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SICA Success Stories

Viral Procurement: Sharing Experience on Pandemic Procurement in Central Asia

COVID-19 has reshaped innumerable aspects of public and private life and responding to the rapidly evolving crisis has proven a challenge for governments. Many countries, including those in Central Asia, quickly lifted standard rules on public procurements to shorten wait times, reduce due diligence requirements and often provide full pre-payment to vendors for services or goods. Not surprisingly, several corruption and fraud scandals quickly emerged. With governments reducing their oversight responsibility and often unable to conduct the necessary quality control, the greater civic oversight by transparency organizations, journalists, researchers and other civil society experts from Central Asia is needed.

To help meet this need and raise awareness and share expertise on civic oversight of procurement, the USAID Civil Society Support Program in Central Asia (CSSP), implemented by Eurasia Foundation (EF), held a joint webinar entitled "Viral Procurement.” Drawing upon its procurement reform program in Ukraine, EF staff quickly identified civil society experts from countries in the Eurasian region with substantive experience in procurement oversight. Held on 26 May 2020, the webinar brought 89 experts from Austria, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan together to discuss two primary questions: “How are state funds spent on fighting coronavirus?” and “How do we track how those funds are spent?”

Participants generally agreed on the benefits of more timely procurement processes and removal of excessive bureaucracy, which had led to many successes during the crisis, such as delivering needed resources to health centers quickly. Promoting the positive impacts of these changes thus required oversight that could adapt and respond quickly as well. Speakers from Open Contracting Partnership, Transparency International, Open Government Partnership, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Agha Khan Development Network, University of Central Asia and Soros Foundation shared practical insights on steps civil society has taken in the Eurasia region and areas where they are pushing for change.

While initial discussions included overviews of procurement procedures to establish a shared understanding of processes and problems, participants with extensive experience in oversight and analysis quickly gained new perspectives from the obstacles their peers had faced and overcome. Mavzuna Karimova, Director of the Center for Social and Economic Education and Development in Tajikistan, noted the many developments in analyzing procurement data and methodological approaches that had occurred within the last several years and how she appreciated learning about how others had adapted, stating, “I liked the approach to the presentation, methodology and those issues that were raised due to their relevance and the vital necessity caused by the COVID-19.”

Complex protocols and procedures, diverse data sources, emerging technology and many other obstacles meant the problem required a focused effort among those with expertise and resources to address the problem. At the end of the webinar, participants pledged to create a dedicated online resource-sharing and partnership hub around this community of practice, activists, journalists, representatives of government and business and other experts dedicated to improving the transparency, efficiency and fairness of public procurement in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

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