02 August 2013

Getting to the Heart of the Community: Local procurement monitoring in Mongolia

by Vivien Suerte Cortez and Kristina Aquino (crossposted from the open-contracting.org blog). The post has been adapted for the Open Contracting blog by Sophia Donolo.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” – Dr. Seuss

Caring about procurement outcomes is what it boils down for all citizen initiatives to monitor public procurement.  We – as citizen monitors – care about how the government delivers its services, and we care about the people who should be receiving these services.

How does one simplify a technical subject like procurement?

Public procurement is complicated by nature, due to its confusing rules and regulations. But, generally public procurement is the act of acquiring goods and services in order to improve people's lives. Unless the citizens care a whole awful lot, leakages from an inefficient and corrupt procurement may be more than an estimated 20 percent of the government's budget.

Monitoring roads, furniture, or services is not an easy task. So what do we do to make things easier?

We connect. We connect with people and organizations that have the same advocacies, interests, and ideals. We dream our dreams and work hard to transform them into reality. Monitoring public procurement demands time, commitment, and large amount of technical and financial resources, so before we make our dreams into reality we first must develop plans to guide us and mark our path towards the goal.

So, in April 2013 as part of a workshop, Mongolia's Public Procurement Partnership (PPP) developed action plans that reflected how much they cared about their government's service delivery in different aimags (communities). The plans established infrastructure (roads) and education as key sectors to monitor since they had the greatest direct impact on the aimag communities. The plans also outlined how they would carry out the monitoring activities, and how they planned to share their experiences in the future.

All these plans were made possible because the World Bank Institute (WBI) was there to connect PPP with the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP). The tales, tools, and techniques from the Philippines inspired the PPP representatives to look closer into their experiences, build on it, and develop their ideas for implementation.

The tales, tools, and techniques can be found here. Having been part of the ANSA-EAP team that designed and facilitated this workshop, we noticed that these plans all touched on services that are close to the aimag subnetworks' hearts.

Road construction contracts are among the procurement items that constantly garner attention from the government at both national and local levels.

This is because travel to and within most areas outside the capital city of Ulaan Baatar can prove to be challenging without the aid of good roads. As a rapidly developing country, the Mongolian government is set on improving infrastructure in the major municipalities. After all, mobility is a convenience that should not be left to desire.

Road construction can also be fraught with risks. The time in which construction can be done in Mongolia is quite short- a bit more than half a year to be precise- due to the harsh climate conditions that make building especially challenging. Therefore, it is imperative that construction contracts keep to their implementation timeline.

It is also extremely difficult for governments to constantly keep a close eye on the quality of the roads, given that many of them are far from public agency headquarters. In addition to technical road experts, citizen monitors can help flag when construction schedules are off-track and actual road specifications are sub par to those required by the contract. We noticed that the future road monitors in the workshop were extremely giddy with the thought that they could easily diagnose the quality of the roads no matter their individual levels of expertise.

Mongolian civil society groups have also had much success around the education sector. Being parents or grandparents, having gone through the same public school system as their offspring, the PPP members are well aware of the issues that affect the achievement of education outcomes.

Quality education is multi-sourced, as it is often said that it takes a village to raise a child. There are multiple well known monitoring initiatives around education in Mongolia including monitoring procurement for school tea breaks as well as the quality of school buildings.

These plans were drafted with much care. The World Bank, ANSA-EAP and all its other supporters are optimistic of the PPP's plans. Perhaps what these citizen monitoring plans need to be – in Mongolia, and possibly elsewhere – is not flawless or too technical but they need to be local. Where else can one find care other than in the hearts of communities?

Vivien Suerte-Cortez (vsuertecortez@ansa-eap.net) & Kristina Aquino (kaquino@ansa-eap.net)

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