I had an ‘aha moment’ the other day about the number of contracts that CSOs are supposed to monitor in a country like the Philippines.
I was meeting with Government Procurement Policy Board - Technical Support Office (GPPB-TSO) in Manila. They were showing me PhilGEPS, a single portal that serves as the primary source of information on all government procurement and publishes contracts.
Rosa Maria Clemente, Executive Director of PhilGEPS explained: “On average there are 1000* bid notices posted on PhilGEPS each day.” It might ‘click in my head’ and I asked “How many?” “1000”, Rosa repeated. I needed a moment to digest this information. I never had really thought about before the volume of contracts that a country, like the Philippines would advertise. 1000 a day that makes for around 36000 a year. I asked in astonishment: “How will we ever be able to monitor each of this contracts?”
We started to discuss this question over lunch (Kentucky Friend Chicken – American fast food is very popular in Manila). There are about 60000 registered CSOs in the Philippines – a vibrant civil society scene. But still it is impossible for them to monitor 36000 contracts across the country.
I joked with Dennis Santiago, Executive Director of the GPPB-TSO, that contract monitoring needs to become a national sport in the Philippines. Like going for a weekly run. If everyone were to monitor contracts, maybe 36000 contracts could be tackled?
Dennis, however, pointed out that the Philippine Procurement Law required that CSOs monitor all stages of the procurement process, which may include contract monitoring.
For the next few days I kept thinking about this. Open Contracting promotes contract monitoring. In many ways the procurement law in the Philippines that requires CSO monitoring of all contracts is what we aim to promote (with a few adjustments) in other countries. Every contract counts. Each contract should be monitored. But, are we chasing an unrealistic dream? Will it ever be possible for a country like the Philippines to monitor all contracts?
I asked Angelita Gregoio Mendel, Executive Director of Affiliated Network of Social Accountability in East Asia and Pacific (ANSA EAP). Angelita is one of the leading open contracting practitioners in East Asia. The multi-stakeholder network on social accountability that she is leading has been promoting monitoring by citizens of public transactions and service deliveries for several years in the region. I was curious to get her practitioner view on the issue.
As usual Angelita was very honest. “We will never be able to monitor every single contract in the Philippines,” she said flat out. “That is why we need active citizenship”, she offered. Angelia explained further: “We need a critical mass of people doing contract monitoring in strategic areas which have high levels of corruption. We need citizens, organized as citizen groups or associations, to integrate monitoring into their existing agendas”.
Angelita gave the example of a homeowners or neighborhood associations. They are already engaged in advocacy for their community and they are registered organizations. Angelita called this ‘approximate open contracting’. According to her these kind of citizen groups could look at how public houses are built or services delivered to the neighborhood.
To me her suggestions made a lot of sense. Active citizenship in strategic areas as a way to scale up or, as Angelita called it, approximate open contracting. But, what do you think? Could that work?
*1000 bid notices includes shopping and small value purchases. Per RA 9184, all purchases amounting to 1,190 dollars (Php 50,000) and above have to be posted in the PhilGEPS.
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