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Opinion: Government procurement looks better when it is see-through

by Judy Hurditch •
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The NSW Government’s procurement review offers the O’Farrell Government an invaluable opportunity to improve the transparency of its procurement practices.

A highly critical report by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) published in July, found that one in three surveyed businesses failed to make a bid on government tenders because they perceived the process to be corrupt.

The current lack of transparency is likely to be one of the key reasons that people perceive the procurement process in NSW to be corrupt. If the public scrutiny of contracts is not facilitated through their publication, it eventually results in government decision makers feeling less accountable for their procurement decisions. Reduced perceptions of accountability create an environment where poor decision making can take hold, and at worst, where corrupt practices (whether intentional or not) can occur.

Procurement transparency is best supported by the mandatory publication of the key elements of contracts, such as the total value, the supplier, the contracting agency, the contract start and end date and a description of the goods or services being acquired.

Even though transparency of contracting is a self evident democratic and anti-corruption principle, its application across Australia varies significantly.

Victoria and Queensland, the two jurisdictions named by government as being of special interest to the Review for their governance of procurement arrangements are two of the least transparent jurisdictions when it comes to public scrutiny of contracts. While both publish their contracts, the search interfaces on both the respective sites make it exceedingly difficult to work with the data, and neither provide a data export function to allow for further work with it.

At the Federal Government level, all ICT contracts above $10,000 are required to be published on the AusTender website. This threshold, and the degree to which most agencies comply with their publishing obligations, provides the greatest level of transparency of any jurisdiction in Australia, Intermedium’s research of ICT procurement has shown.

Intermedium’s

ongoing analysis of Federal Government ICT contracting data shows that this requirement results in approximately 17,000 ICT contracts being published annually.

In contrast, only procurements over $150,000 are required to be published on the NSW tendering website. According to Intermedium’s data, of the 17,000 ICT contracts published annually by the Federal Government, approximately 4,000 ICT contracts per annum have a value of more than $150,000.

Allowing for the fact that the size of the NSW government ICT market place is approximately half the size (by value) of the Federal one, this would imply that somewhere in the vicinity of 2,000 ICT contracts above $150,000 should be published each year by NSW agencies subject to the NSW Public Sector Management Act.

In a telling indication of the current lack of transparency, Intermedium was only able to locate 150 published ICT contracts for the 2009-10 financial year on the NSW Tenders site. This suggests that agencies operate in complete disregard of the existing policy, and points to just how little transparency and therefore accountability there exists over NSW ICT procurement at the present time.

AusTender utilises the NSW Tenders procurement platform, so there is no technical impediment to publishing contracts above $10,000 in NSW.

Related Articles:

Minister seeks "fundamental revision" of NSW Government Procurement

NSW agencies and suppliers forced to wait until September for new ICT projects

ICAC wants major changes made to NSW Government procurement

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Jurisdiction
  • NSW
Sector
  • Treasury
Tags
  • AusTender
  • Greg Pearce