Thread: the public vs. procurement

<HUGE> development spending hides in plain sight.

Do you ignore it? Think someone else has it covered?

In LMICs upto 50% of all government spending is via <PUBLIC PROCUREMENT>

Myriad contracts: roads/bridges/hospitals/drugs....
(hand) Pump Primer:

India 1999: I worked in WATSAN. Over 1000 new handpump tubewells would replace contaminated shallow wells & rusting pumps that often stood in puddles. You paddled to collect drinking water, and the puddle seeped into the well.
The Good: The new pumps were installed on large concrete platforms, in turn mounted on a large buried concrete ring. This stopped water undermining the platform, which would crack and break up the concrete. Back to puddles and contamination.
The Bad: But villagers had seen the contractor building platforms on brick rubble, pocketing the cost of the concrete ring.

In the dry season it was hard to tell whether the ring was there or not. The contractor said that all 1000 rings were safely in place.
A farmer took a steel rod & pushed it down the side of a platform. If there was a ring, the rod would not go down very far. No ring and it would carry on right underneath the platform (see low quality 20 y.o. sketch)

The contractor sweated. No ring. 999 more to test.
The Ugly: The contractor was a ruling Party member and unrepentant.

But people were angry, and Party officials also annoyed - he was only supposed to skim 1 cement bag in 10 - a steady profit, barely detectable.

But “he had got greedy and spoiled it for everyone..”.
But poking about with a steel rod could not tell us about the process that won him the contract. Those were the days of posting ‘hard’ paper bids in a ‘tender box’ in govt offices (still common), and lots of dirty tricks...

You could get shot. People still do.
‘Concrete rings’ was my first experience of <the public vs procurement>. Since then, lots of effort/learning/failure – usually from underestimating the systemic political sophistication of corruption in procurement.

Stakes can be REALLY high. A few examples.....
Malawi '00s: community health committees monitored arrival of sealed medicine boxes at health centres. Worthy, time consuming, but had no effect if boxes never left central stores.
[Rumour] someone working on inventory management reform was shot....
India '00s: state health procurement. In drugs, the problem was not 100% fake chalk pills: reliable profits came by skimming a few % off active ingredients - near undetectable.

Meanwhile in health facility construction..
A thread of <Govt contracting> runs through some of my favourite research - on real local politics in South Asia.

Gripping ethnography of small-town politicians in <Ber-Bling> mansions, 4x4s, multiple mobiles. Source of their <Ker-Ching>..?

…often “I am a contractor” & wider illicit systems on which dirty contracting depend e.g. illegal sand mining.

See ‘Mafia Raj’
& look out for forthcoming @BARBARAHARRISSW / Michelutti (eds)
‘The Wild East’
<Abandon hope?>

So public procurement can be a magnet for corruption & criminality, & hard for even govts themselves to monitor & police.

So what hope for <the public> to have any +ve effect?

Luckily some great research, & evidence-based action, give us hope (#1-5)
#1 @BenOlken’s 2003-4 RCT tested effects of top down audits & community monitoring of road construction, Indonesia.
I never usually say ‘awesome’ - but this is it. If you are a soc scientist who has ever run up against Big Concrete & turned back, read on. Be awed!
Q: can social scientists develop tools for testing material quality in roads?
A: Well, Olken & co built their own test roads!
Findings: <the public> spotted missing wages, but not missing materials
#2 sweet video of Ashraful Alam, Bangladeshi contractor, talking tender box fights, musclemen, & how e-procurement is changing the game (submit tender from safety of your own home).
E-procurement - no panacea, but raises BIG DATA possibilities.
#3 <BIG DATA> Red Flags in procurement...
@corruption_red researchers have constructed a self-updating database of >0.5M contracts (WB, donor, govt...) in 100 countries over 20 yrs, with tools to identify ‘red flags’ of corruption risk
Data & tools #openaccess & @corruption_red & @AfricanMathsAMI run hackathons (Ghana, Tz, Uganda) for students, activists, experts to dig into own country/sector: How To video

Research results - incl. Europe, S America - are eye opening(watering).
@corruption_red @GI_ACE & @GCSD are now working to make tools simpler & put all data online.
Ideal users? Govts. World Bank. UN. <<YOU!>>

Future vision: your phone is like <public procurement X-ray specs>
Point at concrete/ sift #BigData / see #RedFlags / #ActUp
#4 Global orgs like @opencontracting push for open data in public procurement & put it to use

“We open up public contracting through disclosure, data & engagement so that the huge sums of money involved are spent honestly, fairly, & effectively.
#5 & energetic national orgs - like in Nigeria - chase down contracts & Tweet reports from ground level – good or bad – e.g. this abandoned nurses hostel (Imagine: them chasing my 1999 contractor & Tweeting his cheating).…

Think: ~50% of funds for SDGs & tackling Climate Crisis are likely to be spent through Public Procurement

Dream#1: <YOU> take more notice of Public Procurement and don't imagine that someone else has it covered.
Dream#2: motivate activists, citizens, sector experts, researchers, students <YOU!> to get stuck into Red Flags and similar data & chase down risks to BIG SPEND in your sector/backyard - education, health, social protection, security, elections, climate, roads….
...or start small and manually search <small data> that govts already publish online in <YOUR> area of interest. Try it...
Q: Who won Malawi Kwacha 672m (£0.69m) contract for police hats?
A: Genex Export CC (1 minute search of )
Ps: how about a @brianklaas @PowrCorrupts Podcast on public procurement...?
Not policy! personal reflections Peter Evans, @DFID_RED_GCSD
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