No government activity is as vulnerable to corruption as public procurement. The procedures governments employ when deciding what to buy, how much of it to buy, and from whom to buy it provide countless opportunities for greedy officials and their private sector accomplices to profit at citizens’ expense. No serious effort to curb corruption can therefore avoid a careful scrub of a nation’s procurement law.
The best scrubbing tools are found in the World Bank’s series Benchmarking Public Procurement. As the name proclaims, each report in the series provides standards against which the quality of a nation’s or even a province or local government’s procurement law can be gauged. Begun with a 2015 pilot examining public-private partnership contracts in a handful of countries, the most recent volume, published in 2020, assays the rules for letting PPPs in 140 jurisdictions and the rules in 40 for the award of infrastructure contracts from public funds (a 2017 report covers publicly-funded procurement contracts in 180).
Procurement is a devilishly complex area of policy. Untutored anticorruption advocates looking for corruption-reducing reforms can quickly find themselves stymied by the maze of rules governing procurement decisions and the status quo-bias of procurement staff and government suppliers. Benchmarking offers a way around these obstacles. A way to open a discussion about procurement policy and where laws or practices need changing between anticorruption reformers and the procurement community.
The 2020 edition examines how countries fare against standard practice on 160 plus areas. Not everyone will agree that all 160 plus benchmarks are best practice, and many will wish for explicit anticorruption benchmarks like those described here were included. But the critical step is to begin a dialogue on reforming a nation’s procurement law, and the Bank’s Benchmarking series is the best vehicle yet for sparking one. I hope a new updated and expanded edition is in the cards.