By Hon Agnes Kunihira, MP.
As government transits from addressing the immediate crisis to focusing on economic recovery, integrity violations may continue to rise and undermine recovery efforts. It is therefore imperative that fundamental safeguards of public integrity are not weakened or disregarded in both the immediate response as well as the longer-term recovery from COVID-19. The following three issues deserve particular attention, as they have a high impact on the success or failure of current and future government interventions:
Integrity challenges in public procurement.
Accountability, control and oversight of the economic stimulus packages.
Increased risks of integrity violations in public organizations.
The COVID-19 crisis is already revealing gaps in existing emergency procurement plans, government needs to prepare legislation and policies to ensure they can secure required goods and services. Lack of available stockpiles shows vulnerability in preparedness this call for reviewing existing emergency procurement legislation to ensure that it is relevant for future health emergencies
The current crisis requires governments to take a number of measures to ensure integrity in public procurement processes. These include:
• Maintaining and retaining documentation of procurement processes: basic documentation and record-keeping requirements should apply, including recording of information about procurement proceedings, any departures from or modifications of normal procurement procedures, the solicitation and submission of bids, recording of the grounds for any use of non-competitive procedures, information on bidders, evaluation of bids and contract awards.
• Developing detailed guidelines on procurement strategies under a crisis, which deals not only with the procurement of emergency products but also with good practices to document the management of ongoing contracts or procedures.
• Putting further emphasis on contract management, so that established procedures are applied to reinforce accountability and transparency.
• Favoring existing collaborative procurement instruments such as framework agreements whenever possible to avoid awarding contracts without any competition and conduct emergency procurement within an already established contractual framework.
• Ensuring maximum openness of information, including open data, as well as full disclosure of the measures used and their destination, stored in an accessible location.
• Setting up a central price and supplier tracking system for key products and services that helps with identifying red flags, collusion, price gouging, counterfeits and other misbehaviours.
• Subjecting all emergency procurement processes to audit and oversight.
• Adapting audit and oversight strategies, as well as analyses of potential corrupt patterns in relation to the COVID-19 situation, where bargaining powers of the public and the private sectors are drastically reversed, including effects on competition.
• Respecting the sunset clauses in place for the emergency procurement rules and extending only after applicable approvals (e.g. parliamentary oversight).
It is critical to continue a strong stance against corrupt practices during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Anti-corruption procedures and systems of accountability will ensure that development aid is deployed to benefit those who need it the most. A wave of corruption-related incidents linked to the current situation underscores the importance of continuing and strengthening transparency and accountability efforts.