Tag: Public procurement

Combating Misuse of Public Funds in COVID-19 Emergency Procurement

Image of two medical workers with face shields representing COVID-19 procurement

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed substantial shortcomings in central governments’ and municipalities’ ability to procure items needed in the fight against Covid-19, and corruption has been rampant partially due to the increased discretion of procurement staff to award contracts. We argue that suspension of ex ante rules safeguarding accountability is essential for disaster relief, but must be compensated for by better ex post monitoring. Such monitoring can be greatly strengthened by increasing transparency of all awarded contracts and providing incentives to whistleblowers to come forward to report fraud and corruption.

Corruption in Covid-19 Procurement

The disastrous Covid-19 pandemic has revealed weaknesses in global supply chains and in national public procurement systems’ ability to secure essential Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ICU material, and Covid tests. Several countries have been and are experiencing issues like poor quality of procured goods, extremely high prices, scams, and a general inability to source.

Examples of quality under-provision abound. The Spanish government discovered that out of 340,000 tests purchased from a Chinese manufacturer, 60,000 of them did not test accurately for Covid-19 [1], and the Dutch ministry of health issued a recall of 600,000 face masks from a Chinese supplier due to poor quality [2]. Analogous problems were common in the UK [3, 4]. Several countries have also had difficulties to procure at all, for example in terms of their desired number of tests [5, 6], or the reagents used to analyze the tests [7], as well as swabs [8].

Reports on price gouging – selling at extremely high prices – are also widespread. Examples of price gouging and investigations by competition authorities can be found throughout Europe and the US, but also in developing countries like Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand, Kenya, and South Africa (OECD 2020a), and in Ecuador and Paraguay, with corruption as the alleged cause [9].

While many reasons lie behind these procurement failures, several of them are directly traceable to the abuse of the increased discretion granted by emergency procurement rules to urgently source material and bypass time-consuming public procurement processes and legal frameworks. This important and necessary increase in discretion can easily be abused to hand out contracts to friends and/or political allies or to cash bribes.

Again, examples in the press abound. In the UK, a clearly non-urgent contract was awarded without competition to a firm owned by two long term associates of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings [10]. In Slovenia, a gambling mogul with no public record of healthcare experience appears to have received millions in an emergency contract related to Covid-19 [11]. In Bosnia, a raspberry farm was apparently granted a contract to import 100 ventilators,paying $55,000 for each ventilator, while their price was around $7,000 to $30,000 on the international market in the relevant period [12]. In India, a Mumbai Realtor with no previous healthcare experience got a contract to supply things such as oxygen cylinder and medical beds [13]. The health minister in Bolivia was arrested in May after the country bought 179 ventilators at $27,683 each while it later was revealed that the manufacturers were offering ventilators at approximately half that price [14]. In Bangladesh, Transparency International issued a study suggesting widespread corruption in the country during Covid-19, including the purchase of substandard medical supplies at five to ten times the market price [15].

The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated an already significant problem: according to Transparency International (2020), up to 25% of all global healthcare procurement spending is lost to corruption.

Historically, Fraud Increases During Emergencies

Disaster related fraud is frequently a problem in the western world as well. In September of 2005, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the US, the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force was set up to go after frauds related to recovery funds. By August 30th, 2007, the task force had prosecuted 768 individuals for Katrina-related fraud, and additional state and local prosecutions for disaster-related fraud had been brought (DoJ 2007). The National Center for Disaster Fraud was also created within the justice department in the aftermath of several devastating hurricanes in the US, and currently houses over 80 employees.

Organizations and academics warned the public early about the risk of increased corruption in public procurement during the Covid-19 pandemic (Khasiani et al 2020, OECD 2020b). Indeed, emergency procurement and disaster relief has historically been linked to increases in corruption (Leeson and Sobel, 2008), especially where institutions are weaker (Barone and Mocetti 2014). The problems often highlighted in this context, such as using emergency authority when it is not required/warranted or using it beyond the time it is required, abuse of discretionary authority, drawing up specifications to suit the firm desired to win the contract, restricting the number of bids, and caving in to political influences (Schultz and Søreide 2008: 523), have also been on display during the Covid-19 crisis.

There are of course compelling reasons to relax stringent procurement rules in emergencies to allow for a fast response proportional to the population´s needs. But such a lessening of oversight and ex ante checks must be compensated for by much more extensive ex post checks, that should be advertised widely to deter public officials from abusing discretion. Broadly, there are two main ways of strengthening ex post checks/monitoring.

Two Ways of Ex-post Monitoring

The first is to have complete and transparent documentation of all the contracts awarded and the related documents, a “keep the receipt” mentality and practice, and making these records publicly available as soon as possible. Several countries have been moving in this direction as a response to the crisis, often with the help of NGOs like the Open Contracting Partnership (The Economist 2020). Examples include Ukraine, that require the submission of a report for each contract within a day of its conclusion, which is then made publicly available on an internet platform; and as of 2016 a third of government contracts in Colombia were published on an e-procurement platform where they can then be scrutinized by the public. In the US, the user-friendly website USAspending.govprovide data on federal contracts, with advanced search functions including tags specific to Covid-19 contracting.

The organization Open Contracting Partnerships provide a list of suggestions for any government that is looking to increase transparency in procurement; it includes the timely publication of contracts, licenses, concessions, permits, grants, as well as related pre-studies and bid documents. A full list of best practices, which can be implemented at a low cost, can be found on their website (Open Contracting Partnerships 2020).

