the owner’s potentially suspicious glamorous online presence.
We’re excited to join the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Gothenburg with a session to share key insights, tips and resources on investigating public contracts from Kazakhstan, Colombia and Nigeria. Check out the agenda and let us know if you’ll be there too.
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?