Transparency Hurts

Transparentnost boliIf you intended to find details about public procurement, arm yourself with patience, concentrate and – take fifteen-day long break.

Representatives of state institutions swear that their work is transparent and emphasize that everything is publicly available on the websites or that all information in possession of the state organ is possible to obtain by sending a request for free access to information. If you dare to contradict, it would be interpreted as an assault, and transparency would be proven on the scale of internationally defined standards.

How the “internationally recognized” transparency works in practice? Let’s take public procurement portal as an example. Entry into force the applicable Law on public procurement, one of the important innovations was the obligation of publishing calls for tender, public procurement plan and concluded contracts online, on website. The Law repealed the obligation of publishing calls for tender in newspaper. This was a huge lost for “Pobjeda”, considering that back than it was still under majority state ownership, so other newspapers have been losing race for these publications.

All participants in the process have been directed to the portal, since 1st of January 2012. If you are interested in public procurement but you don’t participate in procedures, and you simply want to monitor publications about public procurement, try to register on the portal as an user and you’ll see that Public Procurement Administration registers everyone as a bidder or a public procurement officer. Therefore, the existing register of the enterprises is neither precise nor accurate, considering that it contains information about every interested party who has ever visited the portal. Also, it is not possible to assess based on the e-mail address if you are participating in public procurement procedures or not. So, how the on – line instrument for public procurement works?

The browser is not simply to use, nor understandable, nor developed. The information are not classified according to criteria, but according to dates of publication. What’s interesting is the fact that some of the contracts or annexes are published without basic elements, as an ordinary document, without date, seal or signature of the parties concluded the contract. This indicates that, in practice, it is possible that the total amount of concluded business is way higher, but also that legal standards on the percentage of the possible changes of the regulations and amounts predicted in contract are being violated.

By searching each one of 18.685 information/publications available at the portal in 2014, one could conclude that there are 5.318 published contracts and 28 annexes. Yet, information that you get by investing tremendous effort are not 100% final and precise. It is impossible to determine if really this much or more annexes have been concluded during the 2014, because the Public Procurement Administration don’t publish the total amount of annexes concluded annually. The annual report on public procurement will be published in may, so until than we won’t be able to know if all concluded contracts are available at the portal. For example, Public Procurement Administration’s annual report for 2012 states that 4.332 contracts have been concluded during the year, but only 3.154 were published at the portal.

It took us 15 working days to get information about the total number of contracts and annexes in 2014, because: it is not possible to search information by the institution that have concluded the contract, subject or a bidder; the number of contracts obtained by searching the criteria “contract” is smaller than the number you get by insight into the each page and by opening every available/published data; the date of conclusion of the contract and date of publishing do not match, not even close; search by page is also not available, which means that every time user logs in, he must start from the beginning and use step-by-step method to get to the page he left off.

So, the problems are numerous and are significantly limiting the transparency. The question is if the creators of this portal have been aware of these disadvantages or if they have limited the possibility of search on purpose, in order to disable precise and easy search and to leave room for manipulations and concealment of information?

We are only left to diligently record every publication in a special internal archive on a daily basis. Amendments to the Law on Public Procurement adopted in December are predicting obligation of publishing tender documents on this portal. We look forward to greater “amount of information” that we will search as described above.

Research Coordinator and member of the Working group for Chapter 23

Text originally published in the ,,Forum” section of the daily Vijesti

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