Sunlight is the best disinfectant, say advocates of clean government. In areas that tend to breed corruption, exposure to public scrutiny can be the most effective deterrent against abuse.
Public procurement is certainly one such area. When governments purchase goods or services, the threat of behind-the-scenes negotiations, inflated invoices and rigged contracts is never far behind. Governments the world over struggle to stamp out these abuses. But the mountains of paperwork, the sheer volume of items, and the large sums of money involved all conspire against effective control.
Now, governments are adding the Internet to their arsenal of fraud-fighting weapons. The logic is simple: by requiring that information about competitions, contracts and prices be easily obtainable on the World Wide Web, a government can make it harder for unscrupulous officials to conceal improper arrangements. Internet disclosure makes it easier for business people, journalists, and ordinary citizens to watch how public funds are being spent—thus supplementing the government’s limited capability for oversight.
Several Latin American countries are gradually migrating their procurement systems to the Internet. Mexico was one of the first, launching www.compranet.gob.mx in 1997. Last year Brazil’s federal government opened www. comprasnet. gov.br. And last month, the Chilean government announced an international competition, on the Internet, for a contract to operate www.compraschile.cl, its recently launched procurement site. The goal, according to the terms of reference of the Chilean program, is to ensure that the service will be as efficient and transparent as possible and that its users will have access to the best possible technology.
For a look at how these services are illuminating what has long been a dark corner of public administration, see the next issue of IDBAmérica.