Public procurement is an area of governance that is particularly prone to corruption because it is the nexus of power, money, and decision-making. If any of those factors are abused, the losses for the state can be costly, and the gains for the corrupt substantial.
Taxpayers have a right to know where their money goes, and one of the ways in which this can be achieved is by making procurement data openly and easily accessible to the public.
‘Data for the public good’, therefore, is the concept behind the inaugural edition of the Global Data Barometer (GDB), published in mid-2022 by the Data for Development Network (D4D.net). The period under review is May 2019 to May 2021, and 109 countries came under the spotlight.
The GDB, which arose from the Open Data Barometer but is not a continuation of it, is a collaborative project that seeks to evaluate the state of data particularly in relation to urgent societal issues. Data is gathered from regional hubs and thematic partners, and assessed in terms of four core pillars – availability, governance, capability, and use and impact. There are 39 primary and 14 secondary indicators in total under the four pillars, and countries are rated on a scale of 0 – 100, where 100 is best practice.
While asserting that some types of data must be provided openly, D4D.net also recognises that other datasets may be better managed as private property, and still others (e.g. sensitive personal data) should be managed as closed resources, carefully protected and only made available under strictly controlled arrangements.
Importantly, the report notes, “each indicator has been designed to measure features of governance, capability, availability, and data use that are within the power of governments to address, and of national and international civil society to support and influence.” In other words, there is no reason why governments cannot achieve a high rating on the GDB, with the help of civil society – provided the will to do so is there.
Procurement data not fully disclosed
No individual country scored over 70 out of 100, and the mean country score against the GDB benchmark was 34.38 out of 100. “This shows that every country has work to do updating policy, building capacity, sharing data, and promoting data use in order to make sure that data works as a resource for sustainable development, and highlights the importance of continued focus on shaping data policy and practice to deliver the public good.”
Most (99 out of 109, or 91%) of the 109 countries scrutinised do share some data on public procurement, but not enough for third parties to accurately monitor for corruption or assess value for money. In addition, only half of the countries publish their data in a machine-readable format.
Furthermore, only nine of the 109 publish data for the full procurement process, from planning to implementation. This hinders effective oversight and use of the data to ensure that resources are used as intended. The top-rated country is Ukraine, with an average score of 96, an availability score of 100 through its Prozorro platform, and a score of 80 in terms of the use and impact of that data.
Ukraine is followed by Paraguay, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, and Colombia and they, with not too many others, are the exceptions. Less than half (50 countries or 46%) release their data in machine-readable formats, says D4D.net, which dramatically limits how the information can be analysed to ensure that public contracts are used as intended – to benefit society.
The GDB also reviewed how various actors are using available data. In 37% of the countries analysed there are contracting data use initiatives led by civil society groups, including data-driven dashboards (34%) and analysis of red flags (28%) around public corruption risks. Civil society was identified as a critical main user, ensuring monitoring and civic participation.
Corruption Watch’s Procurement Watch tool is one of these initiatives – by aggregating certain kinds of national procurement data, otherwise only available as PDFs on the National Treasury’s website, Procurement Watch makes this data easier to search, interpret, and understand. In particular, the tool provides data on deviations (from pre-existing procurement procedures); expansions (of the initial terms of a public contract); and blacklisted suppliers (suppliers that have been barred from doing business with the government).
In sub-Saharan Africa, the report states, the region is achieving “significant advances” in some areas while struggling with others, such as food security, gender equality, and a high under-5 mortality rate. The political landscape, too, is turbulent and inconsistent. As a result, the open data agenda is moving along at a sluggish pace overall.
Significant findings in this region included the following:
- There is little publicly available evidence of governments investing in data literacy skills in the civil service outside of statistical units or national statistics offices;
- There is significant fragmentation of content across agencies, ministry and departments websites, making it difficult for the public and other stakeholders to find relevant data;
- Government platforms in some countries lack easy ways of disseminating information to a larger audience.
The region scores below the global average on all pillars, says the GDP, and there is significant need for investment in data governance institutions, robust and comprehensive data infrastructures, and in fostering broad capabilities to manage and use data for the public good.
South Africa’s average score was 33 out of 100, with pillar scores of 38.5 for governance, 37.3 for capability, 22.6 for availability, and 9.2 for use and impact. The country was rated a regional as well as a global leader for availability of budget and spend data, which assesses to what extent the government budget and spending information is available as structured open data. This was its strongest point.
In terms of the availability of procurement data – which also falls under the availability pillar – South Africa scored 40 out of 100, which is far below the leading African country, Cameroon, with a score of 78. Uganda, Togo, Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya, and Botswana also did better than South Africa in this indicator.