Opinion: Collection of Contract Data to Fight Corruption

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Gambia spends several millions of tax payer’s money each year on procurement by central and local government agencies. But what do officials spend tax money on, is it transparent and verifiable?

The government of The Gambia can make it a duty to collect and share the data of its public contracts within the confines of local legislation that compels officials to keep a registry of open contracting system. The data could cover purchases, contracting processes, contracts for goods and services, public works and make these records available to the public twice a month. These data are useful for civil societies, journalists, and even members within the government to keep abreast of procurements funded by tax payers.

The Gambia government under the watchful eyes of current politicians needs to promote compliance, risk management and fiscal transparency through the many options available including that of an open data portal as one procedure to fight corruption.  

Since the end of the dictatorial regime of the former president in 2016, the general public has increasingly become aware of the extent and effect of corruption and corrupt practices in government businesses. The Janneh Commission’s report and previous commissions of enquiries reports show that the lack of a monitored data collection, particularly in the procurement of supplies for government agencies continue to expose loopholes that certain officials take advantage of to plunder state resources.

That said, the country should henceforth facilitate an easy data collection and exchange system that should allow extensive use of information and above all make such information reusable by stakeholders. Herewith, computing and digital knowledge comes in handy. However, the question we should ask ourselves is how many of the youthful population are empowered through training to do coding and manage the data collection platform if the country has to go digital anytime soon, to promote compliance and risk management regime to fight corruption in the public services procurement.

Not too long ago, an audit report, said to have been conducted by National Audit on the Gambia Public Procurement Authority uncovered allegations of abuse of office, misappropriation, embezzlement, stealing, shell company ownership and insider trading of a top manager. This graft incidence is not an isolated one as can be seen from regular referrals of managers of state own enterprises by the National Assembly Public Account and Enterprises Committee. Often, the point of order from the Assembly focuses on State Enterprise and Public Services poor risk management, noncompliance, improper conduct, poor fiscal transparency, or outright rejection of often-tainted annual report. An open data portal could, if it were to have been established and integrated into the public services and shared with the private sector, be able to contain these shocks, have them exposed even before it is swept under the carpet and or initiate prosecution in The Gambia court of law.

Here also, it could as well be beneficial for The Gambia to start mapping its data, collect data and storing in a data bank or platform. Expectations are that significant progress could be made in the fight against corrupt practices in the public sector and reduce face-to-face contact in public businesses and improve risk management in public sector administration.

Collecting data from the tender stage to the contracting stage including information regarding dates of the tender award, contract, amount, items and suppliers awarded and contracting entities of all government services and store them on a common platform help with compliance in procurement plus enhancing statistical collections, effective and efficient risk management.

The alleged adverse finding against the former director of GPPA is a clear indication for The Gambia to consider criminalizing trading in influence. Trading in influence kept surfacing in numerous avers finding by current and former commissions of enquiries against public officials and accomplices. What happens is that, public officials codominant and connivers helps private entities and individuals to exploit loopholes in government business thereby enabling gratification. 

One other legislation that require exceptional attention in the country’s efforts to fight corruption, is to expand the definition of abuse of office in section 9 of the Criminal Code to include omissions and obtaining of undue advantage for another person or entity. In my view this measure when taken could promote risk management and ensure compliance in procurement and elsewhere.

Advantages for an accurate statistical data is a sure way to indicate what are the most purchased items supplied to government agencies. It helps also with provision of technical advice to would be investors. In short, structured data can help increase competition in purchasing processes, making bidding information reach more suppliers and also increase the control exercised in the awards and contracts made by procurement units within the public service.

Finally, a historical analyzes of what was bought and how much the Government spent doing purchasing helps to improve future procurements in the country.

Then, the journey never ends when the data is collected, published and someone is expected to use it. Thinking carefully about how the data could be analyzed is crucial for them to be useful.

The government is in a better position than never before, to regulate itself and to encourage the public service use open data platform for monitoring and analyse procurement, fight corruption, improve risk management, ensure transparency and promote compliance in public procurement country-wide.

Author: Michael O. Davies, Sec. Anti Corruption Coalition Gambia