Paraguay’s transparency alchemists

How citizens are using open contracting to improve public spending

Students on the streets protesting against government waste in education. Photo: Cesar Olmedo

Thanks to government initiatives that have sought to give citizens greater access to information about public institutions, these students, along with investigative journalists and other civil society groups, are starting to engage actively in civic affairs.

This wasn’t an isolated student demonstration. The “Cocido de oro” scandal is seen as part of a well-organized and well-informed youth movement that has sprung up in Paraguay in recent years. An equally dramatic controversy involving alleged corruption and unfair staff appointments at one of the country’s top public universities led to the resignation of the Chancellor and other senior staff in September 2015. Mostly high school and university students, they are no longer willing to tolerate the waste and corruption in public spending — a hangover from 35 years of authoritarian rule. They expect their government to be more open and accountable, and public decision-making processes to be more inclusive and democratic.

How open data gained ground in Paraguay

As a small, landlocked country with an economy worth $27.5 billion, it might come as a surprise that Paraguay has had one of the most transparent procurement systems since the early 2000s.

What, when, to whom and how much? Paraguay introduces the Open Contracting Data Standard to open up its contracts

Publishing information is one thing; getting people to use it is something else entirely. Despite increasing access to government data for over a decade (the agency’s first public online portal was launched in 2004), the DNCP found the only people really using the information were suppliers, economists and computer scientists.

Graphic on yearly data on companies registered on the portal: Since 2007, companies had to register to sell to the government via the e-procurement portal.
Juan Pane. Foto: Cesar Olmedo

“It’s like asking me to dig an Olympic pool and giving me an excavator instead of a teaspoon.”

Involving a wider community in that “excavation” work, was one of the goals of the new DNCP open contracting portal, developed in 2014.

From hackathon to a blooming business

“Before 2014, our data were publicly available but they were not in a machine-readable format,” said David Rees from the DNCP. “The difference with the open data is that any citizen, supplier, or start-up can develop their own system using it.”

Gabriela Ganoa presents ContratacionesPY, an app to access Paraguay’s contract information.

A golden era for investigations

Juan Carlos Lezcano, then a journalist at ABC Color, used contracting documents published online by the DNCP to reveal that the federal police had bought 10 office chairs, using 46 million guaranies (around US$8,000) that had been earmarked for repairing infrastructure.

From opening data to improving public procurement policy

Recurring scandals like the “golden” mate and “golden” chairs prompted the procurement agency to adopt a series of new government-wide policies in 2016 to combat overpricing.

Making the case for better use of money in school infrastructure

In the city of Ciudad del Este, the NGO reAcción uses government data sets to monitor how development funds for school infrastructure projects (from the Fondo Nacional de Inversión Pública y Desarrollo or Fonacide) are allocated and spent.

reAcción volunteers visiting a school. Foto: reAcción.
Schools that received repeated funds between 2014 and 2016. Only one was highlighted as most in need. Calculation ReAcción.
Foto: reAcción

The next frontier: expanding data and increasing use

The government recognizes there’s still a long way to go in their quest to open up public data. Few institutions have opened their databases or publish their data on an open data portal, and use of the data that has been published is still limited, according to a report on the country’s third OGP Action Plan. Priority data sets aren’t accessible in ways that meet the needs of civil society, the report adds.

Open Contracting Stories

This publication will tell stories from around the world that illustrate how open contracting has changed lives — from value for money to value for many.

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The Open Contracting Partnership works with government, civil society and business to make government contracting transparent through open data and engagement.

Open Contracting Stories

This publication will tell stories from around the world that illustrate how open contracting has changed lives — from value for money to value for many.