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CONFERENCE CONCLUSIONS: CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT IN PROCUREMENT MONITORING COSTS MONEY, BUT IT’S NECESSARY FOR INCREASED TRUST AND ACCOUNTABILITY

 

On 28 February 2020, the conference “Integrity Pacts for Safeguarding EU Funds in Latvia and Europe” brought together Latvian and foreign experts from government and civil society to discuss the key takeaways from the piloting of the Integrity Pacts in Latvia and other 10 European countries and generate concrete ideas for the future of citizen engagement in the implementation of EU Cohesion funds in Latvia after 2020.

 

CONFERENCE CONCLUSIONS

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SESSION 1

Speakers in the first session included:

  • Liene Gatere, Executive Director of TI Latvia;
  • Solita Dombrovska, Director for Infrastructure Development at the Central Financial and Contracting Agency (CFLA);
  • Ivan Zupan, programme coordinator at the Transparency International Secretariat;
  • Vasja Čepič, legal expert at Transparency International Slovenia.

 

 

Speakers agreed that the Integrity Pacts can add value to the procurement process. They can work as a “real-time” audit, preventing the emergence of problems before it’s too late, thus saving time and money.

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CFLA’s Director for Infrastructure Development Solita Dombrovska emphasised the added-value and important support provided by TI Latvia in the monitoring of the large-scale Riga tramway project. In particular, “the involvement of independent and professional expertise helped the CFLA to get better insights on the procurement process and related technical aspects.”

 

The Integrity Pacts are part of CFLA’s vision for the implementation of EU funds in Latvia, which envisages the development of a comprehensive multi-level control system in concert with other public agencies. In this context, IPs can be particularly useful to monitor complex infrastructure projects, where more “eyes” and expertise are needed to ensure accountability. Latvia’s new Open Government Partnership Action Plan, which also includes the piloting of Integrity Pacts on selected EU-funded projects in Latvian municipalities, might provide a first test for such new approach.

 

At the same time, as emphasised by Liene Gatere, based on Delna’s experience, future IPs would mostly benefit municipalities that lack transparency”. She suggested the Latvian government to seek options how to implement civic monitoring of EU funded large-scale projects post-2020 to help detect and prevent corruption and fraud. For civic monitoring to be trusted, the funding option that guarantees the most independence for the monitor should be implemented.

 

Another key take-away from the discussion on the IP was that citizen engagement in procurement processes is possible and can bring many benefits to the successful implementation of public processes. While this initially was not a pillar of the IP model, initiatives in partner countries to raise civil society’s awareness and build their monitoring capacity have brought the TI Secretariat to reconsider this aspect and think about new ways to increase the sense of “ownership” of project’s beneficiaries.

 

In sum, speakers agreed that the Integrity Pacts can help governments:

  • improve the allocation of public resources
  • increase fair competition
  • deliver projects that are valuable to taxpayers, especially at the local level where monitoring authorities might not have the same oversight capacity.

 

At the same time, as demonstrated by current experiences, for this tool to be applied in a more systematic way, there is a need to find a sustainable model that is based on three ingredients:

  • capacity-building of citizens and CSOs in monitoring procurement;
  • proactive and comprehensive disclosure of procurement data;
  • effective sanctioning system to punish corrupt practices in procurement contracting.

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SESSION 2

“We are used to do things for the people, but we should now start to do things with the people” while implementing the EU Cohesion Policy in Latvia post 2020. This was the overarching topic of the second session.

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Speakers included:

  • Inguna Kramina, Policy Officer at the European Commission (DG Regional and Urban Policy);
  • Mara Sīmane,consultant at the Cross-Sectional Coordination Centre of the Republic of Latvia,
  • Inese Kušķe, consultant at the Department of Public Administration Policy of the State Chancellery;
  • Līga Stafecka, leading researcher at the think-tank PROVIDUS;
  • Soren Kirk Jensen, Senior Policy and Research advisor at the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative (CoST);
  • Atis Egliņš-Eglītis, Head of the Administration of the municipality of Cēsis;
  • Inta Vingre, Director of the Control Department at the Procurement Monitoring Bureau.

 

 

While the Integrity Pacts represent an important tool to bring citizens closer to public administration in the use of public money, there are many other possible options that could be employed to foster transparency and accountability in projects of public interests. These include participatory budgeting, multi-stakeholder debates, data-driven monitoring as well as enhanced possibilities for swift communication brought about by new technologies.

