In the wake of COVID-19, the international community at large has called for practicing transparency, integrity and openness in response to the pandemic and ongoing recovery efforts. The Inter-American Development Bank Group’s (IDB Group’s) Office of Institutional Integrity (OII) calls on civil society and members of the public to collaborate in the promotion of open, integrity-based practices. This article provides more information about what resources are available and what actions can be taken.
Past experiences responding to humanitarian crises have shown that the risk of corruption, fraud and other prohibited practices increases when, in order to act quickly, a large amount of resources is made available to economies where controls have been relaxed. To support Latin America’s and the Caribbean’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic consequences, governments and international financial institutions, including the IDB Group, will be mobilizing a significant amount of resources. This resource mobilization will be accompanied by initiatives to minimize the response time to requests for financing and to their implementation.
What’s at stake?
For example, the internal purchasing control processes of procuring agencies may be reduced for the sake of agility, and the use of less competitive procurement methods becomes the norm. This, in turn, increases the risk of inadequate oversight, abuse of discretionary decision-making, or that the private sector may adopt profiteering behaviors to inflate prices and expenditures. Additionally, fewer controls on providers of goods and services can lead to a lack of oversight on purchasing and delivery, which in turn raises the risk that poor-quality goods will be supplied, or promised goods will not be delivered.
Corruption reduces the impact of relief operations, decreases available resources and the quality of products and services provided, and diverts aid from those who need it most. The IDB Group considers that the fight against corruption is imperative to achieve development in the region. The Office of Institutional Integrity’s (OII’s) central role is to investigate fraud, corruption and other prohibited practices, and to prevent and mitigate integrity risks, in IDB Group-financed activities.
Civil society plays a crucial role in ensuring accountability mechanisms by monitoring the use of resources and suspected prohibited practices; especially, given current spending priorities, those organizations that work in the health sector or in monitoring government expenditure.
What actions can be taken by civil society and the public?
1. Proactive engagement with open data and open platforms
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can use open data published in procurement portals to monitor who wins contracts and how much was paid, and to track complaints from patients or medical service providers about the quality or quantity of goods delivered. CSOs also can help ensure that the beneficiaries of recovery measures are indeed the ones who are most in need.
The IDB is supporting countries in developing platforms to monitor use of the resources for the pandemic response (see for example Mapainversiones in Paraguay).
2. Advocate for sharing and adoption of good practices in open recovery and response
Information is necessary to identify, analyze and understand any set of principles. The more informed we are about good practices, the more effective we can be when applying them, and the more confident we can be in spotting potential red flags. For example, the Open Government Partnership is collecting a database of examples related to open practices from around the world to promote better response and recovery efforts, and also has published a set of recommendations for buying “fast, open and smart”. Additionally, they suggest five tips for improving open procurement strategies, via policy, coordination, data, supplier insights and civic monitoring.
3. Utilize reporting mechanisms
OII encourages CSOs exercising their oversight role to work together to keep integrity risks from undermining the efforts to support the region in overcoming the pandemic and saving lives. If CSOs or other organizations or individuals report to OII any suspicion of fraud, corruption, or potential irregularities they identify in IDB Group-financed activities using its different reporting channels, OII can take action. OII can investigate suspected prohibited practices and work with its operational colleagues within the IDB Group to implement mitigation actions.
Working together for integrity
As we react to the health emergency wrought by the Covid-19 Pandemic, and its social and financial effects, it is critical to promote transparency throughout the process. We all have a part to play in upholding integrity. We can use this opportunity collectively to share learnings, implement good practices, and collaborate in the effective delivery of interventions to protect, preserve and improve lives.
I call upon all of us to work together to ensure that the response to this unprecedented crisis is adequate, effective, and transparent.
By Laura Profeta, Chief of the Office of Institutional Integrity of the IDB Group