Who knew contracts could be so interesting?

 at Transparency International UK: “…Despite the UK Government’s lack of progress, it wouldn’t be completely unreasonable to ask “who actually publishes these things, anyway?” Well, back in 2011, when the UK Government committed to publish all new contracts and tenders over £10,000 in value, the Slovakian Government decided to publish more or less everything. Faced by mass protests over corruption in the public sector, their government committed to publishing almost all public sector contracts online (there are some exemptions). You can now browse through the details of a significant amount of government business via the country’s online portal (so long as you can read Slovak, of course).

Who actually reads these things?

According to research by Transparency International Slovakia, at least 11% of the Slovakian adult population have looked at a government contract since they were first published back in 2011. That’s around 480,000 people. Although some of these spent more time than others browsing through the documents in-depth, this is undeniably an astounding amount of people taking a vague interest in government procurement.

Why does this matter?

Before Slovakia opened-up its contracts there was widespread mistrust in public institutions and officials. According to Transparency International’s global Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures impressions of public sector corruption, Slovakia was ranked 66th out of 183 countries in 2011. By 2014 it had jumped 12 places – a record achievement – to 54th, which must in some part be due to the Government’s commitment to opening-up public contracts to greater scrutiny.

Since the contracts were published, there also seems to have been a spike in media reports on government tenders. This suggests there is greater scrutiny of public spending, which should hopefully translate into less wasted expenditure.

Elsewhere, proponents of open contracting have espoused other benefits, such as greater commitment by both parties to following the agreement and protecting against malign private interests. Similar projects inGeorgia have also turned clunky bureaucracies into efficient, data-savvy administrations. In short, there are quite a few reasons why more openness in public sector procurement is a good thing.

Despite these benefits, opponents cite a number of downsides, including the administrative costs of publishing contracts online and issues surrounding commercially sensitive information. However, TI Slovakia’s research suggests the former is minimal – and presumably preferable to rooting around through paper mountains every time a Freedom of Information (FOI) request is received about a contract – whilst the latter already has to be disclosed under the FOI Act except in particular circumstances…(More)”