20 August 2013

The PPP and the Bumpy Road of Procurement Monitoring

by Kristina Aquino

Over the last few years, I have seen my fair share of citizen programs and initiatives come to life in an excited, and often loud, snap – usually, in a workshop or meeting setting – only to peter out quietly some time later. For the most part, this is understandable; we can hardly expect all programs, no matter how well intentioned, to be successful or to last forever. And while I can get as ecstatic as the next workshop facilitator or participant when it comes to plans to do something for good governance in (insert country here), I am perhaps more pragmatic than most of my colleagues. I am very cautious when it comes to new initiatives. This stands as a brave preface to my next statement – the Partnership for Public Procurement in Mongolia, judging by my usual indicators, should have quieted down a few months ago but it continues to barrel forward in its goals.
At this point, it must be clarified that this is not a negative judgment on the strength of the year-old network, but a testament to its resilience. In ANSA-EAP, we have developed a four-pronged framework for assessing the social accountability quotient of a context or situation or what we call the “enabling environment”. Barring major unforeseen hindrances, four factors greatly influence the success of social accountability action: a government responsive to citizen involvement, organized and capable citizen groups, relatively wide access to information, context-appropriate interventions and approaches. Upon closer inspection, Mongolian public procurement, I have come to realize during my September 2012 mission, does not easily lend itself to social accountability, which is ultimately what the Partnership is working towards.

For one, the revised Public Procurement Law, which has provisions for non-government (i.e., professional and citizen) involvement in bid evaluations and contract monitoring, was implemented in October 2012, despite the lack of several necessary systems – among these are mechanisms for grievance and for monitoring and responding to citizen feedback (apart from those already existing within respective line agencies). The expedient manner with which the implementation was conducted is symptomatic of a positive thing: if anything, it says that the government is serious with its intention to reform public procurement, with or without a comprehensive set of implementing rules and regulations. Precisely because rules can be rewritten with the added lens of experience, we can all be braver advocates of reform.

Still on the subject of government, it must be noted that in October 2012, not all government units – and of course, the individuals that make these units up – were fully aware of what the new law means for them. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several aimags or provinces over the last year, and awareness of the law at local levels is uneven, at best. The aimag governments I met were forerunners in procurement reform – they have been championing citizen monitoring even before the revision of the law – so this was not too big an issue in those places. However, I can imagine how difficult it would be for other officials to support, or even comply with, the law when they have little knowledge of it.

Civil society groups in Mongolia are among the bravest I’ve met. Still, Mongolia is one of the youngest democracies in Asia, which means civic involvement in households is still growing. Couple this fact with the reality that public procurement probably doesn’t seem too exciting to many citizens, how fast can we grow the procurement monitoring population in Mongolia?

Another oft-cited hindrance – and which perhaps, the Partnership is most conscious of in its everyday work – is the challenge of connecting network members. Unlike smaller and/or more densely populated countries, Mongolia’s municipal centers, where most subnetwork members reside, are separated by hours of travel and hundreds of miles. How can the Partnership – with connecting as one of its core mandates as a national network – bring people together when physical connections are so infrequently made?

So how is it that the Partnership is still shuttling forwards despite many and varied setbacks?

What the Partnership has successfully done is find pockets of potential in varied areas and capitalize on these to keep moving forward.

The Partnership has, to its advantage, a group of dedicated procurement and social accountability experts at its core. Its Board members1, especially its Board President, have been effective in leading the Partnership. As a result, the Partnership is now more confident of its role in the bigger public procurement reform. It has also identified four focus geographic areas: the aimags of Khuvsgul, Umnugobi and Uvurkhangai, and Ulaan Baatar city. Through a series of training events, membership has also tripled from 20 (in September 2012) to around 60 in April 2013.

The Partnership is also taking full advantage of the opportunities presented by the Law. It has been focusing not just on building citizen capacities on contract monitoring, but also on getting more procurement observers certified (or to use legal parlance, “professionalized”) by training potential members in the different aimags.

To respond to the current lack of mechanisms for officially receiving citizen reports, the Partnership is also positioning itself as a consolidator of citizen monitoring reports. In the process, the Partnership secretariat hopes to be able to draw attention to alarming reports to facilitate quick and appropriate government response.

It is with a stroke of luck and a lot of good results that the Partnership has managed to sustain external support from partners, the World Bank being at the top of this list. The World Bank has been an avid supporter of the procurement reform in Mongolia on both the government and civil society fronts. Specifically, the Bank has supporting, on many counts, the following: the operations of the network as it endeavors to find other sustainability modes; the capacity building of members by providing technical input (sourced internally and through competent local and international providers), organizing learning activities, and providing access to much-needed information; and linking the Partnership to its government counterparts to facilitate openings for constructive engagement. Most recently, the World Bank launched “Quick Wins”, a small grant fund for members to pilot procurement monitoring initiatives.

The Partnership has cultivated partner individuals within government as well. Even as attitude towards civil society monitoring is mixed within government institutions, there are key individuals who recognize the value of the PPP and has taken concrete steps to work with its members. The Ministry of Finance, which houses the regulatory body for the Public Procurement Law, has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Partnership – a clear sign that the Ministry is taking the civil society network seriously. Government agencies are frequent attendees of Partnership events and are nothing short of interested in what the Partnership has in its future plans.

While the Partnership has yet to demonstrate the results of monitoring collectively at the subnetwork level2, it has not fallen short on delivering on one thing: the passion to constantly move forward in its chosen cause. Despite issues both chronic and surmountable, both old and new, the network, in a lot of ways, is alive and kicking. Even with a permanent staff of zero (it is only the Board President who now works full time for the network), a website is in the offing and there are constant talks with governments to monitor procurement. All biases aside3, I know that it will be interesting to see where this dedicated group takes its work in the next few months—and years.

1Several of the Board members are pioneer social accountability (SAc) leaders in Mongolia, belonging to the Partnership for Social Accountability Network in Mongolia, a coalition of civil society networks for SAc established in 2009.
2The monitoring projects are still underway as of writing.
3Author was the program lead for ANSA-EAP’s work with the PPP. ANSA-EAP is a consultant firm for the World Bank tasked with providing technical advice to the Partnership.


Kristina Aquino is Communications Manager for ANSA–EAP. Tin also leads the work on providing technical assistance to Mongolian partners, particularly those involved in procurement monitoring. Email her at kaquino@ansa-eap.net.

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