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SICA Success Stories

USAID Supports Creation of the Coalition Tracking State Procurement Transparency in Kazakhstan

In 2015, Kazakhstan launched an electronic platform with open public access to state procurement processes. The move was widely regarded as a significant step in fighting state procurement corruption, a persistent challenge for the country since its independence in 1991. In a bid to support government reforms on monitoring state spending, a team of procurement monitoring professionals created Kun Jarygy (Sunlight in Kazakh), a coalition of 23 NGOs and 32 experts that focus on procurement monitoring and public spending transparency. With the support of Eurasia Foundation's Social Innovation in Central Asia (SICA) program and global transparency watchdog Open Contracting Partnership (OCP), the coalition has effectively overseen 270 purchases with violations. "A key aspect of public monitoring is ensuring that citizens, as the ultimate beneficiaries of state expenditures, receive high-quality goods and services at reasonable prices," says Nurgali Rakhmanov, a co-founder and an active member of the coalition. "Since the 2015 reform, citizens of Kazakhstan can view and monitor how public funds are utilized, particularly in areas that directly affect their lives. Our mission is to educate them how to monitor public spending effectively to ensure they receive quality services for their taxes."

Nurgali gained significant experience in public procurement after years of working as a business development specialist at various global commercial organizations. Upon discovery of SICA's online Public Research School (PRS), a program aimed at leveraging professional expertise of state public procurement processes, he realized he was ready for a career change.

"The PRS program offered hands-on practical tools for tracking public spending, implementing research projects, minimizing safety risks and serving as policy participants that offer constructive recommendations,” he says. “As I was learning to analyze procurement from the perspective of a watchdog, I realized that I wanted to keep developing in this sphere.”

While studying at PRS, Nurgali and his peers created a WhatsApp chat that has become the group's primary discussion channel. During one of the discussions in the group chat, his teammates came up with the idea of creating an umbrella organization supporting NGOs focusing on state procurement initiatives. "In May 2022, when SICA announced a new grant competition, four of us from the WhatsApp chat—Aida Bapakhova, Ruslan Asaubayev, Abai Myrkhin, and I—joined forces to propose the establishment of the coalition. This is how our journey began", he says, smiling.

The SICA grant proved to be instrumental in turning this task into reality. Within months, the coalition has expanded from three to 25 NGOs and has become a center of gravity for civic activists working in the sphere. In March 2023, the team launched a series of free webinars on public monitoring of state procurement, attracting a diverse audience, that includes government procurement representatives. Leveraging the extensive knowledge gained from the webinars, Bauyrzhan Zaki Akhmetzhan from Uralsk facilitated an in-person state procurement course for 16 civic activists in August 2023.

The team's extensive experience in diverse fields was a key factor in launching a large-scale initiative. Aida Bapakhova—the Coalition's co-founder and former project director of EGOV.KZ, Kazakhstan’s premier digital platform for online government services, played a crucial role in optimizing the team's IT operations. As a result, the team launched ProZakup, a website featuring information on regulative legislation and educational materials about the topic. As of January 2024, ProZakup is the inaugural online platform in Central Asia providing support and education to civic activists, communities and NGOs working on state procurement.

"One particular victory for us is the fact that coalition members already exchange and leverage their practical experience," notes Aida. "Recently, Nurgali's public foundation conducted a study on schools’ construction spending and shared findings his with the group. Bauyrzhan, another member of the coalition, later utilized Nurgali's methods for his own research. We learn from each other and grow as a team."

The coalition is a unique example of an organization that has fostered collaboration between the civil society sector and government bodies. In 2023, the coalition uncovered 270 purchases with violations. After sharing their findings with law enforcement agencies, the coalition helped initiate five criminal cases and recovered KZT 11.38 million (~US$24,000) to the budget.

Moving forward, the team is focused on institutionalizing partnerships with government agencies to develop robust civic oversight mechanisms, enhance transparency in the semi-governmental sector, and foster professional development of procurement officers. Reflecting on the Coalition's mission, Aida is confident it has emerged at the right time. "Various civic activists, NGOs and bloggers across the country deal with state procurement monitoring, but many lack capacities or skills to develop full-scale research or do it systemically,” she says. “We needed a body that would effectively utilize their limited resources in promoting the transparency of state procurement, ultimately saving their efforts.”

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