The second is to protect and incentivize whistleblowers. Adequate protection of whistleblowers is a first step, but protection is always partial and imperfect, and may therefore be insufficient to induce those close to frauds to come forward, given the terrible consequences they typically face (see e.g. Rothschild and Miethe 1999, Nyreröd and Spagnolo 2020c).

In the U.S., the False Claims Act (FCA), first enacted by President Lincoln to curb fraud on military supplies during the civil war, and strengthened in 1986, has gone one step further by providing whistleblowers with substantial monetary rewards when they report on procurement fraud. Building on the success of the FCA, the US has introduced similar programs in several areas, most prominently with respect to tax evasion (in 2006) and securities fraud (in 2011).

Providing meaningful monetary incentives to whistleblowers who report on particularly egregious frauds and corruption can have a substantial deterrent effect on potential fraudsters as several studies show (see e.g.  Wilde 2017, Johannesen and Stolper 2017, Wiedman and Zhu 2018, Amir et al. 2018, Leder-Lewis 2020; see Nyreröd and Spagnolo 2020a for a review of the earlier literature). Simple cost-benefit analysis shows that a well-designed and implemented whistleblower incentives scheme can be a highly cost-effective continuous monitoring tool for enforcement agencies and public prosecutors (see e.g. Nyreröd and Spagnolo 2020b).

As for the EU, it is conspicuously lagging behind. Even prior to the Covid-19 crisis there was a need for increased monitoring evidenced by a 2019 European Court of Auditors (ECA) report entitled “Fighting fraud in EU spending: action needed.” A central emphasis of this report is that the Commission lacks insight into the scale, nature, causes, and level of fraud, as well as the level of undetected fraud. In 2018 the EU adopted a Directive that would harmonize and strengthen whistleblower protection in the EU. While the new EU Directive on whistleblowing is a step in the right direction, it failed to provide a framework for whistleblower rewards.

This may have been a mistake, as standard detection methods, including whistleblower protections, have often proven inadequate. The recent Wirecard scandal is a testament to the failure of standard fraud detection methods. In June of 2020, the stock price of Wirecard dropped from €100 to sub €2 in less than nine days after it was revealed to be an Enron-level accounting fraud. The firm has also allegedly laundered money for mobsters and was involved in a range of shady practices. Since 2008, fraud accusations have been leveled several times against the firm and Wirecard´s response was to label their critics “market manipulators”. The German financial supervisors, instead of investigating Wirecard, went after those who correctly claimed that the firm was a fraud, including reporters at the Financial Times. This fraud went undetected for at least 12 years, costing investors millions and undermining trust in financial markets. Moreover, those correctly accusing Wirecard of fraud allege they were subject to harassment campaigns, including phishing attacks by hackers and intimidating surveillance outside their homes and offices [16]. This is perhaps not surprising given that Germany is a country with some of the worst protections for whistleblower [17].

The shortcomings of traditional methods of fraud detection may turn out to be especially costly and ineffective during the Covid-19 pandemic.


With increased public spending being a cornerstone of the response to this crisis, adequate monitoring of abuse of public funds will become more urgent. Some EU institution, such as the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, or the European Anti-Fraud Office, could be suitable for a whistleblower reward program, as investigators are likely stuck looking for needles in haystacks, or lack the necessary information to bring/recommend actions to recover funds. Irrespective of the lost opportunity of the Directive, evidence shows it is time to introduce serious (high stakes) whistleblower rewards programs in Europe, unless of course Europeans are not able to manage them, or are more interested in hiding rather than airing their dirty laundry.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Indexation Formula for Natural Gas Procurement in Ukraine

Natural Gas power plant

Due to the high volatility of natural gas market prices, it is almost impossible to adequately plan the purchases for the year ahead, so contract prices need to be regularly updated. This fact creates uncertainty for the contracting authorities, as well as room for unfair competition and corruption. We offer an indexation formula which uses the European gas prices as a benchmark for procurement prices and calculate the potential economic effect of this formula on the Ukrainian gas procurement market.

Problems with the Public Procurement of Natural Gas

Natural gas procurement poses a number of challenges for the contracting authorities (CAs), suppliers and controllers. Due to price volatility it is almost impossible to adequately plan the purchases for the year ahead, so prices need to be regularly adjusted. After the heating season starts, CAs find themselves in a weak position in price negotiations since they almost never have storage for accumulating stocks, and if the contract is cancelled the new procurement would take at least one month due to the existing public procurement regulations. The new version of the Law on Public Procurement, which was recently adopted by the Ukrainian parliament, addresses this problem by allowing CAs to have a new contract fast in case the previous contact was cancelled because of the supplier.

CAs often lack reliable data on market dynamics. There are cases when unreliable price references are provided by specialized agencies to support higher price claims of suppliers. As a result, CAs bear administrative responsibility if they do not have proper justification for changing contract prices when controlling agencies initiate an audit.

Natural gas suppliers may also find themselves in a situation of unfair competition. Since it is possible to win an open auction (i.e. by quoting a considerably lower than market price) and later raise the price to the market level with an additional contract, honest businesses might feel demotivated to participate in the procurement process. They cannot be sure if the contract price can be changed later because there is no proper legal mechanism to assess the need of such an adjustment.

