The High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals was held from 10-19 July 2017 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. 43 countries submitted voluntary national reviews and over 2458 stakeholders reportedly attended. As a stakeholder to the event, Hivos East Africa co-hosted one of 147 side events together with the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet), Centre for Economic and Social Rights, Latin America Network on Debt and Development (LATINDADD), Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (INESC) and Tax Justice Network Africa titled: “Opportunities that Fiscal Policy, Open Contracting and Tax Justice Hold for Gender and Economic Equality under the Sustainable Development Goals in Africa, Caribbean and Latin America.”
Discourse between gender and open contracting
In this event, I focused my contribution on how open contracting can support gender and economic equality under the sustainable development goals. Public procurement as a fiscal route towards empowering women is a global discourse taking root in various state and civil society forums and agencies. In its report on “Empowering Women through Public Procurement,” the International Trade Centre cites the main factors contributing to the exclusion of women in public procurement as lack of access to information on bids and procurement procedures, ability to meet requirements and lack of understanding on procedures.
In Kenya’s state report on progress for the Youth and Gender Equality, among other key items reported was the enactment of the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) law. This law reserves 30 per cent of all public procurement for Women, Youth and Persons with disability. No data was presented by the Government of Kenya on the implementation of this affirmative action law.
Women too should have access to government contracts
To deliberate on opportunities presented by this important law as well as related issues, I discussed the potential that open contracting holds when it comes to supporting more inclusive public procurement that would propel economic growth. The four key points that were the focus of my brief presentation were as follows;
Support for authenticity is a key area in which open contracting data can contribute to the process of defining what women owned businesses are. The open contracting approach seeks disclosure of the procurement process right from the planning phase, to the tender and award of the contract, as well as monitoring and evaluation of implementation. This data will give insights into what the eligibility requirements for a woman owned/run business and beneficial owners of the business. This is critical in preventing ‘tokenism’ and ‘fronting’ by non- eligible parties.
Open contracting data would promote understanding market demographics and capacity of women, their understanding of bids, procedures and ability to meet requirements as mentioned prior.
Importantly, a baseline for impact and progress of public procurement affirmative action initiatives and laws can be established through use of open contracting data.
Lastly, open contracting data supports the identification and address of issues affecting access and participation in public procurement by women.
Kenya has a unique opportunity in the region with its affirmative action AGPO law to empower women, youth and persons with disability by taking the next crucial step for the law past putting up the framework – that is adopting implementation approaches that ensure its success. Given that it operates in a context where public contracting in Kenya, like many other countries, is subject to mismanagement, corruption, poor planning and fraud – open contracting offers a critical key to combating these ills through disclosure, participation and accountability.
More broadly also, if governments open up their public contracting processes, a better business environment would be advanced, innovation stimulated, savings in taxes enhanced and better value for money for citizens enjoyed.