Corruption in public procurement in Slovakia has been a long-standing problem. Problems in public procurement occur through the manipulation of tenders before or after the awarding of the bid, for example by limiting competition through setting unreasonable conditions, or not fully enforcing contracts, or changing them significantly after tendering. One key example was the ‘Notice Board Scandal,’ a high profile procurement scandal which took place in 2007 when the Ministry of Development published a tender request for construction services totalling 119.5 million Euros on a small notice board in the hallway inside the ministry building where few could see it. A firm that was known to have close ties to the head of the ruling party won the contract. More than a year after the fact, the scandal came to light and was invalidated by the Slovakian Office of Public Procurement.
Slovakian law was overhauled in response to the 2011 update of the EU Procurement Directives and the concern over high profile public procurement scandals. Major reforms included:
- The introduction of e-procurement, in which dissemination of tenders, tender documents, the submission of bids and the publication of notification of awards is done publicly through a single portal;
- The introduction of reverse auction mechanisms for procuring goods and services
- Mandatory publication of all public contracts on a centralized online government contract repository.
The Slovak Republic, Act No. 546/2010 Coll. supplementing Act No. 40/1964 requires all public contracts, with certain limited exceptions, to be published online. To avoid secret contracts, any unpublished contracts are declared to be unenforceable. The Government Public Procurement Office manages Slovakian procurement rules. This office publishes the official Public Procurement Journal, legal interpretation of the Public Procurement Act, maintains a register of procurement documents and operates the procurement portal, which is called EVO.
These reforms have made it significantly easier for organizations and people outside the government to access public data about procurement. Previously access tender documents and other procurement data was granted primarily through requests under Freedom of Information Laws (FOI). If requests were not granted and appeals could take so long that the information was no longer relevant. Now, through EVO all of that information is published including the contract itself and information on the bids received and the process of contracting.
The availability of data has lowered the barriers to entry for participating in the oversight process. This has enabled much greater public participation in uncovering suspect procurements. Before the reforms, exposing corruption relied on whistleblowers alerting journalists or watchdogs of suspicious proceedings. Now more tips come from local activists and individuals. For example teachers, highlighted information about large Ministry of Education procurements for flowers and alcohol and the Ministry of Finance conducted an audit.
Opening up the information makes it possible compare contractors and look at patterns across cities and institutions. Local people who may know who the mayor is friends with, and which local businesses have relationships with people of influence are able to spot issues that a researcher farther removed from the process might not be able to.
Despite these positive developments corruption in Slovakian public procurement remains a challenge. While the availability of data has been a positive step, there remain barriers to using it, and where there is no real threat of enforcement, transparency and disclosure are limited in their ability to bring about effective change. Researcher using the data say that rationalizing the manner in which the data is released and formatted would make it easier to use, reducing the cost of finding corruption and increasing the likelihood that improper processes will be uncovered. The NGOs TI-Slovakia and Fairplay Slovakia maintain an online Open Contracts website built off the procurement data scraped and structured from public sources. This portal visualizes procurement expenditures by procurers, suppliers, sectors and regions as well as provides downloadable structured procurement data in bulk. Having data available in these formats also enabled TI-Slovakia to conduct broader analyses than were previously possible.
Standardised data formats, bulk downloading, structured formats like XML would make it easier to use the data. Another key problem is that there are no data licenses attached to public data so it is not clear how it can be used. Additional information about pre-tender requirements would also be valuable.
Formal mechanisms and institutional means of sanction also need to be strengthened. The Sunlight Foundation concludes that “Most significantly, transparency alone, it appears, cannot change deeply ingrained corrupt practices in a short time span. Transparency can only highlight the problem, and provide tools for oversight and investigation. Enforcement mechanisms, both formal and informal, must be brought to bear to sanction those whose transgressions are revealed by transparency-enabled oversight.”
[Source: Sunlight Foundation case study]
Countries this example relates to…
Slovakia (Slovak Republic)
- Mandate the publication of new data sets
- Proactively disclose core classes of documents and data about public contracting
- Disclose key documents and data