Previous research shows that every third contract of natural gas purchase was amended with an additional contract at least once, usually raising the price for the customer (Shapoval, Memetova, 2017). Additional contracts are indeed used 1) as a tool for price overstatement by the supplier, 2) as a loophole for corruption, and 3) as a way to get a market price for a supplier who used dumping to win the auction (Gribanovsky, Memetova, 2017).

International Drivers of Gas Prices in Ukraine

Since 2016, the EU has been the only official exporter of natural gas to Ukraine. According to PwC, Ukraine imported 14.1 billion m3 in 2017, which is 44% of total gas consumption – the remaining 56% are extracted locally. In Ukraine, the prices for industrial consumers are not regulated, while the household prices are set by the government. Today, the average price on the unregulated gas market is in line with the prices in neighbouring countries – the Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia and Hungary (PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory LLC, 2018).

European prices are formed on the large marketplaces. The two biggest hubs, Dutch TTF and British NBP, by far outweigh their competitors (ACER Market Monitoring Report, 2017). However, the third-biggest hub, German NCG, is the closest to the Ukrainian border, so its prices often become the benchmark for private traders. In some cases, NCG is the official benchmark for gas price – for instance, the purchase parity import price in Ukraine in 2017-2018 was based on this hub’s index.

In order to assess the impact of the European natural gas prices on procurement prices in Ukraine, we used the Month+1 futures hub prices from TTF, NCG and Austrian VTP CEGH. Procurement prices were extracted from the analytical module of ProZorro (the Ukrainian e-procurement system which CAs are obliged to use at all levels). We excluded irrelevant procurements and selected the contracts which had information on the volume procured. We calculated the average daily prices weighted by volume. Our dataset covers the time period from January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2018.

Figure 1: Natural gas prices at ProZorro and European hubs

Source: ProZorro data, hubs data

As one can see in Figure 1, hubs prices are highly correlated, so they cannot be used as independent variables within a single model. Thus, we decided to take the NCG Month+1 price as a benchmark for explaining the relation between internal procurement prices and international market prices.

NCG Impact on Procurement Prices in ProZorro

In the period of low business activity on natural gas markets, especially in summer, few contracts are awarded. One might have noticed from Figure 1 that this leads to higher variance in daily prices caused by random factors. Therefore, in our model we decided to use the weighted average of weekly prices instead.

Figure 2: Weekly gas price fluctuations in ProZorro and NCG

Source: ProZorro data, Pegas (https://www.powernext.com/futures-market-data)

Our econometric estimation shows that the NCG Month+1 price influences procurement prices with a lag of 7 weeks. In other words, the price at the German hub becomes relevant for the Ukrainian procurement market after almost 2 months on average.

Figure 3: Correlations between procurement prices and NCG Month+1 with different lags

According to the model, the weighted average gas price in ProZorro is more dependent on the NCG Month+1 gas price than on the reservation price in ProZorro. Thus, a UAH 1 increase in the reservation price adds UAH 0.41 to the final price, while each additional hryvnia of the NCG price leads raises the final price by UAH 0.63 in 7 weeks if the price growth trend is not taken into account.

Potential Cost-Saving Using the Price Indexation Formula

The Price Indexation Formula

As European gas prices strongly influence prices on the internal Ukrainian market, it is obvious that they should be included into the indexation formula, as well as exchange rate fluctuations. After consultations with stakeholders, the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine (MEDT) decided to adjust the initial formula proposed by the KSE and included price fluctuations on the Ukrainian Energy Exchange (UEEx) with a small weight into the formula in order to stimulate UEEx development.

The final formula was officially published in December 2018. This formula is not compulsory for any contract authorities, though it is recommended for use by the smaller public entities who do not have the in-house analytical capacity to make a realistic price assessment during negotiations with the suppliers.


  • CP – new price in UAH for 1000 m3 of natural gas (including value-added tax, VAT)
  • PCP – current price in UAH for 1000 m3 of natural gas (including VAT) before adjustment
  • K(cur) – average National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) UAH/EUR exchange rate for 5 days before the price change
  • K(base) – average NBU UAH/EUR exchange rate on the day of the previous price adjustment (contract signed)
  • NCG(avg) – average of daily NCG Month+1 index during 20 previous trading days before the day of price amendment, EUR per MW-hour
  • NCG(base) – NCG Month+1 index on the day of the previous price amendment (contract signed), EUR per MW-hour
  • VAT – rate of value-added tax, which is currently 20% in Ukraine
  • CV – heating value of natural gas in MW-hour/1000 m3 on the date of the price adjustment
  • UEEx(avg) – weighted monthly average natural gas price of UEEx (including VAT) on the day of price amendment
  • UEEx(base) – weighted monthly average natural gas price on the UEEx (including VAT) on the day of the previous price amendment (contract was signed)

Thus, the formula includes current gas price, exchange rate changes, changes in NCG index and UEEx index.

Estimation of Potential Cost-Saving for Contract Authorities

The simplest yet time-efficient way to empirically verify the hypothesis of potential cost-saving after the introduction of the price indexation formula in the gas market is a retrospective analysis of the contracts which had already been signed.

