The Victorian Auditor-General has delivered an assessment of the contract disclosure practices of Victorian agencies, outlining recommendations for improvement that have potential ICT implications. Examining 11 agencies, with an in-depth review of the Planning and Community Development (DPCD); Sustainability and Environment (DSE); and Treasury and Finance (DTF) departments, Auditor-General Des Pearson assessed compliance with the Financial Management Act 1994. This Act requires public disclosure of summary details of contracts over $100,000 and the full text of all contracts over $10 million through the Contract Publishing System. While the audit found that Departments were “generally complying” with the requirement to disclose summary details of contracts above $100 000, the report also stated that “levels of non-compliance with the requirement to publish the text of contracts where they exceed $10 million are higher, and reflect systemic breakdowns in disclosure and reporting controls that diminish transparency”. The report cited a “misunderstanding regarding the disclosure requirements” and “deficiencies in processes to approve, explain and document decisions to excise information from published contracts” as reasons for the non-compliance with disclosure requirements for contracts above $10 million. The auditor detailed a series of recommendations that pose as potential opportunities for ICT processes within the departments to be overhauled and/or streamlined, the most relevant outlining that:
- The Victorian Government Purchasing Board should improve the Contract Publishing System functionality to allow for an improved search function, variations to be recorded against the original contract, entries to record procurement under standing offer agreements;
- Secretaries of departments should strengthen their processes for monitoring their compliance with contract disclosure requirements on the Contract Publishing System and in their annual reports;
- The DSE and DTF should develop and document protocols and procedures for approving and documenting decisions for excising contract information.
- The DSE and DTF should develop a protocol and supporting processes regarding the future release of excised information; and
- The DTF should establish a process to monitor the department’s payment system to identify payment activities that trigger a disclosure requirement.
Victoria was an early mover in supporting Gov 2.0 principles. The Whole of Victorian Government Response to the Final Report of the Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee’s Inquiry into Improving Access to Victorian Public Sector Information and Data, tabled in the Victorian Parliament on 2 February 2010, made clear that “open access to Public Sector Information represents an important opportunity for the Victorian Government to increase its engagement with the community and to realise a range of social and economic benefits”.
Procurement data is a valuable source of information to industry and government alike in terms of the market trend information it can provide for planning and other purposes.
Apart from the driver for improvement the Audit Report provides, it is likely that the need to move down the Gov 2.0 path will also provide impetus for improvements to the reporting of contracts.