Government Procurement Portal redesigned with users’ needs in mind

Government Procurement Portal redesigned with users’ needs in mind

Monitoring and tracking public contracts has been an important part of our work at Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC). Now, we’ll have better data and more opportunities to do so. This wasn’t always the case. We went through a period of frustration especially between April – August, 2018, when the Ugandan Government Procurement Portal (GPP) which was experiencing frequent breakdowns thus, inhibiting the ability of procuring entities to upload data and consequently denying users from accessing and using contracting information.

AFIC’s challenge was that its work on monitoring public contracts and mobilising citizens to engage authorities on public contracting was significantly being negatively impacted, risking years of AFIC’s advocacy work that resulted in government embracing open contracting by aligning GPP to the Open Contacting Data Standards.

On its part, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), as the oversight agency for public contracting and manager of the GPP was receiving frequent calls and complaints from both procuring entities and CSO users who were facing difficulty uploading or accessing information from GPP.

With these challenges, AFIC and PPDA agreed to work together to find a solution. In September 2018, the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) agreed to fund AFIC for the redesign of the GPP based on technology that could support large volumes of data without being compromised in terms of performance. This would in turn assist AFIC to access much needed data to monitor contracts under the DGF supported project.

Within the new redesign we wanted to resolve four issues:

  1. Failure of some pages to load,
  2. challenges during data entry
  3. General slow loading of the portal
  4. Respond to user needs

Whereas we didn’t anticipate challenges addressing the first three issues above from the technical point of view, ensuring that the redesigned GPP responded to user needs needed more reflection and consultations. A use is a representation of actors, inputs and expected outputs of each process on the GPP. This was fed from consultations with stakeholders (public servants, civil society and the private sector) during several engagements. This is important because without being used, data is useless. But each stakeholder- business, civil society, government procuring entities and oversight agencies has different questions and needs different information. Thus, as part of the redesign of GPP, AFOC and PPDA reached out to stakeholders to better understand and serve these users from their needs’ perspectives.

The approach of the redesign process is iterative, and upon completion of each phase as per the procurement cycle (Planning, Tender, Award, Contract), a representative from the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority is to review and ensure all issues in the phase have been resolved before progressing to the next phase.

The approach is also based on identification of use case development. Use cases help the technical team to understand what is happening on each page of the portal.

During the months of September and November 2018, AFIC trained 142 members from the civil society and 137 public servants on Access to Information (ATI) and open contracting in the six districts of Kanungu, Kabale, Ntungamo, Mbarara, Nebbi and Pakwach. The training highlighted the use of ATI in enabling public participation in public procurement and showcasing the opportunities provided by the legal framework, the Government Procurement Portal aligned to the Open Contracting Data Standard and Budeshi, among others. Budeshi is a tool adapted by AFIC from the Nigeria based Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) to assist in analysing procurement data and generate reports on red flags. Through practical exercise, the participants identified use cases of data relevant to them and their participation in public contracting.

Participants were divided into small groups.  Each group reflected on the role of procuring and disposing entities and oversight bodies in regard to public procurement that support identification of data needs that feed the redesign of the GPP.

During discussion, indicators relevant to early warning on contract implementation and improving value for money were identified as follow:

Indicators relevant to Early warning on contract implementation

  • Contract price with activity schedule (including price variation during the contract life time linked with activity variations)
  • Disbursement schedule with activity schedule
  • Actual disbursement progress with actual progress on activity
  • Contract price with bill of quantities
  • Management contract (name and contact of the contract manager)
  • Citizens’ feedbacks and complaints

Indicators relevant to Improving value for money

  • Bid prices drop when a new or infrequent competitor enters
  • Per item value is higher or lower than average for this item
  • Splitting purchases to avoid procurement thresholds
  • Unreasonably narrow contract specifications that favour the winning bidder and exclude others
  • Competitive award issued despite a non-competitive process
  • Complaints from prospective bidders regarding competition irregularities
  • Complaints of changes to bids after they are received.
  • Total payments to a contractor exceed total contract or purchase order amounts
  • Proactive disclosure performance

During the training in the six districts, Civil Society representatives prioritised monitoring of public service delivery (14 groups out of 19) and improve use of data (3 groups out of 19) were as presented in the table below.

Indicators relevant to Monitoring of public service delivery

AFIC further consulted with CSO representatives working on accountability issues including the public procurement sector during a training in Kampala in mid-December 2018.

AFIC requested the participants to rate by order of importance 10 indicators to monitor public service delivery that could support their work in the accountability sector. The top 10 indicators identified were:

  1. The same companies always bid, the same companies always win and the same companies always lose
  2. Favoured bidders win award at low bid, but additional fees are included during contract negotiation.
  3. Long delays in contract negotiations or award (as bribe demands are negotiated)
  4. Complaints from prospective bidders regarding competition irregularities
  5. Contract is not public
  6. Specifications reduce competition by preventing participation of responsive bidders/ False bids are issued (possibly by fictitious contractors) to give the appearance of competition
  7. Supplier receives multiple single-source/non-competitive contracts from a single procuring entity during a defined time period
  8. A contractor subcontracts all or most of the work received (indicating it could be a shell company).
  9. Bids are an exact percentage apart, a sign of potential collusion and false bidding
  10. Bid prices drop when a new or infrequent competitor enters

Indicators to align to stakeholders’ needs

AFIC is exploring possibilities to provide the stakeholders with access to necessary data and analysis of those indicators using the opportunity of the redesign of the GPP as well as the Budeshi platform.

On GPP, the consultant team redesigning the portal are elaborating a dash board on the back end that will speak to the identified needs of the technocrats in supporting early warning in contract implementation. On the GPP front end, there will be a new design that will be more intuitive and allow easy research of data.

The Budeshi platform hosted by AFIC will cater for the indicators identified by civil society representatives. For some, the data will come from the GPP (enabled by the added public API) for some it will be coming from responses to AFIC information requests.

In some instance when the data is not yet collected and public, AFIC will engage relevant institutions to explore possibilities of data collection. This applies to the number of complaints made by bidders to the procuring and disposing entities.

With user needs determined, the AFIC team is working out a technical solution to ensure that the redesigned GPP meets user needs. We hope we can give each a nice New Year’s present!

Important resources

  1. On the Standard : http://standard.open-contracting.org/latest/en/getting_started/use_cases/
  2. Indicator research : https://www.open-contracting.org/2017/11/27/using-not-losing-procurement-data/
  3. Open Contracting Partnership guide on use cases: https://www.open-contracting.org/2016/08/18/use-case-guide/
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