The basic principle of estimation is comparing actual prices with the potential prices calculated based on the price indexation formula. For this, we collected a dataset of natural gas procurement contracts covering the time period from August 2017 to the end of August 2018. This period includes both short-term contracts signed for the heating season or its part (usually signed in August-September, sometimes in January-February) and middle-term contracts which are active for at least one year (usually signed in December-March). We took into account all the additional contracts to these contracts signed before January 1, 2019.

Supply schedules and prices of additional contracts are not readily available in a machine-readable format, so we kept only contracts with the total value higher than UAH 1 million. These are 27.5% of all contracts but they cover 79.3% of the total value of natural gas procurement in Ukraine. The final dataset contains prices of additional contracts and monthly supply schedules.

Our earlier analysis of all the contracts on the shorter time scale showed no correlation between prices and volumes in gas procurement contracts (Shapoval, Memetova et al., 2017), therefore our results can be extrapolated to all the gas contracts.

The biggest gap between actual and indexation prices would be in November 2017, averaging UAH 623. However, until the end of the year the gap reduced threefold to UAH 170.

Figure 4: Monthly increase of gas procurement prices

Source: bipro.ProZorro, ProZorro API

We combined the supply schedules with the prices found in the additional contracts in order to estimate potential savings. Obviously, the highest savings were observed during the heating season. However, in September they were negative (see Figure 6). Thus, while the market prices of natural gas started rising in August, actual procurement prices lagged behind until the end of September-October.

Figure 5: Monthly cost savings in case of applying price indexation formula

Source: bipro.ProZorro, ProZorro API

In total, for contracts of over UAH 1 million, potential cost savings from applying the price indexation formula would have been equal to UAH 120.25 million. If these estimations are extrapolated to all the contracts, this figure would reach UAH151.6 million. This is a rather modest sum in relative terms – only 2.7% of the total contract value. However, using the formula is expected to assist smaller CAs who often lack the knowledge of market dynamics to negotiate the optimal price more effectively and limit their dependence on the suppliers’ estimates.

Besides, the parties concluded the contracts without taking into account the opportunity of using the indexation formula. Therefore, actual cost savings might be lower, first of all because the suppliers’ auction strategy would be different. In particular, the dumping strategy with subsequent price increase through additional contracts would become useless. If the formula is used, a lower starting price would mean a lower increase in absolute terms (UAH per 1000 m3), because the formula calculates the change in relative terms (in per cent). For example, if the market price grows by 15% during the indexation period, the starting price can also be raised by only 15%.


The application of the price indexation formula for natural gas procurement may have a positive impact on the public procurement market. We recommend taking into account the prices of the European hubs adjusted by exchange rate fluctuations.

Had the price indexation formula been used for additional contracts in gas procurement in 2017-2018, the average price would have declined by UAH 623, potentially allowing CAs to save UAH 151.6 million.

Formula pricing would raise the negotiation power of customers (CAs) before the start of the heating season. This is especially true for the smaller ones which are not able to professionalize procurement processes. Natural gas price indexation within clearly defined boundaries will create more favourable conditions for fair competition by eliminating the stimuli for dumping at the auction stage.


Data Sources

Buyer Competence and Procurement Renegotiations

20191201 Buyer Competence and Procurement Renegotiations FREE Network Policy Brief Image 01

This brief deals with the extent to which a more competent public bureaucracy can contribute to better economic outcomes. It addresses this question in the context of public procurement, governments’ purchase of goods and services from private contractors, which accounts for about 15% of GDP in most economies and is on the rise. The efficiency of the procurement process directly influences the prices and quality of many government-provided goods and services that are crucial to social welfare objectives and sustained economic growth. Several issues challenge this efficiency. Media attention is typically on episodes of corruption, which can of course be a major source of waste. Here, we focus on a less glamorous, often overlooked, but potentially even more important source of waste, the lack of procurement competence.

Public procurement is a complex task. Contracting authorities must know market characteristics, design and implement efficient award mechanisms, balance risks and incentives in drafting contracts, effectively manage the contracts in the execution phase, etc. Effective procurement, in particular for complex services or works, requires teams endowed with legal, marketing, engineering, and economic/strategic expertise. The World Bank‘s Benchmarking Public Procurement 2017 compares the quality of the legal and regulatory environments of 180 countries and reveals the existence of great heterogeneity in the quality of the procurement processes across countries. Saussier and Tirole (2015) focus on the case of France, documenting that 63% of the staff of French contracting authorities do not have a legal profile, and only 39% have qualifications specific for managing public purchases.

Recent research focusing on prices of standardized goods showed that (lack of) buyer competence among public buyers could make an even bigger impact on the waste of public funds than corruption. For example, Bandiera, Prat and Valletti (2009) estimate that Italian public buyers would save 21 percent of their expenditures if they all paid the same as the buyers at the 10th percentile of the estimated procurement price distribution. Savings could reach 1.6-2.1 percent of the Italian GDP per year. They then estimate that bureaucratic inefficiency also linked to incompetence is the main cause of waste, accounting for 83 percent of total estimated waste, compared to only 17 percent due to corruption. In a similar vein, Best, Hjort and Szakonyi (2017) report that over 40 percent of within-product price variation on standardized goods in Russia in 2011-2015 can be ascribed to the bureaucrats and organizations in charge of procurement. They estimate that if the least effective quartile of bureaucrats and organizations had the effectiveness of the 75th percentile, the Russian government would save around $13 billion per year – roughly one fifth of the total amount spent on health care by the Russian government at federal, regional, and municipal level combined.[1]

The role of competence in complex procurement

This problem is becoming even more serious now that, being under fiscal pressure after the crises, many governments are promoting the use of public procurement not only as a tool to save budgets – sometimes at the expense of quality – but also to achieve more complex objectives like fostering innovation, protecting the environment, and promoting social objectives, a multiplicity of goals that per se makes the procurement mission even more complex.

