Since 2014, AFIC has prioritised citizens’ access to and use of public contracting information (open contracting) to advance reforms in public procurement, a complex yet one of the most important sectors of the economy in Africa. In 2015, AFIC started a campaign for African governments to recognise the importance of open contracting to improving efficiency, value for money, service delivery and minimising fraud and corruption in public contracting.
How data is disclosed determines whether citizens can use it or not. This was AFIC’s finding when it attempted to use information proactively disclosed by the Government of Uganda through the Government Procurement Portal (GPP). To understand the problem better, AFIC in collaboration with the Open Contracting Partnership conducted a mapping of data disclosed on GPP against the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS). Three sets of issues were identified: In some instances there was lack of disclosure at all, where attempts were made, very little data was disclosed at the various stages of a procurement cycle and, data at the different stages of the procurement process was not linked, making it difficult to use it to monitor the process.
Following this analysis AFIC successfully advocated for the Government of Uganda to embrace open contracting by aligning GPP with the Open Contracting Data Standard. Following AFIC advocacy and capacity building support activities, 23 procuring and disposal entities registered on the portal and went ahead to publish information. This improved disclosure has led AFIC in collaboration with Development Gateway to initiate a process to develop and document open contracting data use cases.
Through multi-stakeholders’ engagement and use cases exercises, the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) has identified the data needs of the different stakeholders on public procurement in Uganda. This speaks to the information they need to make their decisions on public contracting on a day-to-day basis. Various actors mean various needs and expectations. The outcomes of this engagement will fuel the work of AFIC and Development Gateway in engaging the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) on the re-designing of the GPP and the development of third party tools aligned to the identified needs of the stakeholders. Better disclosure of information will enable each stakeholder to have enhanced and faster decisions making processes which is expected to have a positive impact on public procurements’ outcomes, ultimately.
Open contracting: Disclosure and public participation
Open contracting entails two components: Disclosure of data and public participation leveraging often time on new technologies. It provides for a better understanding, monitoring and assessment of public projects and effectiveness of public service delivery. The impacts expected in the long term are trust between the different stakeholders and in the process itself, performance of the procurement system and implementation of contracts as well as public participation in the process.
AFIC has been spearheading the implementation of open contracting in Uganda in collaboration with the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA). For instance, in 2017, AFIC worked with PPDA to align the Government Procurement Portal (GPP) to the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS). The OCDS is a standard developed at the international level to guide and support disclosure for participation. It provides guidelines for data to be disclosed as well as structures and format in which it should be disclosed according to different stakeholders’ needs.
However, compliance with the standard is not an end in itself. The success of implementing the Open Contracting Data Standard is measured by how much data is being used. This is because the data standard was designed to enable people to make decisions on public procurement. It is through the participation of the citizens, private sector, civil society, journalists and academia that feedback on the contracting processes as well as problems faced are provided and addressed by government in a view of achieving better outcomes in public contracting.
Multi-stakeholders engagements on their public procurement data needs
With the support of the Development Gateway, AFIC has identified, gathered and engaged the key players from the different stakeholders’ sectors (procuring entities, oversight bodies, private sector, civil society and the media). During a multi-stakeholders meeting held on April 20, 2018. Participants provided feedback on the decisions they need to make in regard to public procurement. Participants answered the following questions:
- What decisions do you need to make?
- Do you, as the decision maker, have the political support, authority and budget flexibility to act on evidence?
- What are the main constraints where this is concerned?
- What does the current decision-making process look like, and what constraints limit the use of evidence?
The feedback provided a basis for discussion and refined reflections on the current challenges and opportunities to enhance usage of public procurement data by the different stakeholders. During another multi-stakeholder’s meeting held on June 29, 2018, AFIC proposed a use case exercise to the participants divided in 5 groups (oversight bodies, procuring entities, private sector, civil society, media & researchers). Each group incarnated a persona that had a mission related to the decision making identified in the previous meeting.
Going through the use case exercise, each group identified the needs of data to complete the respective missions, where they should expect to find the data and in what frequency. During a second session, each group was to utilise the Uganda Government Procurement Portal and access identified data needed. Doing so, each group assessed data gaps, either because of the failure from concerned procuring and disposing entities to enter data in the system or the lack of provisions for this type of data in the system.
Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) using OCDS to monitor procurement efficiency
PPDA decision making is focused on the monitoring of procurement efficiency that entails:
- Administrative review of the procurement process: Decision to re-tender, stop processes and go ahead with procurement
- Suspension of suppliers
- Whether to carry out investigations
- When to issue guidelines
- In matters of policy, it looks at compliance and if decisions are in line with procurement law
The main goal of these decisions is to achieve value for money in public procurement, (also PPDA’s mission). PPDA has authority/capacity to act on evidence in line with the law. However, there are sometimes budget constraint to carry on their mission e.g. to conduct field visits and investigation. In addition, there is limited internet coverage in the country which limit data entry into the GPP.
Procuring entities (PEs) own the data sources, but they often give PPDA unlimited access including the physical procurement files, when needed.
The decision making process is outlined in the procurement guidelines. However, constraints that limit use of evidence have an impact on investigations. There is also need for capacity building to improve use of data (some PEs are actually not aware of some procurement laws).
The stakeholders involved in monitoring of procurement efficiency are Parliament, Office of the Auditor General, Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MOFPED), Inspectorate of Government (IG), Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Crime Intelligence (CID), the Media and CSOs.
The motivations for the Agency to do something differently are to:
- Improve transparency, efficiency and accountability
- Improve service delivery
The information/expertise that exist are:
- The PPDA act, guidelines and regulations
- The GPP (the collection of evidence)
- The physical files from the procuring and disposing entities (PDEs)
The greater need of PPDA to conduct this is to gain 100% coverage of internet in the country (the programme of NITA-U: National Backbone infrastructure is on-going and is expected to answer that need).
During the use case exercise, PPDA and other oversight bodies identified that their needs lie in case files from the PDEs, contracts, law and procurement plans.
When looking for this data on the GPP, some information can be found on the parties of a contract, the contract sum and subject. However, the rest of the information was not available. There are currently only 180 procuring and disposing entities registered on the GPP out of the 360 existing in Uganda. During the first multi-stakeholders’ meeting, oversight bodies participants also pointed to the need to centralise their information database especially on investigations and audit reports. As it is currently, each body has its own systems that do not speak to each other. The coming E-GP should integrate database interface to address that need.
Furthermore, oversight bodies highlighted the need for data that do not have provisions on the current GPP front end, such as the contract implementation plan and the performance of the supplier with a contract.
Procuring and disposing entities (PDEs) using OCDS to be in compliance with the procurement regulations
For procuring and disposing entities, decisions are based on the approved Financial Year Work plans, which are usually aligned to project specifications, needs assessment and the amount of available resources. Compliance with the procurement regulations, adherence to procurement plans and working within the allocated budget are paramount.
The main goal of these decisions is to achieve value for money in public procurement.
The authority to make decisions is delegated out, but without budget flexibility. PDEs have to strictly work within allocated budgets. Decisions can be made by different departments/units within the PDEs on behalf of the accounting officer. The main constrain for decision making is lack of budget flexibility.
PDEs own the data source. Accessing information often has to be through official written communication which is often time consuming and one will often not get a response.
The motivations for PDEs to do something differently are:
- Non-compliance with the procurement regulations can be detected at any stage of the procurement process and sanctioned.
- Complaints raised by stakeholders at any of the stages incur delays on the whole process.
- Finding information to solve problems occurring in the procurement process is time consuming – which is a major issue when we look at deliverables and budget absorption within a financial year. Thus, timely delivery of data via the GPP would go a long way.
For procuring entities, their data needs lie in the contract sum, timeline, expected deliverables, specifications for supply of goods and their quality, as well as work schedule. Further needs are procurement plans (approved and updated one), contract details, security bonds, status reports, and payment schedules.
Private sector using OCDS to better participate in public procurement and advocate for local content
Advocacy for the Local Content Bill 2017 to be tabled in Parliament is important. It will support both enforcement of compliance and build capacity of local companies to further grow the economy.
The immediate goal of the private sector is to equip and build a strong pressure group that helps achieve the above objective. A longer term goal is to encourage business to participate in public procurement so as to grow the national economy.
