The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE) started releasing contract award notices from the Government Electronic Tender System (GETS) as open data in 2019. We analysed the data of the last four years and have concluded that, despite many government commitments to more transparency of government procurement there has been no significant improvement.
Government commitments towards open procurement transparency since 2018
The ambition of the NZ government in publishing this data was spelled out in the Third National Action plan for Open Government in 2018 (Commitment #12):
It will be easy for people to find and access published GETS information for contracts awarded by government agencies that are subject to the Government Rules of Sourcing. This will increase the level of trust the public has in procurement as it will be possible to analyse what contracts government agencies are awarding, what the expected spend is and which businesses have been awarded contracts.
Updated Government Procurement Rules were issued in 2019 which require government entities to publish information on contracts awarded including the name of the successful supplier and the value of the contract.
The Public Service Act 2020 requires public service leaders to “foster a culture of open government” as one of four principles to be applied in government operations
In July 2022, the government issued a Strategy for Future Procurement with a major focus on Data and Transparency. It aimed to improve visibility of procurement activities across the system by driving capability and consistency in the collection, management and analysis of data. The strategy includes the creation of metrics to assess system performance and inform decisions and behaviours across government. These metrics are intended to improve accountability and transparency of government procurement and show how public value is achieved.
In December 2022, the government published the 4th National Action Plan for Open Government which contained Commitment #6:
“Improving the transparency of government sourcing activity by making changes to the Government Electronic Tender Service (GETS) and by developing a digital data platform (or leverage existing platforms) to capture procurement information, in alignment with the Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS).)”
What does the data reveal?
With all these commitments to improved openness and transparency, we expected to see changes in the publication of data on government contracts. Since 2019 we have published six articles analysing the data1, each of which identified two major transparency issues:
• The coverage of the GETS system – the amount of government expenditure that is reported
• The publication by government entities of the value of individual contracts awarded
We hoped that the data over four full financial years (July 2019 to June 2023) would reveal improvements in these two areas, and show the impact of the multiple government commitments.
It gives us no pleasure to report that there has been little change in either the percentage of government expenditure that is reported or the publication of the value of contracts.
There was an increase in the total dollar value of contract awards, but the number of notices remained static and the increase simply reflects higher contract values (the average increased from $650,000 to $1,100,00 in 2023).
The government spends $51.5 billion on goods and services each year. The published notices for 2022/23 total $2.6 billion, which is only 5% of the annual government expenditure.
There has been no change in the availability of data about expenditure – more than half the published notices do not include any information about the contract value.
What needs to happen?
We support the broad direction set out in the government procurement strategy, and the plan to introduce metrics to improve accountability and transparency of government procurement. However it is disappointing that more than 12 months after the publication of the strategy, there is no sign of these metrics.
We encourage government to implement the two major recommendations from our previous articles and move beyond words to actually improve procurement transparency:
• Require all government entities to publish all contract award notices on GETS and remove all exemptions to the rules
• Set targets for the quality of data (such as coverage of all expenditure and publishing contract value) and report annually on performance by individual government entities
The OAG notices
The Office of the Auditor General has just published a report on emergency procurement, which found that public organisations did not publish a contract award notice on GETS for about 94% (232) of emergency procurements from June 2018 to July 2022, contrary to the requirements of the Rules. https://oag.parliament.nz/2023/emergency-procurement.