Little is known about the importance of procurement competence in more complex procurements, not least because it is very difficult to measure performance in these environments. In our paper (Decarolis et al. (2019)) we try to make a step in this direction by focusing on works and services, typically more complex than goods. We use data from the US, probably the country with the most well-developed system of production and certification of procurement competences. Thus, our estimates of the effect of lack of competences should provide a lower bound of most other countries.

We combine, for the first time, three large databases: contract-level data on procurement performance in the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS); bureau-level data from a survey conducted by the Office of Personnel Management since 2002 on federal employees, the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS); and Federal Workforce Data (FedScope) containing information on characteristics of the public workforce at the employee level.

To quantify the extent to which the government-bureau-level competencies determine procurement outcomes, we use the first database to construct procurement performance measures and the second dataset to build measures of procurement offices’ competence. We then use the third database to construct instruments that help us addressing important endogeneity issues. Our identification strategy exploits the exogeneity of death events involving public officials to allow for a causal interpretation of bureau competence on procurement performance.

Measurement Challenges

Indeed, there are three main challenges that our analysis needs to overcome. The first is how to measure procurement performance. Unit price comparisons have been used for standardized goods, but they are not suitable for the more complex procurements we focus on as they are heterogeneous in many non-recorded dimensions and their contracts are often incomplete. We use FPDS instead to construct three proxies of performance based on time delays, cost overruns, and the number of renegotiations. Although the first two measures are widely used in the literature, we are careful to take into account that cost overruns and delays may be due to new or additional work requested by the public buyer, in which case they should not be viewed as indicative of a poor outcome. We, therefore, consider only those which have occurred to deliver the work or service that was originally tendered. The third performance measure, the overall number of renegotiation episodes, is new and aims at capturing Williamson’s “haggling costs,” which are a pure deadweight loss present whatever the reason behind the renegotiation and have been shown to be economically sizeable for complex contracts. Our data reveals a surprising and persistent heterogeneity along these three dimensions across US federal bureaus.

The second challenge is the measurement of bureaucratic competence. Other papers in the field have measured it using buyer fixed effects. We use a novel approach based on the mentioned survey of employees’ subjective evaluations (FEVS). The survey is extremely rich, and we chose the most general question as an overall measure for competence (How would you rate the overall quality of work done by your work unit?). Responses to this question should be seen as measures of the overall efficacy of the workflow and processes within the bureau, hence proxying for the ideal measure of competence on the many different aspects relevant to procurement. An extensive set of robustness checks support our idea of measuring competence through the FEVS data.

The third measurement problem is the association between more complex contracts and more competent buyers: the most competent buyers may consistently produce poor performance because they are allocated the most complicated procurements. This point is well illustrated in a case study showing that the performance of the agencies that are worst in terms of competence (the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Justice) is superior to that of the two most competent agencies (the NASA and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) in terms of both delays and cost overruns. This striking inversion indicates that any straightforward regression of performance on competence would grossly underestimate the impact of competence.

We, therefore, develop an instrumental variable strategy exploiting exogenous changes in competence. We use FedScope to build instruments for bureaus’ competence based on the deaths of specific types of employees: bureau managers and white-collar employees who are relatively young and earn a relatively high wage. The idea is that more competent offices adopt better managerial practices, routines and processes that are more resilient to risks, such that of an unexpected loss of a key employee, and less dependent on specific individuals. This is precisely what the first stage of our IV strategy documents. Our instruments perform well in terms of their statistical properties and they allow us to estimate a causal effect of bureau competence on procurement outcomes that is an order of magnitude larger than the corresponding OLS estimate.


We find that one standard deviation increase in competence reduces the number of days of delay by 23 percent, cost overruns by 29 percent and the number of renegotiations by half. This implies that if all federal bureaus were to obtain NASA’s high level of competence – corresponding to the top 10th percentile of the competence distribution – delays in contract execution would decline by 4.8 million days, and cost overrun would drop by $6.7 billions over the entire sample analyzed. We also find a consistently negative effect of greater competence on the number of renegotiations: one standard deviation increase in competence causes 0.5 (39%) and 0.8 (71%) fewer cost renegotiations and time renegotiations, respectively.

Finally, we try to understand what exactly makes a bureau ‘competent’ using the FEVS data to identify three different components: cooperation among employees, incentives and skills. Separately estimating their causal effects is unfeasible with instruments like the two described above as the validity of the exclusion restriction, which can be argued to be satisfied when measuring a broadly defined notion of bureau competence, is unlikely to hold for more specific components. However, we provide multiple pieces of evidence suggestive that cooperation is the key driver behind the positive effects of bureau competence. This finding conforms with the view that successful procurement requires appropriate coordination of a multiplicity of tasks involving different individuals. We also consider the extent to which the role of cooperation is due to the presence of capable managers, able to lead a group to effective cooperation, exploiting the heterogenous effects obtained through instruments considering the deaths of different subgroups of employees. We find that the deaths that matter the most are those of relatively young and best paid white-collar employees.

