Contracts, Data and Investigations 67
This week: A shady navy contractor on the loose, who pays for Ecuador’s oil spills, Canada’s public contracts & Afghanistan’s camo economy, + tips on monitoring with communities by Nigeria's Dataphyte
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]
War Dogs II? Crooked defense contractor Fat Leonard has escaped house arrest, just weeks before he was due to be sentenced over a corruption scheme involving the US navy. In 2015, he pleaded guilty to bribing navy officers with cash, prostitutes and luxury items worth $500,000 and is accused of overcharging the US navy almost $35m. For more info, see the comprehensive Wikipedia page and the Project Brazen podcast. AP’s Julie Watson has an explainer on how he pulled off the escape.
Ecuador sees on average 5.6 oil spills each week. This fascinating investigation by Gabriela Ruiz Agila for Pie de Página looks at whether the work of cleaning up oil spills in Ecuador’s Amazon is paid for through state contracts and who is in charge. The piece was supported by a journalism stipend from our partner Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo in Ecuador.
Millions of dollars have been siphoned from state coffers in Haiti due to rampant corruption in government institutions, according to probes by the country’s Anti-Corruption Unit. The Unit found evidence of fictitious government contracts, embezzlement and other misdeeds involving prominent figures such as town mayors, the head of the national lottery, a Central Bank board director, and a former head of the national police.
During the worst of the pandemic, emergency rules helped to fast-track contracts to deliver urgent supplies and services. More than two years on, are such non-competitive procedures still being used excessively? That question is at the heart of a dispute in Malta, where school cleaning contracts worth EUR 10 million were signed through direct awards.
Carleton University has released an easy-to-digest overview of Canada’s public procurement data using open data. We particularly like that the filters for category and agency show trends over the last five years – see if you can spot the increase in public health spending during the pandemic. The project is led by government policy advisor Sean Boots who provides a good introduction on his blog.
Over a third of the $108 billion spent on US Defense contracts with international firms in Afghanistan went to “undisclosed” recipients, according to a paper by Brown University’s Heidi Peltier on what she describes as the “Camo Economy.”
Nigeria’s Dataphyte has uncovered a second batch of suspicious contracts for school notebooks in Oyo State by searching the state’s open contracting portal. On 23 December 2021, the deals were awarded to 14 businesses, 13 of which were owned by a close associate of the governor.
[Tips from practitioners] Connecting data to users to communities
Dataphyte’s investigations are regularly featured in this newsletter (see above). In a recent webinar, managing editor Adenike Aloba and project manager Charles Mbah shared some insights for monitoring procurement based on their experience of tracking public health, education, water and electricity projects in three states of Nigeria.
Using data to investigate procurement is still nascent: Most people don’t know that open data portals exist or how to analyze procurement data, so if you want to involve community-based organizations, local journalists and other change agents who are directly affected by government projects in monitoring activities, you need to prepare the data for them and teach them how to interpret the data. For example, if someone visits a school and takes photos of children sitting on the floor because they lack chairs, the person needs to understand what the data can tell them about who is responsible for supplying the chairs and other details about the order.
Connect the grassroots to decision-makers: Contracting happens at the community level. So if the end goal of your project is to have better service delivery, create channels for local monitors to report issues to authorities who have the power to take action. From the start, Dataphyte engaged government actors, such as staff from the public procurement agency, informing them about the project but also involving them in capacity building workshops with community representatives.
Recognize your impact, big or small: Occasionally investigations might catalyze major changes, such as the completion of long-overdue construction projects, better spending, or sanctions against bad actors, but there are smaller wins worth celebrating. Through their investigations, Dataphyte gained a new understanding of the constraints faced by even the most well-intentioned contractors. Consequently, Dataphyte plans to include engagement with contractors in future monitoring projects.
Have a tip to share? We’d love to hear and share it!
[Tools & resources] Follow the money
OCCRP has published a new resource manual “Follow the Money” to help journalists search for documents and data in Latin America. The free Spanish guide includes tips and tricks to access records and information in 19 countries.
Are you a journalist under 35 with an interest in exposing corruption? Apply here to be a Young Journalist at the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Washington D.C. in December. You’ll meet leading anti-corruption experts and activists, and join a network of like-minded reporters.
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 email@example.com.
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? Click here to subscribe
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