Contracts, Data and Investigations – Edition 69
Roads on the moon. Oversized trains. A £14B write-off from the pandemic. Data & resources from Germany & Canada. Mates rates in El Salvador. Apply for an open contracting reporting project in Nigeria
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]
1. Roads on the moon. In a $57.2m contract, NASA has hired advanced construction company ICON to develop technologies for building infrastructure on the moon, such as landing pads and roads. The deal runs until 2028, reports NextGov’s Kristen Errick. This type of work underlines the critical role of government for funding innovation – think of GPS, the internet, and COVID-19 vaccines.
It also reminds me of astronaut John Glenn’s reported response when asked to describe the sensation of being in his capsule listening to the count-down:
“I felt exactly how you would feel if you were getting ready to launch and knew you were sitting on top of two million parts – all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract.”
2. Trains purchased as part of a €190m contract for the Spanish region of Asturias y Cantabria turned out to be too large for some tunnels. Although the mistake was detected before the first trains were built, it has delayed the project by two years. El Pais’ José Luis Aranda and Cristina Galindo have the details.
3. Knowing who’s behind a business receiving a government contract is critical to ensure oversight. A recent judgment by the EU’s Court of Justice has rolled back progress to make this information transparent. The dealings of the business executive whose lawsuit triggered the case have been investigated by OCCRP. They uncovered a network of at least 117 companies in Luxembourg, the British Virgin Islands, Belize, the Bahamas, and other countries around the world and links to wealthy Russian businessmen.
4. The fallout from the UK’s handling of PPE purchases continues. The Department of Health and Social Care recently announced a staggering write down of £14.9bn worth of protective equipment, COVID-19 tests and medicines. The Guardian’s David Conn and Paul Lewis summarize one scandal involving PPE MEDpro, a firm linked to Baroness Michelle Mone, which secured more than £200m in contracts through the so-called VIP lane. The Good Law Project has won a lawsuit against the government for not publishing details of contracts worth £248m as part of its ventilator challenge.
5. In El Salvador, an investigation by CONNECTAS’ David Ernesto Pérez, in collaboration with Revista Elementos and Voz Pública, reveals how two of the president’s communications advisors and a lender benefited from public contracts while he was mayor of San Salvador, including for services never provided.
Unholy trinity: Who pays when the Pope comes to town? Academic Pedro Telles looks into three contracts totalling €5.4m to set up a temporary stage during the World Youth Day in Portugal over the summer.
To help fellow journalists track down public money and influence, Canada’s The Investigative Journalism Foundation has opened up its databases on campaign donations, lobbying registrations, meetings, revolving doors, and charities. Read Nieman Lab’s Sarah Scire profile. Canada’s contract data is available as open data here with some regional data available in OCDS through our Data Registry.
What’s the German word for a central portal for searching contracting information? Bekanntmachungsservice. This new public service will be the country’s hub for tenders and contracts from both federal and local authorities. Don’t expect complete information yet but open data bulk downloads are available via API.
[Tips from practitioners]
We started this newsletter when it became clear the COVID-19 pandemic emergency was stress-testing procurement systems, inviting fraud and abuse as supply chains broke down and mask prices soared. We’ve contributed to GIJN’s guide for journalists researching government spending and GIJN’s Rowan Philip has an overview of some of the most memorable cases.
As we’re seeing in the UK, Germany and New York, investigations and audits are still ongoing three years later and excess masks are being destroyed.
[Tools & resources]
Nigeria's International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR) is calling for applications for the second phase of its Open Contract Reporting Project.
For a recent event exploring links between oligarchs and public contracts, we have summarized our top tips to track government spending.
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?