These results point at the large potential improvement in the performance of public contracts that could be achieved by investing more resources in increasing the competence of contracting authorities, even in a country with long-established procurement training and certification institutions such as the US. In Europe, recent policy initiatives see the introduction of qualification systems for public procurers as a necessary response to the generally lower procurement competence coupled with the greater discretion granted by the 2014 Procurement Directives. Our results on the role of cooperation suggest that certification programs would be also useful at the level of the procuring office, and should include features such as the organisation of the acquisition process and the prevailing management practices, as is often done for private firms.


[1] See also, Bucciol et al (2017) who study procurement of standardized medical devices purchased by local Italian purchasing bodies, finding that the price for the same medical devices paid by Italian public buyers differ substantially, and that the differences are explained by ‘buyers fixed effects’ capturing all specific buyers characteristics, including their competence levels.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Decentralization, E-Procurement and Efficiency of Public Procurement in Ukraine

20190311 Decentralization, E-Procurement and Efficiency Image 01

This brief is based on a research that investigates if there’s a synergy effect of procurement and decentralization reforms in Ukraine on procurement efficiency. The analysis shows the similarity between new and old administrative units procurement performance. Although the analysis does not provide evidence of a significant synergy effect, such a similarity could be considered as something positive (due to the lower market power and capacity of the newly created administrative units) that should be analyzed further.

Decentralization in Ukraine

In April 2014, the Ukrainian government launched a systemic decentralization reform – a delegation of a significant part of resources and responsibilities from oblast and raion-level executive branches of the government to the local self-government level. The key issue of the reform was the creation of a strong basic level of local self-government in line with the European Charter of Local Self-Government. This is done through the creation of amalgamated hromadas (AH), the merger of several settlements with a single administrative centre.

An AH is governed by a council of the amalgamated hromada (CAH), a representative body of a local self-government. It is elected by residents of territorial communities and is responsible to independently resolve local issues, develop and approve AH budgets. Particularly, the government redistributed tax revenues and expanded the system of state subsidies (medical and educational subvention, subvention on development of amalgamated hromadas etc.) that could be used according to AH decisions.

In 2015, 159 AH were established. As of September 2018, 831 AH made up by 3,796 hromadas with 7 million residents (decentralization.gov.ua).

Public E-Procurement

Contemporaneously, a reform of public procurement has been implemented. According to the Law on Public Procurement of Ukraine, since August 2016, public procurement must be announced and executed through ProZorro, a public procurement web portal administered by the state enterprise. The e-procurement system consists of a central database, an auction module and commercial marketplaces (Figure 1).

In order to participate in public tenders, bidders can choose one of 22 commercial marketplaces (7 companies that provided initial investment for the project became the first marketplaces). The commercial marketplaces are web resources managed by private companies that provide access to the electronic procurement system.

Figure 1. ProZorro Architecture

The electronic procurement system does not completely cover the procurement cycle. Actually, it only covers the tendering process while planning and contract execution are mostly out of the system (plans are published online). Moreover, the existing legislation provides opportunities to manipulate tendering process by switching between different procedures. Within the ProZorro system there are 6 main procurement procedures that can be used by procuring entities depending on the volume and specifications of their needs.

Selection of procedures is based on a Threshold principle. There are three thresholds (Figure 2):

  • Lower Threshold (LT). Contracting authorities are not obliged to report procurements in the electronic system if the total value of procurement is lower than UAH 50,000.
  • Higher Threshold (HT). Contracting authorities are not obliged to use open competitive procedures if the total value of tender is lower than a defined level. This level is equal to UAH 200,000 for goods and services and UAH 1.5 million for construction.
  • Euro Threshold (ET). The value of tender that requires applying the strictest competitive auction procedure. The euro threshold corresponds to thresholds used in EU public procurement legislation and is different for goods and services and construction works.

Transparency and efficiency indicators

Typically, a procurement process is divided into three stages: pre-tender stage, tender stage and post-tender stage. To measure efficiency and transparency of AH procurement, we constructed a system of eleven indicators that evaluate each stage of the procurement process (Table 1).

