“We push for changes – governments usually don’t”

On the third day of DataFest Tbilisi members of two TransparenCEE Working Groups met in order to summarize achievements, discuss the prospects of further collaboration and share their thoughts on the Groups’ methodology.

Working Group on Public Procurement and Corporate Registry: case study of ProZorro’s success and ambitious plans for cross-border procurements’ monitoring

Viktor Nestulia from Transparency International Ukraine updated other members on ProZorro activities which aim to get all Ukrainian NGOs dealing with public procurements together and create a common database with the information about as many tenders as possible. He pointed out that it’s important to create a community of local organizations who would report on the wrongdoings in their areas and attend workshops together. This would help them to develop a network – which will be a crucial factor in the process of identifying the challenges which all organizations face on a daily basis. So far 23 NGOs joined the network which makes Ukraine a unique example of fast-growing cooperation. It is also worth mentioning that a success of ProZorro encouraged other civil society actors working in public procurements’ monitoring field to apply for grants. Nestulia predicts that to make a project sustainable in the future they will have to build a recognizable brand, strengthen their already good relations with business’ representatives and launch a marketing campaign which will attract even more attention to the initiative.

Elena Calistru from Funky Citizens pointed out that in Romania they still don’t have one portal with public procurements’ database which would cover the whole system. She mentioned the cases of specific initiatives which aim to monitor contracting on the cities’ level and in the public health area. The problem in Romania, she added, is that the authorities usually put the price before quality and go for the least expensive offers because they consider it a safer option.

In Lithuania on the other hand, as Karolis Granickas from Open Contracting Partnership noted, opening data should be tied with strategic priorities, because even the best efforts to open all the data are not working.

Sandor Lederer from K-Monitor shared his reflections and hopes related to OpenTED tool which is currently being developed by the Group. OpenTED will be a platform with public procurements’ data, updated on a daily basis. It will be possible for a user to browse the database and find specific information. What’s important, the website will be an open source tool with a potential of being implemented in all the countries in the region.
After the launch of the browser Sandor hopes to start a network of European NGOs which are investigating this matter. In the future, he concluded, OpenTED’s creators want the platform to serve as a source of information about cross-border procurements which are especially difficult to track and monitor.

Working Group on Decision-Making Processes and Political Financing: next step – advocating changes

Members of the Group (represented by the Task Unit which worked on Assets Declarations report) focused on discussing possible development of assets database. Even though a tremendous amount of work has been already done, some challenges remain. To tackle them, members of the Group created a list of steps which should be taken in order to update the report and make assets portal accessible to a wider audience.

One of the ideas involves contacting those organizations in the region which haven’t contributed to the database yet; the other – getting in touch with activists who can advocate for creating assets declarations portal on the EU level. Attila Juhász from K-Monitor also suggested translating the content of the report as well as the info-graphics used to promote it to local languages. Once it’s done, it will be much easier for activists to educate citizens about assets declarations’ verification systems and also to lobby for necessary reforms and better regulations in their countries.

Later some of the members shared information about the projects which are being developed by their organizations: Jelena Vasic from KRIK (Serbia) revealed that they are planning to build database of Serbian judges which will show the court cases they were involved in; Andrew Jvirblis from Transparency International Russia continues to work on Politically Exposed Persons’ (PEPs) database which already include more than 45000 records. Krzysztof Madejski from ePaństwo Foundation updated the others on the development of MoonSheep which is another tool created within the Group. Eventually MoonSheep – a website designed for turning hand-written documents, e.g. assets declarations, into a machine-readable format in an easier and faster way – will be replicated to suit the needs of three different organizations: K-Monitor, Code for Romania and TI Russia.

At the end of the meeting members of the Group agreed that the ultimate goal they should try to achieve is to connect databases of PEPs from several countries (together with assets declarations portals) in order to create a common browser for the whole CEE region.

Collaboration, whether offline or online, creates the community

Working Group is not only a gathering of experts. It’s also a new format and unique methodology created by TransparenCEE and used for a first time in order to find concrete solutions to cross-regional challenges. What are the participants’ reflections upon this new method?

Viktor Nestulia: “Slack discussions between offline meetings were extremely useful. We should continue them to share different ideas, and also notes from conferences of other interesting meetings.”

Sandor Lederer: “We already communicate really well, but we should also remember that it’s the work done together which creates community. Local problems can be solved more easily, if activists are not afraid to ask for help from those who already dealt with the same challenges somewhere else.”

Attila Juhász: “It’s important to establish the most effective methods for different tools. Sometimes offline meetings are not productive because all the problems can be solved via Slack or emails. This was the case of Assets Declarations portal. But sometimes the project can be developed faster when all WG members gather in one place and work together – like in the case of MoonSheep replication sprint. It’s good to test different methods and then decide which one is better for a specific project.”

Elena Calistru: “We should set clear goals and aim for even closer collaboration. We should also meet to work on project proposals and look for funds which make the implementation of the tools possible. Let’s never forget that civil society organizations are pushing for changes which governments are usually not interested in.”