During this unprecedented global health crisis, a rapid and effective government response is crucial to minimize the negative impact of COVID-19. Clearly, having a solid health system and qualified personnel in charge is key. But efficient and transparent electronic-public purchasing policies are also important.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) works with national and subnational governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to implement the best public policies based on the latest available evidence. The IDB conducts impact evaluations to obtain robust evidence from the Bank’s financed projects. The results—while context-specific—often lead to a frequently overlooked fact: implementing good policies in normal times usually leads to better-informed decisions when a crisis hits.
Let’s take an example. In 2017, Argentina partnered with the IDB to implement an e-procurement platform known as Compr.AR. The platform digitalizes the public purchasing process almost entirely. Most steps are centralized through a single website, from posting procurement opportunities to issuing purchase orders.
An impact evaluation of Compr.AR conducted by the IDB found that prices for a group of products purchased through the e-platform declined by 4.4%, saving the Argentine government more than $35 million per year. The e-procurement platform reduced the average time to carry out a public purchase by 11 days or 12% of the total average time. The platform enhanced the efficiency and competitiveness of public procurement in Argentina.
“(…) prices for a group of products purchased through the e-platform declined by 4.4%, saving the Argentine government more than $35 million per year”
The evaluation shows that implementing Compr.AR can generate greater benefits for the population by helping government officials obtain the best options in each public purchase. This is particularly important in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Compr.AR not only helps the government obtain supplies at better prices, it also promotes transparency and increases the number of participants during competitive processes. Also, it streamlines processes which result in shorter times to deliver products to those who need them most. Through platforms such as Compr.AR, information can be collected to geographically locate all providers and ensure the greatest participation of bidders, increasing competition in each public tender.
That is not all. Data obtained through e-procurement platforms provides historical information on business pricing. Pricing information can be crucial whenever a government needs to implement price controls on essential products. A number of governments, including Argentina have recently resorted to this to cope with the coronavirus crisis. Without that knowledge, proper monitoring would be more time consuming and drastically more expensive.
Public sector purchases have been key during the Covid-19 pandemic. Today more than ever, public purchases need to be fast, transparent, and efficient. The tools and platforms that governments have at their disposal to manage emergency public purchases will play an essential role in the response they can give to this pandemic.
“Today more than ever, public purchases need to be fast, transparent, and efficient”
Compr.AR’s impact evaluation highlights the importance of e-government platforms for public procurement and the importance of generating robust evidence to help make the right decisions in a timely manner.
As it is shown in the evaluation, ignoring this tool could have unfortunate results, leading to a lack of transparency in purchases, products delivery delays, and inflated costs. This is just a sample of what This is just a sample of what—even with the best intentions— decisions without empirical evidence could result.
In this sense, evidence-based policies in good times provide benefits at all times—particularly during a pandemic. A good decision can mean not only improving lives but saving them.