Articles, explanatory videos, journalistic investigations, TV shows, infographics, and public events are some of the outputs of the civil society organizations awarded grants to monitor public procurement under the Increasing the Integrity of Public Procurement project, which is implemented by the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) Viitorul in collaboration with Partnership for Transparency. On November 30 and December 1, 2022, civil society representatives and the project team met online to discuss their experiences and share the results and impact of their projects during the preceding three months of implementation.
Localinvest, Prospect, Media-Guard (in partnership with Ziarul de Gardă), LEX XXI, Centrul Contact Cahul (in partnership with Cahul 2030), Association for Efficient and Responsible Governance, Părinți Solidari, and the media project Cu Sens are the civil society organizations that currently benefit from grants totaling over $185,000 to undertake public procurement monitoring. The primary goal of the program is to make recommendations to relevant authorities to improve the integrity and efficiency of public procurement to support the appropriate use of public budgets and the capacity for good governance.
“For us, it is important that civil society representatives and journalists in Moldova monitor the procurement process and provide recommendations for improving communication with authorities and strengthening the integrity of public procurement,” said Carolina Ungureanu, Deputy Director of IDIS Viitorul and Manager of the Increasing the Integrity of Public Procurement project.
Project Director, Hady Fink of PTF, said “The results of these monitoring projects can potentially have a meaningful impact on the transparency and fairness of public procurement through recommendations for authorities that will contribute to the improvement of the public procurement system and legislation.”
The organizations, selected through a competitive process, receive financial support between $17,000 and $25,000, as well as assistance and advice from experts in procurement monitoring. Grant recipients implement projects that monitor procurement carried out by municipalities and district councils, publicly owned enterprises, and other state entities. The results of the monitoring are reflected in journalistic articles, infographics, analytical materials, public discussions, and training events.
From the Why don’t I hear? investigation by the journalists of the media project Cu Sens, we can learn why the procurement procedure for hearing implants is delayed, who can challenge public tenders and how, and how public tenders can be accessed. “Our main goal is to track public money and motivate authorities to be more accountable for the way they manage public resources. We have open databases and tools in Moldova that can be used for this purpose. We follow red flags and analyze purchases involving large amounts of money, including urgent or health-related purchases, because they involve very large amounts of money,” stressed journalist Olga Ceaglei.
In addition, 15 young people from different parts of Moldova learned how to promote transparency in public procurement, understand the procurement system, identify corruption risks, check data, and communicate these issues, as well as how to write articles in the field during the public procurement in the eyes of young people summer camp organized by Media-Guard in August 2022. Media-Guard has published two investigations, completed the documentation of a third investigation, published two video explanations (How we check the purchases of state-owned enterprises and The companies of a district councilor from Călărași subscribed to the public budget), and will soon publish three more. “State-owned enterprises do not publish procurement information, so we have focused on monitoring procurement by state-owned enterprises linked to state dignitaries who win contracts and investigate where there are potential conflicts of interest. In mid-December, we will have the final event, presenting the results and conclusions of our project,” said Mariana Colun.
From materials produced recently by the Association for Efficient and Responsible Governance (AGER), more about sectoral public procurement can be learned, such as the low-value purchase of 22,000 bottles of drinking water by Apă – Canal Chișinău and why the Regia Transport Electric Municipal Entreprise concluded a procurement contract while an appeal was pending and other cases related to the application of Law no. 74/2020.”Some of the problems identified are the lack of standard documentation in sectoral procurement or the lack of a banned list and not including these types of procurement in the MTender system. We organized a roundtable discussion during which we talked about the problems faced by contracting entities in the process of sectoral procurement, but also formulated recommendations for streamlining the legal framework,” stressed Olga Diaconu, AGER project coordinator.
Părinți Solidari is monitoring public procurement conducted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research and nine other subsidiary institutions of the Ministry. In recent months, the organization has followed 14 procurement procedures carried out by seven institutions, monitored how information is published on the Ministry of Education’s website (e.g. procurement plans and their evaluation), published two infographics, and streamed on Facebook Live about public procurement undertaken by the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Research. “The Ministry of Education continues to be non-transparent, because it does not monitor how its institutions use public money,” said Director Ala Revenco.
The Association for Human Rights LEX XXI from Bălți municipality recently produced two analyses, one of which was City Hall of Bălți municipality vs. Tehnologica Construct LLC: what interests hide the procurement procedure for capital repair of the road part of Independenței street, Bălți municipality?; two infographics; and a public dialogue on the energy crisis in the annual procurement plan in the municipality of Bălți. “Some of the recommendations we have submitted are related to the notification of the contractor about breaches of the contract, the imposition of penalties, and the request to include the operator in the ban list,” said Daniela Răileanu of LEX XXI.
Several press reports, articles, and broadcasts, as well as public seminars on public procurement in the Cimișlia District have been prepared by the public association Prospect. For the first time through the project, the working group on public procurement established by the local District Council included civil society representatives from Prospect.
Sabine Engelhard, PTF Senior Advisor and Legal and Regulatory Expert, asked how the authorities were persuaded to let them join the procurement working group. Andrei Bargan, Director of Prospect, said “I think they were simply surprised at first and tried to justify their reluctance by saying that the working group proceedings are confidential. However, we agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement and told them that we were monitoring procurement on a project basis in accordance with the law. When they understood our intention, eventually, they accepted the situation. In general, people do not know what the working group’s role is, what it does, and how they can get involved.”
“The association is an excellent example of an open, solution-oriented, cooperative, and constructive organization in dialogue with the authorities. These elements are also the key to success,” noted Sabine Engelhard. She was interested to find out whether contracting authorities are sanctioned for non-compliance with public procurement legislation and what dangers are concealed in very small and unreasonably large contracts. In the same context, Lars Jeurling, PTF Senior Project Advisor, asked the participating organizations what the most suitable tools for monitoring public procurement in Moldova are and how effective the MTender system is.
Public procurements conducted by the District Council and the District Hospital of Rîșcani, especially the execution of contracts, are monitored by Localinvest. In the final quarter of 2022, the total value of procurements monitored by the association was approximately 24 million lei ($1,253,000). A product of this project was the report Repair as usual, only without sockets that describes a procurement where only after the completion of repair works, the Rîșcani District Council realized that the electricity system had not been installed.
In Cahul District, public procurement is monitored by citizens and local media with the support of the Contact-Cahul Center. Six public procurement procedures were monitored, a working group on procurement monitoring was created, and eight articles were published in the local press, such as When will the access road to Alexanderfeld village, Cahul District be repaired? and Two health centers in Cahul district will be repaired by the company that built the ATLANT Stadium. “In recent months, we have made a number of field visits together with members of the working group and we also hired a technical expert to help us understand what is happening in procurement of construction works. Another objective of our project is to raise public awareness of the need to get involved in the public procurement monitoring process,” said the association’s Director Mihai Cucereanu.