Open Contracting in PH: Key recommendations

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(From Public Contracting in the Philippines: Breakthroughs and Barriers, a case study on the procurement of infrastructure projects by the Department of Public Works and Highways)

PCIJ’s research findings indicate the need for the following:

1. Upload basic contracting documents online – from planning to implementation. Agencies keep a wealth of documents internally, many of which could help string the full contracting narrative of government projects. Whether or not a common standard can be adopted right now, posting contracting documents — from planning to implementation – for free is a key first step. Apart from being considered good practice globally, proactive disclosure of contracting documents is required by the Transparency Seal Circular and the Republic Act No. 9184. Monitoring agency compliance with these provisions is a must as well.

2. Provide machine-readable data on contracting – from planning to implementation. Providing data about projects in spreadsheet files or other structured formats makes it easier for stakeholders to analyze what government buys.

3. Consider adopting the Open Contracting Data Standard, but first identify key things the agency wants open contracting to achieve. Clarifying agency goals will help set clear priorities. Build a team with police and technology skills and engage with stakeholders, including other agencies, civil society, media, and the business sector. The readiness of agencies to adopt OCDS might be an issue, from the procedural and technical to policy standpoints. These concerns must all be taken into account.

4. Strengthen the capacity of civil society and media in using contracting data in their advocacies and reporting, respectively. Greater transparency in procurement has to be accompanied with activities that help citizens and civil society become better Open Contracting advocates and journalists become better reporters of government contracts. Agencies must work with stakeholders in developing an environment in which contracting or procurement becomes an expertise of the many rather than the few.

5. Advocate for the passage of the Freedom of Information law with an Open Contracting lens. Contracting is the government’s most important role, and its biggest risk. A Freedom of Information Act will serve as a great complement to existing laws, rules, and orders on records access and a great supplement to what these laws lack. While the passage of an FOI law remains uncertain, citizens and CSOs must sustain their practice of accessing information and claiming their right to know to foster and demand greater openness in government.

6. Make Open Contracting a public commitment in the Open Government Partnership. Promoting Open Contracting as the norm in procurement across all agencies, from local to national levels, is an ambitious yet noble goal. Making this a commitment in Philippines’ OGP National Action Plan might be a good place to start. OGP commitments are not supposed to be empty promises but principles that, if implemented, could offer a wide range of benefits to agencies, business sector, and communities. — PCIJ, January 2018