No government activity is more susceptible to corruption than public procurement. The process by which government decides what to buy and from whom is lengthy, technically complex, and riddled with decision points that give procurement officers enormous discretion. Oversight is thus especially difficult. Moreover, because so much money is involved, the temptations procurement offers corrupt public servants and their private sector accomplices are particularly great. Some developed countries spend as much as one-third of their budget on the purchase of public works, goods, and services, and the available data suggests the figure may even be higher in developing countries.
With so much at risk, it is no wonder that there has been an explosion of material on fighting corruption in public procurement. The OECD, the World Bank, the European Union, and Transparency International have each issued a slew of publications on how to prevent corruption in public procurement, and the latest edition of Matthew’s anticorruption bibliography catalogues more than 100 articles, pamphlets, and books by academics, think tanks, and advocacy organizations on corruption in public procurement. Indeed, the amount of material is so overwhelming that reporters, civil society groups, and even parliamentarians and government auditors may be discouraged from pursuing allegations of procurement corruption. For how does one know where to start?
Below are ten simple, straightforward questions that provide a starting-point. They can be asked about any government purchase: from “off-the-shelf” items like pencils and paper to a new road or bridge to the acquisition of customized IT systems. The answers will provide a telling first indication of whether the procurement merits further scrutiny. Continue reading