- Inability to build effective synergies among the private sector to be able to participate in procurement related work (eg. building consortia)
- The business viability (or value proposition) to key government programmes such as the Standard Gauge Railway, Oil extractives is never well articulated.
- Corruption related tendencies that are evident even if all the relevant data is availed as requested.
The major need in regard to the advocacy goal is to collect evidence based data to provide a baselines and monitor the Local Content Bill, 2017 application.
In general, the private sector has need for tenders to be sorted by category, procurement plans to be prepared in advance and the reservation/preference scheme. They also observed that the time for tendering phases should be adjusted to the complexity of the project.
Furthermore, the private sector representatives highlighted the need for data that does not have provisions on the current GPP front end, such as the reservation/preference scheme, option to sort tender by categories or sectors, nature and sum (private sector to know where they would qualify), option to sort suspended providers by categories (private sector), option to organise procurement plans by categories and municipality, districts and alphabetical order (it is very hard to find an entity at the moment in the procurement plan tab) as well as the simple search on the GPP is not synchronised with the result.
CSOs using OCDS to monitor service delivery
Decisions important to CSO’s are related to management/monitoring of service delivery. The goal of such decisions made is to improve service delivery.
CSOs have political support (through statements by political players including the president), but constraints include:
- Lack of formal authority/mandate to implement their role
- There is no budget flexibility for the PE’s
- CSOs do not own the data and rely on government to access it
- Most of the data is not electronic (bulk is in paper files) and there’s an unwillingness to give out this information
Data sources include Public procuring entities, suppliers, monitoring agencies, etc. The processes of getting the data are formal requests, proactive disclosure through physical notice boards, GPP and entity’s websites. Formal requests for data are made to government entities under the Access To Information Act. The requested data is normally related to CSOs, citizens, private entities, etc. Some information is proactively disclosed, but this is limited. Some information is accessed informally, but it is then difficult to use it for purpose of documentation and evidence based feedbacks.
The current decision making process is not participatory, contrary to the law. Though citizens provide feedbacks, it is the government entities that have the power and mandate to address them.
The motivations for civil society to do something differently are:
- For the citizens to have better service delivery
- For politicians to secure citizens votes through good service delivery
- For government to attain national plans and goals to improve the situation
- Evidence that is gathered through monitoring, laws and processes
The current needs in that regard are human resources to analyse data and compare it to monitoring findings as well as for the legal framework and processes to increase the scope of mandatory proactive disclosure of procurement data and stronger enforcement to allow better monitoring of contracts.
Data needs of civil society is mainly at the contract stage, especially the subject, location, sector, specifications, timeline and deliverables. However, most of this data is not available on the GPP, mainly because of the failure of procuring and disposing entities to enter data in the system. It is then necessary to rely on information requests, but the implementation of the legal framework on access to information is very low.
From identified needs to concrete use of the data
The GPP has great potential in centralising information on public procurement that would benefit procuring entities, private sector, civil society and citizens. Timely and relevant data would speed up decision making and boost private sector and citizens’ participation in the process.
However, across the board, different stakeholders identified that the GPP is slow to download and do not yet provide the full range of information it has provisions for. If not resolve these would hamper the meaningful use of the data.
When engaged on that subject, PPDA expresses the need for the GPP to be re-designed to improve on functionality. This would resolve challenges in both entering and accessing the data on the system.
Furthermore, focus should be made on the amount, quality and timeliness of the data on the GPP.
On the one hand, when the data is not accessible though there is provision for it on the GPP, there is need to enforce compliance of the procuring entities in entering the required data in the system. This is PPDA’s mandate, but the effort can be supported by civil society. Indeed, civil society can report to PPDA and follow up on the level of compliance of PDEs in disclosing data on the GPP.
On the other hand, when data has no provision for it in the GPP, it is crucial that PPDA closely aligns the GPP to the needs of the user. There is also need for oversight bodies and accountability mechanisms to strengthen their feedback processes to disclose information on enforcement activities, recommendations and the sanctions they issue.
Finally, the GPP should provide for a public API that would allow the public to export and use the data in any ecosystem that they would deem fit to serve their needs.