 

According to Inguna Kramina, who has followed the initiation and implementation of the Integrity Pacts pilot from the European Commission’s perspective, “citizen engagement mechanisms are fundamental to fight the current global trend of distrust in governments and public authorities, with Latvia having one of the less trusted government in EU”. This is also reflected in the European Commission and OECD’s current cooperation to foster the launch of participatory initiatives by authorities in Member States, by providing financial and technical assistance.

 

The need for more financial resources and specific expertise for citizen engagement at the local level emerged as one of the main present challenges for Latvia’s municipalities. In Atis Eglinš-Eglītis’ view, there are many potential ideas, but no education programmes to build local officials’ expertise in involving society as well as a lack of knowledge, tools and skills. According to Liga Stafecka, participatory democracy indeed costs money, but it is a necessary step to build a more advanced and open society.

 

At the same time, as stressed by Inese Kusķe, “it is important that the government provides options for meaningful and easy ways to engage with citizens, who can then decide on what to participate according to their own interests”.Participation should become a natural part of public policy-making with a more “down-to-earth” approach than the traditional consultation mechanisms. In this sense, as noted by Mara Simane, Latvia’s National Development Plan for 2030 also aims to improve critical thinking skills of citizens and educate them on public debate and deliberation.

 

One potential model that could apply to Latvia is the one developed by the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative (CoST), which entails the establishment of Multi-Stakeholder Working Groups functioning as forums where all stakeholders have a sit on the table from the initiation to the completion of the project. As revealed by concrete case studies in Lithuania, Thailand and Argentina, such model was fundamental to broaden the ownership of the public projects and increase legitimacy for change.

 

Going back to the possibilities of the implementation of IPs in Latvia’s municipalities, Inta Vingre pointed out that it won’t be easy to find local governments who would voluntarily sign up to use the tool, it will also be hard to find (or train) monitors” that have enough understanding of the public procurement process. It is also important to note that there are parts of the procurement evaluation that cannot be disclosed to society, and a balance should be found. There are also other, less costly ways to engage citizens in monitoring, for example through open data.

 

Overall, this final conference represented a meaningful conclusion to the Integrity Pact project in Latvia, but it also marks the beginning of a new journey, in which several possible ideas and options for improvement in the future must be carefully weighed against each other.

 

For more information, please contact Antonio Greco (antonio@delna.lv) or Liene Gatere (liene.gatere@delna.lv)

 

This article was developed under the framework of the “Integrity Pact – Civil Control Mechanism for Safeguarding EU Funds” project funded by the European Commission

 

LINKS TO THE MATERIALS OF THE CONFERENCE

 

1 – Liene Gatere

Video – https://youtu.be/ppuzHgGhbV0

Presentation – 01_Liene_Gātere_LG IP 28 02 2020 final

 

2 – Solita Dombrovska

Video – https://youtu.be/z7-wsjGRdJE

Presentation – 02_Delna_S_Dombrovska_28022020

 

3 – Ivan Zupan

Video – https://youtu.be/xrM7J3Y1WIc

Presentation – 03_Ivan_Zupan_IP project_2020.02.28_Riga_FINAL

 

4 – Vasja Čepič

Video – https://youtu.be/37jkRiPC55Q

Presentation – 04_Vasja_Cepic_PP Riga VC 280220

 

Panel discussion 1 – https://youtu.be/YKOWGY1H93A

 

5 – Inguna Kramina

Video – https://youtu.be/NWxaLzoy5l0

 

6 – Mara Sīmane

Video – https://youtu.be/AehWTNT8N64

Presentation – 06_Mara_Simane_20200228_NAP2027_DELNA_fin

 

7 – Inese Kusķe

Video – https://youtu.be/J-cOdmv1M2w

Presentation – 07_Inese_Kuske_OGP4_Delna_270220

 

8 – Liga Stafecka

Video – https://youtu.be/AdqFLGO3saM

Presentation – 08_Liga_Stafecka_Prezentācija_28022020_Delnas konference_IP un Kohezija

 

9 – Soren Kirk Jensen

Video – https://youtu.be/3mlWIlNvEdk

Presentation – 09_Soren_Kirk_Jensen_CoST Latvia EU final

 

Panel Discussion 2 – https://youtu.be/hBpaWDgfvvA

 

 

 

 

 

 

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