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Small steps to lasting transformation: How Integrity Pacts advance institutional change

Integrity Pacts foster institutional changes in public procurement practice; examples from around the EU show how

A whistleblower and a stack of papers in front of a building
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Transparency Int'l

This article is part of a series exploring the positive impact of Integrity Pacts on public procurement, backed by evidence from 18 pilot projects in the EU.

Public contracting continues to be one of the most common vehicles for corruption across the European Union (EU) and worldwide.

Time and again, scandalous cases showing how public money goes to connected individuals and companies come to light. Unsurprisingly, people across the EU have doubts about whether government contracts are allocated in a competitive manner. Persistent corruption can even leave us feeling like there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

In the past few years, innovative ventures around the EU have proven that’s not the case.

Integrity Pacts EU logo + background photo of a construction site

Integrity Pact is a real-time monitoring mechanism for public contracting procedures. It brings together contracting authorities, bidders, and civil society to monitor a specific contracting project. Since 2015, we have been piloting Integrity Pacts in 11 EU countries, together with the European Commission and local civil society groups.

Integrity Pacts – Civil control mechanism for safeguarding EU funds

Civil society, public institutions and private companies have shown that it’s possible to lay the ground for sustainable change by working together and using tools such as Integrity Pacts. By making civic monitoring a regular part of their procurement practice, governments can supplement their existing efforts to protect public funds.

Independent civic monitors identified critical risks in the selected procurement processes, proposed corrective measures, and provided support for putting those in practice.

In some cases, these turned into lasting change.

Protecting whistleblowers and public funds

In line with the Integrity Pacts’ focus on prevention, civic monitors’ recommendations often include mechanisms for reporting cases of attempted corruption. During the Integrity Pacts EU pilot, monitors worked both with contracting authorities and bidding companies to establish adequate reporting channels and grant protections to those who speak out.

In Italy, for example, Transparency International Italy monitored the construction of a tram line extension in Cagliari. Large infrastructure projects tend to require significant financial investments and are prone to corruption.

Aware of this project's complexity, Transparency International Italy assessed the contracting authority’s existing whistleblowing system. They concluded that it was not up to the task for a project of such significance and recommended an introduction of a readily accessible reporting mechanism for whistleblowers.

Following these recommendations, the contracting authority strengthened its commitments for protecting whistleblowers as part of its three-year anti-corruption plan.

Meanwhile, in Poland, it was the contractor who stepped up their efforts in protecting whistleblowers. The engineering company ZUE S.A. was selected to modernise the railway system between two Polish towns, Zawiercie and Częstochowa. By signing an Integrity Pact with the Polish Railways Line and Stefan Batory Foundation, the company agreed to work with the civic monitor on introducing or improving their whistleblower protection channels.

This commitment introduced a brand-new element to the company’s functioning: ZUE S.A. welcomed Stefan Batory Foundation’s recommendations and implemented a whistleblower policy for the first time. The Integrity Pact strengthened the company’s corporate governance and brought about a new and permanent layer of protection against corruption.

Strengthening public sector integrity

When monitoring procurement projects, civil society organisations use their own expertise in clean contracting and, when needed, engage external experts. While their knowledge enriches the specific project, there’s a risk that the know-how is lost after its completion, as public authorities may not be able to engage anti-corruption specialists on a regular basis.

Civic monitors throughout the EU recognised this issue and found a solution: they could provide training to the staff of public agencies to ensure knowledge continuity.

Transparency International Slovenia, for example, monitored energy renovation projects in two hospitals. Bringing together their expertise and learnings from the project, the monitor developed two workshops on the importance of whistleblowing for hospital’s management. Later on, they took a step further and launched an e-learning platform on public procurement for public officials, which is still active and open to anyone who’s interested.

And in Romania, Transparency International Romania and the Institute for Public Policy monitored a project to expand land registration in the country. Considering the small and very specialised market, risks ran higher, and the monitor recruited an investigative journalist to look into potential conflicts of interest.

Using the lessons and methods learned from this experience, the monitors then developed a tailored integrity training module for the contracting authority’s staff and the local cadastre offices. This way, expertise stayed within the organisation, protecting future investments.

Adding the Integrity Pacts to the anti-corruption toolbox

When the positive effects of anti-corruption tools are tangible, their use can quickly become a habit. Transparency International Czech Republic, for example, monitored a procurement project that aimed to set up an online platform for monitoring all EU-funded investments. While monitoring was ongoing, Transparency International Czech Republic publicly discussed its progress and demonstrated the benefits of cooperation between public institutions and civil society organisations. They actively engaged with various authorities to advocate for the use of monitoring tools in future public contracting projects.

Since the pilot, Transparency International Czech Republic has begun to monitor three more contracting projects aimed at improving the education and science infrastructure. Their involvement helps the contracting authorities gain new knowledge, improve processes and foster a culture of integrity.

In Portugal, meanwhile, Transparency International Portugal pursued a long-term commitment from the government as part of their work through the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Using the example of a successful pilot in the renovation of the Alcobaça Monastery, they called for the future use of Integrity Pacts in key public investments in Portugal. Their efforts have now been translated into a commitment to implement Integrity Pacts in projects funded with EU Recovery Funds as part of Portugal’s OGP National Action Plan.

Building the future of clean contracting, one project at a time

Pilot Integrity Pacts in the EU made a valuable contribution to better public contracting in Europe. They have enhanced transparency and accountability, encouraged competition and fairness, and improved value for money.

With improved policies in place, knowledge and skills gained or new Integrity Pacts underway, change will be lasting in some places. In others, it can become such with the continuous use of tools that increase oversight and strengthen public participation.