Government procurement: Open data about supplier contracts

Laurence Millar
Member with Delegated Authority for Open Government

Laurence Millar

TINZ Member with Delegated Authority for Open Government

Transparency International New Zealand (TINZ) welcomes the regular release of information about the awarding of government contracts from the Government Electronic Tender Service (GETS). In February 2020, the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) published details of awards made from 1 July to 31 December 2019 as open data. MBIE will continue to publish the data quarterly from now on. The publication is part of a commitment from the New Zealand government under its Third Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.

Open data about the awarding of government contracts

The availability of data about government expenditure is an essential component of transparency. Government expenditure via procurement through tenders, contracting and other systems designed to allocate funds, is around 40% of total central government spending and over 60% of Auckland Council spending.

The published data contains information on 1,449 tenders (Requests for Proposal, Requests for Quotation, Requests for Tender) issued by 119 government agencies. The number of awards by different agency type, and the number of agencies from each type are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Number of awards and number of agencies by different types

The most valuable fields for analysis are:

  • Award Type – either Awarded or Not Awarded
  • Award Amount – the amount of the contract
  • Supplier Name – the supplier(s) that have been awarded the contract

TINZ’s position is that all government contracts should be published in full when signed. This policy has been implemented in Colombia, which is ranked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as #3 in the world for Open Government. (New Zealand is #13).

Significant shortfalls in transparency

The publication of the NZ procurement data by MBIE is to be applauded. But the quality and completeness of the data published by government agencies continues to fall well short of genuine transparency. There is plenty of room for improvement.

This initial release of the data highlights opportunities to improve the quality of the data loaded in three key database fields (Award Type, Award Amount and Supplier Name). For example:

  • 341 tenders (24%) are recorded as “Not Awarded”. High level analysis indicates that the text in the Comments field of 160 tenders contain information about the successful supplier(s) and the amount of the contract. Storage of this information within the Comments text field hampers effective analysis.
  • Around 85% of the tenders have information about the successful suppliers, but because of the use of the Comments field and variations in company names it is not easy to conduct further analysis. This would easily be overcome by publishing the NZBN (NZ Business Number) to identify how many contracts are won by individual companies. Suppliers are required to provide an NZBN number to register for government procurement.
  • 368 (27%) of the awarded tenders have information about the value of the contract. This information is in the Award Amount field for 315 notices with a total value of $309 million. 53 awards included information on the award amount in the Comments field (estimated at around $150 million).
  • Total government expenditure during the period was over $20 billion. The total value reported in the MBIE data is around $450 million. Published data represents information for a minimal proportion of government expenditure during the period.

If we look more closely at publication by individual agencies:

  • 9 agencies published the key award data (amount and supplier) for every tender awarded
  • 28 agencies published the key award data for some tenders awarded
  • 55 agencies did not publish the award amount for any tender that they awarded
  • 27 agencies recorded all their tenders as “not awarded”.

The quality of data published on awards by each agency type are shown in figure 2.

Figure 2: Percentage of awards with different levels of information published

TINZ would like to acknowledge the following nine agencies for their accountability and transparency. They published the award amount details for all their tenders during the period:

  • Central Hawkes Bay District Council
  • Greater Wellington Regional Council
  • Health Quality and Safety Commission
  • Hutt City Council
  • Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • New Zealand Qualifications Authority
  • Northland District Health Board
  • Pacific Cooperation Broadcasting Limited
  • Westland District Council.

Plan for improvement

TINZ strongly encourages government agencies to improve the quality of data that they record in the GETS system. It looks forward to better government procurement based on the evidence from analysis of awards. Simple short-term improvements are:

  • Accurate and timely completion of the Award type – either Awarded or Not Awarded.
  • Accurate and timely completion of the Award Amount – the amount of the contract
  • Use of NZBN when possible to record the supplier(s) who were awarded the contract.

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