The Biggest Hope for Ending Corruption Is Open Public Contracting

Gavin Hayman at the Huffington Post: “This week the British Prime Minister David Cameron is hosting an international anti-corruption summit. The scourge of anonymous shell companies and hidden identities rightly seizes the public’s imagination. We can all picture the suitcases of cash and tropical islands involved. As well as acting on offshore and onshore money laundering havens, world leaders at the summit should also be asking themselves where all this money is being stolen from in the first place.

The answer is mostly from public contracting: government spending through private companies to deliver works, goods and services to citizens. It is technical, dull and universally obscure. But it is the single biggest item of spending by government – amounting to a staggering $9,500,000,000,000 each year. This concentration of money, government discretion, and secrecy makes public contracting so vulnerable to corruption. Data on prosecutions tracked by the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention shows that roughly 60% of bribes were paid to win public contracts.

Corruption in contracting deprives ordinary people of vital goods and services, and sometimes even kills: I was one of many Londoners moved by Ai Wei Wei’s installation that memorialised the names of thousands of children killed in China’s Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Their supposed earthquake-proof schools collapsed on them like tofu.

Beyond corruption, inefficiency and mismanagement of public contracts cost countries billions. Governments just don’t seem to know what they are buying, when, from whom, and whether they got a good price.

This problem can be fixed. But it will require a set of innovations best described as open contracting: using accessible open data and better engagement so that citizens, government and business can follow the money in government contracts from planning to tendering to performance and closure. The coordination required can be hard work but it is achievable: any country can make substantial progress on open contracting with some political leadership. My organisation supports an open data standard and a free global helpdesk to assist governments, civil society, and business in this transition….(More)”