Obscurity Allows Oligarchs to Dominate Public Procurement
Governments award contracts to different companies through a public procurement process. Because there are a lot of financial interests of different bidders involved that should not have any influence on policy-making, it is very important that the government stays neutral in deciding who gets these contracts.
In Ukraine, this has been an issue for some time, as the country has historically struggled with corruption and powerful oligarchs dominating public procurement processes. In response, a culture of scrutiny was emerging, with a number of civil society organizations monitoring whatever processes of government contracting were available to them, typically by browsing tender notices on the government portal. Unfortunately, this one-sided process of monitoring for wrong-doing didn’t eradicate corruption in the procurement process. Part of the issue was that with only a small number of dedicated professionals and investigative journalists able to parse the complicated procurement data, there was a significant amount that was overlooked. Additionally, what data existed was published after-the-fact, hiding the budgeting and bidding processes from public view. This hid the practice of pre-arranging the deals and then ‘awarding’ the contracts for the exact amount that was budgeted, so the budget matched the the amount the contract was awarded for, but there had been no open bidding process at all. Without transparency throughout the entire process, and larger reserves of people able to scrutinize it, the hopes of eradicating these corrupt processes showed little chance of success. Because of this, civil society organizations focussed their efforts on demanding greater transparency and grasped the power to oversee public procurement processes.
ProZorro & DOZORRO: Equipping the Public
Two online platforms were launched to overhaul the whole system. The ProZorro e-procurement platform was launched by Transparency International Ukraine and handed over to the government to use so that the entire procurement process could be conducted in one place, in ways that are clear, and possible to monitor. ProZorro has a motto “Everyone sees everything”. Corruption in the procurement economy is found to reduce the value of a contract by 10% to 25%, and by switching to this transparent system, ProZorro is estimated to have saved the government over 1.9 billion USD in its first 2 years.
It still was not possible for the government to fully scrutinize every contract, so Transparency International Ukraine once again stepped up and led the way by launching DOZORRO, which it still manages. DOZORRO builds on the ProZorro platform by providing channels for citizens to submit feedback and report procurement violations to then be investigated. This equipped the civil society organizations that were already performing watchdog functions with more mechanisms to study procurement contracts to root out corrupt practices. It also laid the foundation for the expansion of watchdog capabilities to citizens and citizen organizations. Through commitments in Ukraine’s 3rd action plan (2016-2018), DOZORRO was adopted and promoted as the means by which public procurement processes, published on ProZorro, would then be made open to scrutiny by a wider array of the public.
Developing Citizen Anti-Corruption Networks
ProZorro and DOZORRO built on the pre-existing watchdog groups to develop a strong network of civil society organizations and held over 350 training seminars for them in 2016 and 2017 alone, with over 20,000 attendees. Through this campaign, standards of how to assess the procurement processes, how to identify something that needs further investigation, and how to submit reports, were developed.
By the end of the action plan there were more than 20 civil society organizations working on procurement monitoring and more than 40 municipalities using DOZORRO tools to monitor their own procurement processes. DOZORRO was visited by 2.3 million people, and more than 100,000 use it on a monthly basis. Over three years, violations were registered in over 30,000 tenders with an estimated value of $4 billion. In some cases even sanctions and criminal charges have been issued.
With ProZorro and DOZORRO, Public Procurement is Finally Under Scrutiny
Prior to the launch of DOZORRO, there were no detailed statistics released on types of violations, monitored tenders, or performance of the companies awarded contracts. This meant that there was relatively little accountability. What little civic monitoring processes there were could be manipulated to influence who was monitored, and what the results would be, meaning that there were still significant risks of corruption.
The massive uptake of DOZORRO in civil society shows a real enthusiasm for transparency and anti-corruption efforts in the Ukrainian public. By equipping the public both with the data and the guidance on how to scrutinize it, the government has taken a huge step to tackle corruption and waste in public procurement.
And according to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, the amount of open data on public procurement has increased. The emergence of civil society projects on the back of these platforms, further shows the multiplier effect of DOZORRO in particular. These achievements represent an outstanding opening in the area of access to information on procurement.