Integrity pacts and open contracting: The EU perspective

In 2016 one in three Europeans felt that their governments and political leaders were mostly or entirely corrupt. The European Commission consequently teamed up with Transparency International to pilot the use of integrity pacts (IP). In essence, an IP is an agreement with the public authorities that allows civil society to act as independent monitors of the procurement process.

Why is the European Commission supporting the use of IP to EU-funded projects?

Preventing and fighting corrupt practices in projects funded by the EU has always been a priority for the commission, as well as ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in public contracting. It’s a way to save taxpayers’ money and make sure projects run smoothly because the goal is to guarantee all spending on public contracting is free from corruption. This is why the commission’s Directorate General for Regional and Urban Policy and Transparency International joined forces in March 2015 and launched the pilot project “Integrity Pacts—Civil Control Mechanism for Safeguarding EU Funds” to explore and promote the use of IP for safeguarding EU funds.

The commission’s expectation is that the IP approach will show that ordinary citizens and their champions—civil-society organizations—can play an important role in monitoring both the allocation of funds for projects and the way that money is spent. Clearly, if the contracting authority has planned the tenders well, an integrity pact can also bring costs savings because of improved competition.

The project is now at an advanced enough stage that the value of civil-society monitoring through an IP is becoming clearly evident. Fear that the pact will replicate existing oversight without adding anything useful is diminishing. Beyond fulfilling a watchdog function, it was encouraging to hear how IP have already brought concrete, additional advantages to the public procurement processes they are monitoring.

The commission has adopted and is implementing an Action Plan on Public Procurement. The goal is to identify good practices and promote them among member-states, as well as to help them use public tendering in a more strategic way.

The commission’s objective is to make sure that public procurement helps in achieving objectives like environment protection and social inclusion, and improves the digital economy and society.

The role of civil society, as an effective anticorruption actor, is important. It contributes to holding government to account.

Transparency International’s long experience in combating corruption has shown the crucial contribution of transparency, accountability and greater efficiency, especially in the particularly sensitive area of public procurement.

Within the next five years, most likely, we will see a totally different public procurement landscape— everything will be electronic and much more data should be openly available. Trends, such as open contracting, are offering new opportunities to scrutinize public spending. But public procurement is a very complex matter and not necessarily understood by average citizens. Open data gives us a lot of opportunities, but if you don’t understand it, it is of no use.

Civil-society organizations have the necessary skills to translate data and make the process more understandable to citizens while ensuring monitoring and civic control.

Beyond this, civil- society involvement is one of the best ways toward greater public engagement and understanding of public policies and, in particular, public procurement.

Can IP  be introduced in the Philippines?

Of course! The Integrity Initiative is presently introducing “Open Contracting” as a test in Muntinlupa City; Mayor Fresnedi is our partner. The test project involves an “Integrity Circle,” composed of business and civil society.

Everybody understands that IP promote transparency and cost efficiency, as well as good governance.  They also have the potential to reduce costs and increase competition, which, of course, is vital for business.

IP can encourage institutional changes, such as the increased use of e-procurement systems, simplified administrative procedures, improvements of regulatory environment.

Trusting that the test in Muntinlupa will be successful, Integrity Pacts /Open Contracting will be cascaded to other local government units in the Philippines.

 

Comments are welcome; contact Schumacher@integrityinitiative.com.

 

 

Flashback: On July 11 I wrote about ‘Open Government Partnership – Part of Fighting Corruption’ and made extensive reference to reports prepared by the Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) of the local Open Government Partnership implementation group. The reason why I used the IRM source is that the Integrity Initiative is part of the Civil Society Groups supporting the OGP Program and the reporting of the IRM. In fact, the Integrity Initiative has added progress information to the latest IRM report.

 

 

 

 

Image credits: Skypixel | Dreamstime.com

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