Should we push recipients of overseas aid into more contract transparency?

There is a really good article here on the Guardian newspaper’s "Poverty Matters" blog (not a sister publication, I should say, despite the name…).

It’s another example of how procurement could be more of a force for good in the world.  Charles Kenny (senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development and a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation) proposes that in return for aid, the UK's Department of International Development should insist that recipients publish the contracts they award that are funded with aid money.

The idea is a simple one: governments should publish the contracts they sign with companies to deliver goods and services. And the UK is in a uniquely strong position to promote the agenda.

He acknowledges that commercial confidentiality will be quoted as a reason not to do this -

The most common argument against contract publication – that parts of contracts sometimes contain commercial or national secrets which would be complex and costly to redact – doesn't stand up. And we know that not least because some governments have started publishing the text of their contracts. They include the state government of Victoria in Australia, the US county of Miami-Dade, the federal and state governments of Colombia, and the UK.The UK system isn't perfect: searches on Whitehall's contracts finder frequently turn up documents with entire pages of price data blanked out.

So he doesn’t quite explain there why that argument against “doesn’t stand up”. But even if some information was redacted on publication, seeing the bulk of the contract information would still have some value.

But why not go further - why not publish tender evaluation methodologies, as lots of UK public organisations now do? Indeed, why not develop a set of standards, based on UK / EC procurement regulations and good practice, that we should expect recipients to follow in their own contracting processes?

It’s clear from the growth of CIPS in Africa and elsewhere around the world that there is a real global appetite to improve procurement in the public sector. That may mean many countries could welcome another push in their fight against corruption and poor practice. So leveraging aid to drive this improvement seems to be an interesting idea, worth exploring further.

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