Less than 1% of the value of public contracts for Digital Technology Systems is disclosed; a case of Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria.

To support citizens’ right to information (right to know) concerning the procurement and governance of DTS, AFIC in partnership with CEMESP and PPDC, with support from the Omidyar Network conducted a pilot study on “Government Procurement of Digital Technology Systems (DTSs) in Africa”.

This study attempted to understand the proportion of DTS public sector contracts for which information is disclosed. Data was collected through desk research in Uganda, Liberia and Nigeria with an open contracting culture, as well as through a survey of public procurement websites and procurement-related legislation. Procurement of digital technologies in the three countries is part of the overall architecture of procurement of all public works, services and supplies. The architecture of public procurement in the three countries is very complex with various institutional layers, laws, policies and regulations for checks and balances, and actors. For instance, public procurement in Uganda is governed by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority while in Nigeria, every MDA follows the procurement process as stated in the Procurement Act of 2007.

The study revealed that procurement details of DTS are not in the public domain, despite their funding being drawn largely from public funds. Public Procurement of Digital Technology Systems (DTSs) is one of the biggest investments made by African governments. However, not enough information on these DTSs contracts is disclosed through the different information disclosure channels, such as websites, and government procurement portals. As a result, the public remains uninformed about DTSs procurement processes and risks continue to increase.

Public procurement in Africa is characterized by low information disclosure, lack of transparency, inflated pricing, inefficiency and poor use of competitive bidding in procurement processes. Besides, institutional preparedness to procure and deploy DTS, especially biometric, facial identification, and Artificial Intelligence technologies seems to be low.

It is also not clear whether, and/or to what extent DTS are supported by prevailing legal and policy frameworks without specific laws governing DTS procurement and deployment of DTS. In Uganda, a total of 20 official information requests were filed with the Uganda Electoral Commission, Parliament of Uganda, Ministry of Internal Affairs; and Uganda Police Force to examine among others  their procurements in accordance with the Uganda’s Access to Information Act, which grants a right for citizens to access public information.

According to the Act, once a request for information is received by any agency/MDA it should be responded to within 20 days however, only the Ministry of Internal Affairs gave positive feedback (in terms of actual provision of the information requested), and in such a short time of 4 days; the rest of the MDAs have not responded at all.

Data transparency is the new “well-trusted currency” for promoting accountability in public sector procurement for digital technology systems. With the development of e-procurement, e-tendering and e-auction, there is a greater need for disclosing information on the details of DTSs, from specifications, procurers, bids, awardees’ performance and financial and outcome indicators.

There is a gap between the increasing need for transparency and its causal effect of corruption and inefficiency in the tendering and procurement of DTSs.

Although the importance of transparent, accountable and inclusive public procurement processes in development has been recognized by international commitments, standards and policies, like the Open Contracting Data Standard, there are still frequent cases of non-compliance. Achieving transparency in public procurement is a major challenge for countries in Africa. It is therefore crucial to have standards for measuring transparency in DTS procurement. The lack of a common understanding regarding the disclosure requirements of DTS is a major contributor to the failures to achieve transparency.

Transparency in public procurement is key to sound governance and accountable use of public resources, especially in DTS procurement. In recent years, transparency rules and regulations have increasingly dictated procurement and tendering processes. The African Union (AU) has adopted the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which among others, provides a comprehensive legal framework for trade, economic development and regional integration. The first pillar of the AfCFTA is the Africa-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which puts procurement at the heart of these partnerships.

With lack of disclosure, it is difficult for data users in public, private and voluntary sectors to meaningfully contribute to the improvement of performance and governance of DTS procurements.

However, despite the importance of DTSs, there is no mandatory and consistent disclosure of contract information in almost all African countries. This is mainly because the procurement of DTSs do not come under any regional or international norms or guidelines that provide for the disclosure of contract information. General procurement laws are being used to guide the processes of their procurement. In Uganda, some laws have been amended and others enacted to support/justify procurements for DTS. The study also reveals that direct procurements may be compelled because of the lack of capacity by technical staff of Government MDAs to understand and therefore be able to evaluate bids of suppliers of new DTS and their applications.

Transparency is a key condition for the effective operation of democratic systems, particularly in the public sector. Citizens need to rely on the fact that governments provide reasons for their actions and that these reasons are open to public scrutiny. Therefore, implementing legislation on access to information is one of the main pillars of efforts to improve governance in Africa. Legislation on access to information, freedom of expression and good governance are mutually supporting values.

Public awareness and input are important elements for good governance. Public officials need the information, insight and feedback from the public for making better decisions. In particular, for Digital Technology Systems (DTSs) procurement, which is a significant cost for many developing countries, it is important to secure public input and feedback for a more transparent, accountable, democratic and efficient process.

Key Recommendations:

  1. Governments should require that all public contracts for DTSs are disclosed. Relevant regulatory bodies should require that standard disclosure clauses are included in contract documents. National legislation should be reviewed to ensure it provides a legal framework for adequate disclosure of public contracts. Governments and regulators should work with stakeholders, particularly civil society organizations, to clarify and agree on the key characteristics of high-quality contract disclosure. Both regulators and civil society organizations should collaborate to develop efficient mechanisms to monitor compliance with mandatory disclosure laws. Relevant regulatory bodies should enhance their own internal policies and processes governing transparency and disclosure, increasing the impact of mandatory contract disclosure laws.
  2. Respective governments of Liberia, Nigeria and Uganda should publish DTS procurement data, in open formats on procurement portals to promote transparency and accountability in the procurement of DTSs. There should also be timely feedback whenever citizens file requests for information on procurement and deployment of DTS to different government MDAs.
  3. Civil society organizations in respective countries should prioritize creation of public awareness of the importance of DTSs as well as associated risks and mitigation measures. Early stage transparency and participation by stakeholders in the procurement of DTS should be emphasized to mitigate against problems associated with addressing procurement problems when it is too late.
  4. There is a need for continuous/constant capacity building of government procurement staff to handle procurement of new and ever emerging fields in DTS. Creating strategic collaborations between local private sector, civil society and government could go a long way in enhancing the needed procurement capacity.

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