Fighting corruption with online activism
14. December 2017
More than 250 million Euros – this is how much ProZorro, a youth-initiated platform in Ukraine – has helped to save on public procurement. An online system, it enables the users to see how state institutions are spending their money. The platform serves as an intermediary between the governmental body and potential sellers offering the best price for the products or services the state needs. The advantage of the system is that everyone can check who is offering what and at which price, so ProZorro minimizes corruption and helps save taxpayers’ money.
ProZorro has been an instrumental tool in Ukraine, a country long suffering from corruption in state bodies. After the 2014 revolution that ousted Viktor Yanukovych, a new government came to power and signed an Association Agreement with the EU which pushed for more reforms, especially in the open data sector. ProZorro was one of these initiatives, enabled by the government’s change: it got support from the new Minister of Economics Pavlo Sheremeta and involved a team of young volunteers.
The team started working on the platform’s concept in 2014, with the help of Georgian reformers Tato Urdzhumelashvili and David Margania, who worked on similar public procurement projects in their native country. “These reformers are the ones who brought the principle “Everybody sees everything”, says Yuriy Bugay, International Cooperation Coordinator at the Platform, “It’s unique because nowhere else in the world is entire information open”.
ProZorro united young volunteers, mostly graduate from European schools, who wanted to help their country tackle corruption when they saw a positive change within the government. “ProZorro is a movement, and we want it to remain such,” says Bugay, “It includes different departments in central government, local NGOs and partners as well as Supervisory Board, which is Transparency International.” Despite political changes (the Minister who supported the platform soon left), the volunteers kept on working and soon presented a concept of a public procurement system that would revolutionize Ukraine.
The platform functions in a way that all procurement deals, which are higher than a specific value (around 50,000 Euros for services and 6,000 Euros for products) are to be made public. This means that when a governmental body or an institution needs to buy something of value, it has to do so using ProZorro. The latter creates a platform, where businesses can get information about the government’s needs and suggest their offers. The best price for the relevant product gets selected, and the public can monitor why a company was chosen to perform some services. Since everything is public, the system allows checks on whether the procurement was done transparently and the company with the best offer was right to get the deal.
“There is no confidential information whatsoever, so the users can see everything about the public tender. They can see who won, how, and why, explains Bugay. “The other feature is the hybrid structure of ProZorro; we have one central platform that spreads information [to] the others, so it can be accessed from different sources.” Unlike other countries, where the state often owns one public procurement platform, Ukraine has adopted a system, where there is a centralized website, but different players can host information.
The system is run with a partnership with Transparency International, and the former volunteering youth has turned into full-time employees. Besides the public procurement platform, there is also a ProZorro.Sale initiative, that works with deposits guarantee fund and helps to sell the assets of the banks, which left the market. Another feature the team has developed is DoZorro, a resource for journalists. “There, people discuss controversial tenders, and journalists can use the portal for their own research,” adds Bugay. On DoZorro, a user can report a procurement he or she found suspicious for other users to investigate; and it is also possible to flag journalists and alert them to possible corruption topics.
“I found DoZorro to be useful for economic investigations,” says Yanina Korniyenko, a Kyiv-based journalist. Since she works with a lot of financial data in her stories, she uses public information from the platform as an inspiration for the materials. Thanks to DoZorro forums, it is also easier for her to find new ideas. “Previously, it was not possible to investigate or dig into this data since everything was either hidden or really difficult to find,” Korniyenko adds, “So ProZorro simplifies the search process a lot.”
ProZorro has been recognized for its innovation and won the Golden Award at the 2016 Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit. “The advantage of Ukraine is that it does interesting and big projects,” Bugay comments: “We started to understand the importance of OGP because it can influence the local agenda. Now, thanks to the influence of civil society, we are able to develop really important initiatives.” The system is open-source, available for everyone, and is unique for Europe. The EU itself lacks a similar platform, which could bring more transparency to the European institutions.
In addition to international recognition, the team of ProZorro keeps on working on more online systems that increase transparency in Ukraine. Bugay, for instance, is actively involved with an eHealth, an electronic healthcare system, which will be piloted in the country. Alongside other young activists, ProZorro’s team shows a positive trend of young people getting involved with the state and using new technologies to tackle pressing issues on the national level.