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The Next Level: Open Contracting in Ottawa

El siguiente nivel: Contratación abierta en Ottawa

Gavin Hayman|

He fled from the Taliban when he was 16. With little knowledge of English, he arrived in the UK and was barely granted asylum. With determination, he convinced a university to give him a chance and went on to become a successful civil engineer in London before returning home to Afghanistan to help rebuild his country.

Speaking from the stage at the Ottawa OGP Summit, Yama Yari had the open government audience mesmerized as he described his remarkable path from a Taliban target to becoming Afghanistan’s youngest government minister. He has an outstanding track record of achieving results, leading what he describes as the biggest institutional reform in Afghanistan’s recent history, despite facing regular threats from powerful vested interests and warlords.

Open contracting was at the core of his reforms as he led a newly-established National Procurement Agency to stop the money hemorrhaging from the Afghan budget. He’s now merging five transport agencies to rebuild the war-torn country’s air, road and rail infrastructure. Reforms that he has overseen have saved over $500 million, helped blacklist 100 fraudulent firms, and for the first time in 17 years, the public works ministry is spending 98% of its budget.

Yama Yari is one of the rockstar reformers in our growing open contracting community, working to open up public contracts and improve public services around the world. The Summit was also the perfect moment for us to celebrate that community and launch our new strategy.

Our vision is to transform public contracting. Transparency was the right place to start, but it would be the wrong place to stop. Our partners told us to work more politically, shape incentives better, and push for more sustained use and quality of the data to make sure the feedback loop gets closed, and to bring in new allies like journalists and business.

We know that open contracting can be transformational. We had a great example of this with Ukraine’s Prozorro reforms, which won the Open Government Award in 2016 (and saved the country over $1bn and counting). And other open contracting reformers continue to push themselves and the Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) to aim for ambitious goals. But we also know that change is hard and requires many political elements to align.

Our new strategy is shaped around those issues and around supporting more agile, performance-driven reforms to public contracts. In the table below, you can see what we’ve learned to gain more impact, more reliably. Tell us what you think – we are always in the market for smart ideas.


More generally, open contracting was buzzing at the Ottawa summit with more than twenty crowded sessions and events during the week, including the launch of a new local-level reformer network led by Hivos.

The growing diversity and depth of the open contracting community and the potential for real impact on everyday goods and services to citizens is framed very nicely by the OGP’s new Global Report, which summarizes some of the impressive developments we saw over our first four years at OCP.

And while it was nice to learn whether the Prime Minister of Canada prefers The Weeknd over Drake, I’d have preferred to hear more about the lessons learned from the SNC Lavalin affair and the two to three other big contracting scandals in Canada at the moment. The Canadian government is just starting to move on open contracting and should step up on beneficial ownership reforms as well.

According to OGP’s Independent Reporting Mechanism, open contracting commitments achieve better results compared to others. More than two of every five open contracting commitments achieved significant changes in levels of transparency in procurement. This is more than double the rate of “successful” commitments overall.

We need to not only sustain that hit rate but raise it further to real systemic impacts.

That transformation requires a bold vision and the courage to go up against vested interests. Elite private interests are still all too common, as Mukelani Dimba, the new OCP Vice Chair pointed out in Ottawa, and “poor public procurement systems are either the entry points or enablers for state capture by private interests.” Backroom deals and divvying up secret government contracts are the epitome of closed government and dubious public spending.

As we shut the door on vested interests, we must open another one to a new, more diverse marketplace. Governments spend a third of their money buying goods and services from the private sector, but women-owned businesses supply only 1% of this market. This needs to change as our colleague Hera Hussain made clear from the main stage this year when she launched OGP’s inspiring campaign #BreaktheRoles to ensure that gender and inclusion is embedded across OGP. Inclusion is fundamental for fair and effective procurement and a key part of our strategy.

Hera Hussain (OCP) and Kyrgyz Parliamentarian Aida Kasymalieva launching the Break the Roles campaign at the OGP Global Summit in Canada.

Open contracting must bring benefits for everyone, redistribute power, and build new alliances. At the OCP strategy launch, our new Chair, Sally Hughes, who leads the Global Contract Management Association, said that to deliver on our new vision, “requires a partnership built on honesty, fairness, openness. A readiness to change. A willingness to trust.”

The next step for us is to continue to put all these lessons into practice. To that end, we are launching a bold new program – Open Contracting Lift – that will help your work achieve more impact, sooner. It will help teams of bold procurement reformers propel their ambitious plans towards systemic change. We want to help you go further and empower you to turn your vision into reality. Keep an eye out for the official launch on 1 July.

Public contracts matter. Yama Yari’s story inspires us so much because it’s a reminder that opening up contracts can bring about real change for people. Public contracting is the perfect vehicle to deliver on the promise of smarter, more open and more responsive government. To achieve that impact, reforms need consistent leadership and a relentless focus on moving the ball ever forward. We are stoked about the growing number of partners who are joining us to double down and deliver on that promise. We can’t wait to dive in with you all to realize this ambitious vision while learning from setbacks and celebrating progress on the way.

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