Contracts, Data and Investigations: Edition 2021-05-13

Cost overruns in Mexico’s medicine procurement, Kyrgyzstan’s late response to COVID-19, emergency contracts under scrutiny in Canada, Germany, India, Nigeria and the US, & the latest vaccine deals

This newsletter gathers stories covering the use and abuse of government contracts during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. Share your stories and investigations with us. We’d love to read and feature them. And we’d appreciate a like if you enjoyed the read. 


As countries invest trillions into rebooting the economy, some government’s spending priorities are raising eyebrows. The port town Noto, on the east coast of Japan, made headlines building a 13-meter-long giant squid for $230,000 to attract tourists. We couldn’t confirm whether the bidding process was open. 

Amid the pandemic, health sector purchases have attracted renewed scrutiny too. Mexico’s Poder and Nostrxs analyzed 10 years of medicine procurement by the Mexican Institute of Social Security and found 18.4 billion pesos ($900m) in cost overruns. Their special ‘Salud, Dinero y Corrupción’ provides in-depth stories from a team led by Eduard Martín-Borregón. As well as analyzing cost overruns and inflated prices, the project collects data on stock shortage reports from patients. All the data analyzed can be accessed via the QuienEsQuien database structured in the Open Contracting Data Standard. 

Using data from our COVID-19 Contract Explorer, Kloop’s Zarina Zholdoshova analyzed 9,300 contracts worth $43.8m and found that Kyrgyzstan was slow to respond to the crisis, buying most of its protective equipment only until July.  

In Nigeria, the ministry of water resources awarded contracts worth N1.02 billion to ninety inactive and twelve unregistered companies during the pandemic, Dataphyte’s Aderemi Ojekunle found.

In El Salvador, the parliament has granted immunity to public officials in charge of the pandemic response, practically tying the prosecutors’ hands to investigate any issues related to emergency procurement of PPE, writes Jimmy Alvarado for El Faro. The news website El Faro is under investigation for fabricated charges of money laundering.

An ex-politician’s daughter in Germany made millions of euros helping a Swiss firm secure deals to supply face masks to the federal government and two states, an investigation by WDR, NDR, and Süddeutsche Zeitung found. Meanwhile, in Schleswig-Holstein, the booking system for vaccine appointments cost the state more than three times the expected price, according to the freedom of information platform Frag Den Staat which obtained the contract. 

The US may be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan, but contractors aren’t going anywhere, writes Lynzy Billing in a feature for the New York Magazine.

California has outsourced public health services to fight COVID-19 to at least 30 tech and health companies, most of whom are political supporters of the state’s governor, according to an investigation by KHN’s Angela Hart.

As the coronavirus devastates India, a citizen’s right to information request shows the Delhi government hasn’t ordered any ventilators for the last 10 months. Although the capital is in lockdown, construction at Central Vista, ‘a pet project’ of the Modi government, has been allowed to continue, writes Vijayta Lalwani for Scroll.in. 

In Canada, the government is suing a Montreal company for apparently supplying faulty N95 masks. The firm, which was paid $81 million upfront, was awarded three separate contracts last year in March and early April, reports Ryan Tumilty for the National Post.

The latest on vaccine deals. India’s negotiations with Pfizer are delayed over familiar indemnity issues, reports Viswanath Pilla for Money Control. The African Union is struggling to get interest among its member countries for the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine, reports Devex’ Sara Jerving. Bolivia has signed a deal with a Canadian manufacturer for US’ Johnson and Johnson shot and will now apply for a WTO waiver for the production to be able to start, reports Reuters’ Allison Martell. And the European Commission will think twice about renewing its contract with AstraZeneca, reports Elodie Lamer for Le Soir.


The Sigma Awards shortlist features some awesome projects that dig into public contracts from the Nation Media Group, OCCRP, Dataphyte, G1, Kloop, Abraji’s CruzaGrafos and Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker


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 you’ve written to share? Write to Georg at gneumann@open-contracting.org. Thanks for reading.

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