Contracts, Data and Investigations – COVID-19: Edition 2020-10-02

This week’s content: consultancy contracts in the UK, a $1-below-threshold contract in Montreal, and an empire built on waste in Albania

This newsletter gathers stories covering the use and abuse of government contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Let us know about your stories and content. We, Sophie and Georg, would love to hear about them.


As we celebrate the 25th edition of our newsletter this week, you might expect that the most common schemes for siphoning off coronavirus funds are well known by now – direct contracts dealt to family members or new companies created by bounty-hunters, overpriced and low-quality masks, ventilators and tests. But the pandemic is far from under control. Our estimates show at least $100 billion have been spent on Covid-19 emergency procurement so far. Tracking public procurement and data on contracts may even be more important now, as plans for producing, buying, and distributing vaccines become more concrete.

Calling the consultants. A UK minister has chastised senior government staff for their ‘unacceptable’ dependence on private consultants that is preventing public servants from sinking their teeth into some of the most ‘challenging, fulfilling’ issues. That might explain the immense consultancy fees disbursed during the pandemic, which amount to more than £56 million, writes Rob Davies for The Guardian.

Save a dollar, avoid transparency. In an apparent conflict of interest, Montreal’s university hospital has awarded a no-bid contract for CAN$ 999,999 to a company led by a member of its board, reports the Journal de Quebec’s Nicolas LaChance. The contract was offered at $1 under the required threshold for stricter procurement rules. 

In a crisis, a return to traditional procurement can seem like big news. In Costa Rica, the next round of protective equipment for Covid-19 will be processed using competitive open tendering to avoid the problems and risks associated with emergency rules (that we covered in August), writes Diego Bosque in La Nación.

Calling out corruption. In South Africa, citizen reports of corruption are on the rise, finds a new study by the civil society organization Corruption Watch. Public procurement irregularities are one of the three top complaints, writes Zukiswa Pikoli in the Maverick Citizen.

According to a report by Kenya’s auditor general, the country is at risk of losing $21 million because the Medical Supplies Agency failed to follow procurement rules during the Covid-19 emergency, writes Tom Odula at the Associated Press

Albania’s procurement bin fire. A new investigation by BIRN’s Aleksandra Bogdani and Besar Likmeta examines who’s really pulling the strings in controversial concessions for building and managing waste incinerators in Albania – worth hundreds of millions of euros.

Family affairs: European Western Balkans sums up two procurement scandals involving firms run by family members of the Serbian government’s crisis team. 

Arms firm Heckler and Koch put in a formal objection over the German government’s decision to award a €245 million contract to its (much smaller) competitor, likely delaying the award process. According to the Tagesschau, there have been complaints about the quality of products delivered in the past. 


For the first time in Nepal, local government funds spent on small-scale infrastructure projects can be traced from budget through to implementation. Dhangadhi’s infrastructure management system tracks nearly 500 projects and the data on all of the projects is available for download.

“The IMS isn’t just a platform,” says Hem Tembe, one of the leaders of the city’s public financial management reform project. “It has become the interface between citizens and the government.” Read about Dhangadhi’s open contracting journey in our new impact story.


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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