March 20, 2013Doug Hadden
Doug Hadden, VP Products
Open procurement improves government costs and reduces corruption. That’s the theory that was discussed last night at an open house at the OpenGovHub sponsored by the Open Contracting initiative. The discussion was focused on ‘fragile states’.
FreeBalance has been active in the discussion of how technology (“ICTs”) – in particular – Government Resource Planning (GRP), can be used to improve governance in developing countries. (Such as this scenario on how e-procurement and back-office procurement reduces corruption ).
As you can see from the ‘storify’ from last night, the discussion was somewhat derailed by yours truly when I was asked to comment during the panel. It has been my impression that many in the development community tend to give the effects of technology short shrift. And, to conclude that transparency via technology does not have positive effects because technology is not fully inclusive. Our Governance Framework describes the net positive effects of technology and the force multiplier of institutional characteristics such as autonomy, capacity and political will. My point is that technology does have a governance effect even when some institutional factors remain sub-optimal:
- Controls in back-office systems prevent many inefficient and corrupt practices through IT security, workflow, approval cycles etc.
- Transparency in public finances, especially when there is no data manipulation capabilities between the back-office systems and the front-office portals, changes behaviour.
- Audit trails and reporting tools make corruption and poor practices easier to identify. This also changes behaviour.
We also must have a pragmatic approach to sequencing governance. We should expect that foreign businesses, international rating agencies, the diaspora and academics will be the first operational users for an e-procurement portal. And, that use of portals will become more inclusive as capacity is built in civil society and mobile technology becomes more affordable.
I also find that some in the development community expect that transparency initiatives have failed to achieve benefits because there has not been a rapid improvement in an outcome such as service delivery. Government initiatives take time to have measurable affects. And, an initiative such as an e-procurement portal may not have been conceived to improve service delivery. Perhaps improved prices through competition and reduced collusion through transparency are the expected results. And, an improvement in service delivery to businesses via an e-procurement portal is not likely to have any effect on a citizen survey about service delivery.
Therefore, we should not curb our enthusiasm for open contracting and open procurement. Transparency is a governance enabler, and it’s up to the development community to help phase-in governance initiatives based on the country context.
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