Table 1. Transparency and efficiency indicators used in the report

  • Avoiding ProZorro. Both this and the following indicator would be associated with a decreased transparency, and, while not necessarily evidential, raise suspicions about procurement done in a less efficient and more collusive/corrupt way. AH are not inclined to avoid the ProZorro system. The share of procurements outside of ProZorro per AH is smaller than the corresponding indicators for other administrative units (Raion State Administrations, RSA, and unamalgamated hromadas, UH).
  • Avoiding higher and euro thresholds. An analysis of ProZorro data shows that for AH, 84% and 11% of AH have at least one “suspicious” case for each corresponding threshold. For, RSA the indicators are 73% and 31% respectively.
  • Unanswered questions. Having a productive dialogue with suppliers is of crucial importance for the success of the procurement. It helps to adjust the tender documentation so that it does not include discriminatory demands. Analysis shows that this practice is not dominant: relatively small proportion of AH and UH uses it.
  • Level of competition. Higher competition is normally assumed to imply more efficient procurement deals. There is no difference in competition across administrative units and products (measured by the number of bidders per tender).
  • High disqualification rates can be a consequence of ill prepared tender documentation with unclear technical specification or it can be a consequence of suppliers’ inexperience. It can also be a sign of corruption, when a tender committee is trying to find any reason to disqualify ‘unwanted’ suppliers. The analysis shows that disqualification is not a significant problem and, in fact, there are no significant differences across administrative units and products.
  • Success rates. To successfully complete competitive procurement, the contracting authority has to determine the technical description of a good and its expected value based on their budget and market analysis. It also has to prepare and publish tender documentation and answer questions of potential suppliers. Finally, after the auction, the contracting authority has to evaluate documents of the auction winner and sign a contract. Failure in each of these steps will lead to unsuccessful or cancelled procurement. There is no significant difference across administrative unit groups in terms of procurement success rate
  • Abnormal saving rate. Generally, a high saving rate (the difference between tender expected and contracted values) is regarded as a positive indicator, however, a too high rate is suspicious. It can be a sign of an inadequate expected value or an abnormally low price (suspicious behavior on behalf of the supplier). For the purpose of this study, we consider a saving rate abnormal if it is greater or equal to 30%. The analysis shows that AH had a significantly lower share of tenders with abnormally high saving rate than RSA. On average, 0.6% (in terms of value) of AH tenders are suspicious, for RSA this indicator equals 6.1%
  • Contract termination. Frequent contract termination is a sign of significant inefficiencies in the procurement function of contracting authorities. The share of terminated contracts (as a percentage of the total contract value) is approximately similar for AH and RSA. On average, one AH has 5% of contract value terminated, while RSA indicator equals to 6%.
  • Fixing the price with additional agreements. Although the Ukrainian Law on Public Procurement gives the right to amend the price per unit indicated, this right can be misused. It could lead to significantly higher costs. RSA are strikingly different from the other two groups – on average 20% of the RSA contract value stems from contracts with amended prices. This difference is the consequence of the different structure of goods and services procured by AH and UH on the one hand and RSA on the other.
  • Share of largest supplier. Generally, it is considered to be a good practice, when contracting authorities are not overly dependent on one supplier. Approximately 30% of contract value of average AH and RSA belongs to one supplier. For UH this indicator is even higher (on average 48%) but it could be the consequence of the smaller number of contracts signed by UH.

Effect on prices

If contracts are successfully executed, the price of a good usually summarizes the efficiency of the procurement process.

There are many factors that affect the prices of goods in public procurements. On the one hand, AH (a) “realized” that they spent their own money and thus, they have more incentives to save and (b) have more power to choose where to spend. On the other hand, there are some factors that have the opposite effect: (a) because of low quantity demanded, the tenders announced are not interesting for large companies that could potentially provide lower price, and (b) the procurement officers could have insufficient capacity to negotiate lower price. Although, it is impossible to evaluate all these factors, we can assess their outcome – the contract price of a good.

For this analysis we looked at the prices on homogeneous goods such as food (potato, butter, eggs) and fuel (petrol A95, petrol A-92, diesel.

Table 2 summarizes the prices on the goods received by hromadas and compares it to the prices received by other types of entities (UHs and RSAs).

The data shows that for food products, AH average prices are lower or not different from UH, and slightly higher or not different from prices received by RSAs.

Even though there are some differences in prices of Petrol A-95 (partially due to inefficient planning and contracting at periods of higher prices), in general, the price level is very similar between all the entities.

In most cases, despite some warnings, there were no significant gaps between AH’s prices and UH or RSA. Moreover, the more competitive is the market of goods procured, the closer are prices received by different administrative units.

Table 2. Prices of goods by administrative units in 2017


The analysis shows the similarity between AH and RSA in terms of number of procurements, success and disqualification rates as well as competition level and share of terminated contracts. However, in cases when it is allowed by the Procurement Law, AH are more likely than RSA to choose direct selection of a supplier than a competitive procedure. Such behavior can be caused by a lack of professionalism (or even corruption), a desire to select a local trustworthy company or just because it is easier and faster to conduct uncompetitive procedure below the threshold.

On the other hand, AH are less inclined (in comparison to RSA) to avoid the ProZorro system (by using procurements below UAH 50 K) and to sign additional agreements that increase the price. Such behavior is potentially punishable by law. It can be suggested that procurement officers of AH only recently started to work with tenders above HT and are therefore more conscious of possible negative consequences of such actions.

The price per unit is the key indicator that summarizes information on procurement efficiency. Although AH show varying price efficiency, their prices of procured goods, in general, are not worse than in other administrative units’ groups. The more competitive the market, the closer are prices (especially in the case of fuels). Even if some gaps were observed, these differences are decreasing over time. Better planning can help to receive lower prices (better estimation of needs and choosing appropriate  periods for procurement).

Currently, the analysis does not provide an evidence on a significant synergy effect of decentralization and procurement reforms.  There are no significant differences between old and new administrative units. However, usually new communities have lower market power and capacity, and “no difference” could be considered as a positive sign that should be analyzed further.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Avoiding Corruption and Tax Evasion in Belarus’ Construction Sector

20171119 Avoiding Corruption and Tax Evasion in Belarus Image 01

This brief summarizes our research on the problem of corruption and tax evasion in the construction sector in Belarus. We conducted a survey of construction companies, asking them to estimate the extent of different dimensions of tax evasion and corruption within the sector. The results show the most problematic directions in the sphere. Based on international experiences, we develop recommendations of how to reduce corruption and tax evasion in construction of Belarus.

