A relatively new discipline pertaining to procurement and
contracting bodes well for government and other organizations that spend public
funds, such as non-government organizations. This emerging field is called Open
Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), developed in 2014 by the World Bank with
support from the Omidyar Network.
OCDS, according to
open-contracting.org, is an open data standard for online publication of
structured information on all stages of a contracting process: from planning to
implementation. (Note: the whole process covers procurement and contract
administration, which includes the stage where contractors and/or providers are
paid for goods and services they deliver.) The publication of OCDS data can enable
greater transparency in public contracting, and can support accessible and
in-depth analysis of the efficiency, effectiveness, fairness, and integrity of
public contracting systems.
It prescribes disclosure at
three levels—basic, intermediate, and advanced. Basic data relate to tender and
awards notices. Intermediate data pertain to basic data plus unique identifiers
Object Notation). Also included at the intermediate level are tender and award
notices with structured downloadable excel file in CSV (comma separated value)
The unique identifier functions like an ISBN (International
Standard Book Number) for published books. It is assigned to a contractor. The
advanced level provides more details, such as contract amendments and updates.
Data also include contract details and status of physical and financial
With OCDS, anyone with access to the internet can look for the
unique identifier of Company X—and see how many contracts, both completed and
ongoing, it has signed with the government. Theoretically (this does not exist
yet in the Philippines), one may be interested in looking up Company X’s quotation
or bid for a road concreting project in Tawi Tawi (Southern Philippines). What
was the unit price for 1 kilometer of road at thickness of x inches and width
of x meters? We can go on and compare this data to that of Company Y, which
bagged a contract for a more or less similar road concreting project in
Masinloc (Western Philippines).
The key to functionality of open data is their interlinkages
using JSON and APIs (short for Application Programming Interface).
Publishing and using structured and standardized information
about public contracting can help stakeholders to: (1) deliver better value for
money for governments, (2) create fairer competition and a level playing field
for business, especially smaller firms, (3) drive higher-quality goods, works,
and services for citizens, (4) prevent fraud and corruption, and (5) promote
smarter analysis and better solutions for public problems.
OCDS believes that public access to open contracting data
builds trust and ensures that the trillions of dollars spent by governments
results in better services, goods, and infrastructure projects. It is currently
implemented on pilot basis in at least 9 countries, namely: Canada, United
Kingdom, Mexico, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay.
The Philippine Government
Electronic Procurement System, or PhilGEPS, also facilitates public access to
procurement related data through its website. However, data is limited to tender
and award notices, which can be downloaded as CSV file.
Because PhilGEPS is showing
progress in making procurement-related data open for public use, its
collaboration in the future with an emerging global initiative like OCDS should
be expected. The dream is to expand even more the details that can be accessed
from open-domain websites. I suppose every taxpayer would be happy to learn who
are the incorporators of Company X, for example (which will require PhilGEPS to
link with Securities and Exchange Commission data), and explore if any name is
associated with the list of campaign contributors (requiring links to
Commission on Elections data).
There are large holes in government procurement and contract
administration through which untold amounts of public funds are being wasted.
Recently, Deputy Ombudsman Cyril Ramos reported that the Philippines is losing
around P700 billion, or around 20 percent of the country’s total budget
appropriation, yearly, due to corruption.
Making government procurement corruption-free is like the
treasure at the end of the rainbow. We have always longed to be where the
treasure lies, but somehow we fail to get there. Yet government is not
helpless. It manages to collect the funds it needs to support the delivery of
goods and services to its constituents. Problems is a big chunk of its funds goes
not to provide public goods but to fatten private wallets. Mr. Ramos further
said that the amount of money lost to corruption is equivalent to some 1.4
million housing for the poor, medical assistance for around 7 million
Filipinos, or a rice buffer stock that can last for more than a year.
The OCDS method promises plugging some holes that lead to
procurement-related leaks. Hopefully there is enough resolve from policy makers
to get this applied in government procurement and contracting procedures.