Portugal: analysing procurement proposals of parties manifestos (IV)

For this final entry into the ongoing series about the party manifestos for the upcoming Portuguese general election this Sunday we will be looking into the two smallest parties in parliament: PAN (Greens/European Free Alliance) and Livre (Greens/European Free Alliance). 

PAN (Greens/European Free Alliance)

PAN has three main ideas for public procurement, all connected to anti-corruption and transparency.

First, PAN wants to implement Transparency International's Integrity Pacts in the public sector focused on public procurement. I am not aware of the intricate details of these pacts and definitely prefer hard law mechanisms over soft ones, but can see the logic of raising the risk of corruption being perceived and caught as a compliance mechanism. The party also wants to make economic operators submit beneficial ownership statements when bidding for contracts and to make the statement public on the national procurement portal. The usual caveats of the limited grounds for exclusion for contracts above thresholds applies as do the judgments from the CJEU restricting the publicity of information on beneficial ownership registries. It is illegal to make that information publicly available.

PAN wants to extend the data capture role of the national procurement portal to go beyond the usual notices. In fact, they would like *all* documentation pertaining to direct awards and prior consultation to be included. My view on these two procedures is well known and all transparency improvements in this regard are welcome. In addition, technical specifications (well, 'caderno de encargos' which I think is a wider concept) should be sent to the procurement portal too. This data is expected to be used to gauge 'transparency and competition' levels as well as internal controls, conformity measures and anti-corruption programmes. I am not sure how that would work in practice and seems to imply a complete rethink of what BASE is but I have to tip my hat for finally seeing a party worried about competition in public procurement.

The final proposal is an elaboration of how the beneficial ownership registry ought to work and its integration with the wider public administration, including sharing data across systems like those for public procurement. Their pursue of transparency goes to the point of adopting open data standards for the registry and making it available to any EU citizen. As mentioned earlier, good intentions or not, this is simply illegal.

Grade: 6/10

Livre (Greens/European Free Alliance)

Livre has the most developed and detailed ideas for public procurement of all manifestos, in a total of five main proposals. The first three are connected with fighting corruption and as such seen as mechanisms to reduce corruption in the country. The other two are from healthcare (PPPs) and innovation. 

Their first proposal is for enhancing the connection between the Beneficial Ownership Register and public procurement. This is not a general suggestion but one focused on contracts awarded directly, one of the fundamentally poor practices in Portugal affecting mostly contract below thresholds. I am not a specialist on beneficial ownership but am aware that compliance efforts in this area have increased over the last decade, since the first Regulation on this and then the successive anti-money laundering packages.

This proposal also suggests economic operators and beneficial owners have to 'lodge contributions to the contracting authority' which I'm puzzled about. Either this is to be taken in the literal meaning or whomever drafted this section got the order wrong and meant instead that it is the contracting authority who needs to report the information of the direct awards. The latter makes more sense to me, but it is not what is written. 

As for the second, Livre wants to overhaul the national procurement portal to improve data quality by publishing data in open and accessible formats (no mention of the seemingly dead in the water OCDS support). In addition to the usual notices the party wishes to extend the reporting obligations to all stages of the procurement process from planning to payment. I for one wholeheartedly support this ambition even if needs to compromised somewhat. 

Their final proposal in connection with fighting corruption is indirectly connected with public procurement. The recourse to external legal counsel by public bodies is a recurrent topic in Portuguese media although there are good reasons for that to happen. There is a lack of capacity in the public sector and limited budgets to hire people on an ongoing basis so when the need is dire, external help is the way to go. While the party expresses some rightful concern about conflict of interests from law firms, it does not mention however the problem with contracts for legal services being awarded directly without competition…

The other main proposal is on procurement of innovation and its importance to develop R&D in the country. While I am ever less inclined as time goes on to favour sectorial/strategic approaches to public procurement including in areas close to my heart like procurement of innovation. Nonetheless I can see the logic of their proposal and the care they've put into it by considering it in context with other public policies and even referring (correctly) to the differences between pre-commercial procurement and procurement of innovative solutions.

Finally, Livre proposes to allow existing PPP/PFI contracts in the health sector to expire, more or less in line with other left-wing parties.

Grade: 7.5/10

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