A key reason why health procurement, like all public contracting, is vulnerable to corruption and mismanagement is that it is often hidden from regular scrutiny.
A recent report by Transparency International’s Open Contracting for Health project (OC4H) suggests ways to tighten the screws on corruption in health procurement. It is called open contracting.
It relies on transparency to enable civil society and business to work together to hold government agencies to account at each stage of the procurement process. As a result, monetary flows can be monitored, and there is accountability in the handing out and funding of contracts delivering health care.
The process enables price comparisons, curbs price gouging, price manipulation, and overpayments. Importantly, data can reveal patterns and any idiosyncrasies which may suggest that there are overpayments, collusion or kickbacks taking place.
OCH4 has revealed clear steps that civil society can take to ensure that emergencies do not become a free-for-all for those that would exploit the ensuing disruption and distraction for personal gain. These should include:
- Building capacity in COVID-19 monitoring, project design, and advocacy.
- Advocating on the national and global level to raise awareness of how to manage the risks of emergency spending. This will help make the case for governments to adopt best practices for emergency procurement with appropriate safeguards and public disclosure.
- Collecting data on emergency procurements and creating replicable tools to monitor purchasing in COVID-19.
- Using information and analysis gathered to build dialogue between government and civil society, and thereby help the move toward data- and evidence-driven policy.
These steps cannot be implemented overnight. But once these processes are in place and are made adaptable for emergency situations, there could be far less opportunity for many of the corrupt practices we have seen.
Most importantly, countries like Lesotho will be able to respond more effectively to crises like the current pandemic and ensure people around the world stand a better chance of getting the life or death support they need.