Natalia A. Volosin

Public procurement systems must strive to align three main goals: economic development, efficiency, and transparency (or corruption prevention). This paper focuses on the last goal: government purchases are generally prone to corruption and waste, which yield dire consequences for both countries and people’s ordinary lives. Latin America is no exception to this, and its public markets are further weakened by obsolete, formalistic government procurement systems that not only compromise integrity but also fail to achieve basic levels of efficiency and simple developmental outcomes. Not surprisingly, this management deficit coexists with a severe lack of adequate information systems regarding public finance and procurement data. For countries in the region to upgrade their procurement systems to a results-based approach that finally manages to align development, efficiency, and transparency, they will necessarily have to develop more sophisticated methods to gather and share information on how they purchase, especially since the electronic government procurement systems (e-GP) that have been serving as a mantra for the last two decades have not done the trick.

This paper considers that e-GP systems might have failed because they are unilaterally created by the State and are thus unable to involve the relevant stakeholders in the creation of useful tools to transform raw procurement data into smart systems of information that help the State buy at the best value for money, the bidders find better business opportunities, and society at large prevent corruption and fraud while participating in collaborative exercises of democratic governance. In contrast, open data strategies might well help in this direction, particularly because they incorporate infinite instances of re-utilization of the information by the very interested parties. Furthermore, in producing empirical data, open data initiatives can yield useful inputs for public and private agents wishing to push for more structural reforms that government procurement systems in the region call for and that cannot be addressed with mere technological policies.

With these underpinnings, and using an institutional and sectorial approach to corruption, the paper offers a detailed study of open procurement data ecosystems in Chile, Uruguay, Mexico, and Argentina along a set of variables previously established by ILDA (Latin-American Initiative for Open Data). The study’s main conclusion is that while the theoretical potential is huge, realities are far from ideal. Still, there is an interesting base on which to further the agenda, especially considering the crucial roles played by the State in Chile and Uruguay, and by civil society in Mexico and Argentina.

Click on this link to read the study (in Spanish)