Shadow economy and the construction sector

The problem of a shadow economy is real for many countries in the world. Many countries try to minimize the level of this illegal activity. But it is very difficult to liquidate tax evasion or envelope wages fully.

In Belarus there is a lot of discussion about corruption and tax evasion limitation. The country ranked 79th in the Corruption Perception Index 2016. The situation in Belarus is much better then in Russia or Kazakhstan, but worse than in Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.

There is lack of systematically updated knowledge about the situation with corruption and tax evasion in the different economic spheres of Belarus. At the same time, there are sectors, which are more prone to develop a shadow economy. One of them is the construction sector. Multilevel chains of relations between contractors and subcontractors, numerous suppliers, and complicated procedures for facility acceptance create possibilities for illegal schemes.

Construction plays an important role in national production. In 2016, the construction sector corresponded to more than 6% of Belarusian GDP. In 2014, this indicator was above 10%. The decline can be explained by a reduction of preferential lending in housing construction and a recession in the economy. Despite the reduction in the share of GDP, around 8% of the total labor force works in construction. More than 90% of the legal entities in the sphere are presented by privately owned enterprises [8].

Taking into account the importance of construction it is necessary to emphasize that reducing the size of the shadow economy could create a better business environment, reduce companies’ expenditures for resolving issues in informal ways, and increase budgetary revenues.

In this brief we present a short summary of our research “Problems of corruption and tax evasion in construction sector in Belarus”, which is forthcoming in the International Journal Entrepreneurship and Sustainability Issues. The project was made in the framework of the project “Corporate engagement in fighting corruption and tax evasion”, financed by the Nordic Council of Ministries.


In order to understand the main issues and challenges in construction sector, we surveyed 50 Belarusian construction companies. We took 20 companies from Minsk and its surrounding region, and 6 organizations from each Belarusian region (Brest, Grodno, Vitebsk, Gomel, and Mogilev). The survey was based on the method used in Putnins and Sauka (2016). This method includes a questionnaire, which helps understanding the actual situation with the shadow economy in the sector. The questions of the survey were divided into three parts.

The first part included neutral questions about economic characteristics of the company, such as number of employees, profit level, the year of establishment, wage levels, and form of ownership.

The second part include more sensitive questions, but which can help us understanding the most problematic issues concerning to corruption and tax evasion. These questions concern such indicators as the level of underreported business income, the degree of underreported number of employees, the percentage of revenue that firms pay in unofficial payments to ‘get things done’, and main barriers to business development. In order to make the answers easier for participants, all the questions deal with the situation in the sector as a whole, and not the company in particular.

The third part of questions concerns the situation in public procurement, and includes the perception of main problems in the sphere.

Survey results

The first part of the survey shows that there has been a decline in many of the economic indicators during the last two years. This may be one factor stimulating the sector’s development of informal activities. Indeed the results of the second part of survey demonstrate that level of shadow economy has significant dimensions. More then 60% of the respondents agree that some firms in the sector received hidden income. More than 50% of the interviewed companies believe that some organizations in the construction sector hire part of their employees unofficially. Wages in “envelopes” is also a problem for the construction companies.

Unregistered firms are a big threat to having a well-developed construction sector. More than 60% of the interviewed companies agree with the existence of unregistered companies. Such non-official organizations create unfair competition in the sector and decrease the level of budget revenues. Many of the unregistered companies work in the sphere of home improvements and renovations.

Figure 1. Estimation of the approximate level of hidden salaries (“wages in the envelopes”) in construction industry

Notes: X-axis is the percentage of respondents that agree with the statement. Source: Results of the survey

The survey results allow us to conclude that the state budget loses part of its corporate income taxes, taxes on wages and social contributions due to the existence of hidden incomes, wages in envelopes, and unregistered companies and employees.

The last, but not the least, question in the second part of the survey was about main obstacles and barriers for operating in the construction sphere. Most of the respondents underlined three groups of barriers. One of them is the administrative challenge, including high level of taxation, inconsequent business legislation, and attitude of the government towards business in general. The second barrier includes economic problems such as lack of funds for business investments, payment behavior of clients, low product or service demand from customers, low access to credits, and inflation. The third group of problems in the construction sector is related to the shadow economy. A large part of the enterprises experiences a problem of high competition from illegal business and corruption. At the same time, a positive thing is that the majority of respondents does not consider crime and racketeering as a threat for the sector.

Figure 2. Estimation of approximate share of unregistered firms production in the total output in construction industry

Notes: The X-axis is the percentage of respondents that agree with the statement. Source: Results of the survey

In the third part of the survey, companies were asked about their participation in public procurement tenders. About 42% of all respondents did not have this experience over the past two years. One of the questions was about competition among construction companies. About 40% of all respondents underlined that they have lost at least one public tender because of unfair competition. Given that only 58% of the companies participated in tenders, we can conclude that unfair competition is a widespread problem for the majority of public procurement auction participants. Imperfect legislation is another problem for the companies. 46% of all respondents believe that the quality of legislation in the sphere is unsatisfactory. Only 12% of the companies did not see any problems in the national legislation.

At the end of the interview, companies were asked to list three main problems in the sphere of public procurement. The answers are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Main problems that companies face when participating in public procurement tenders

Notes: The X-axis is the percentage of respondents that agree with the statement. Source: Results of the survey

The most common answer was corruption. Unfair competition and nepotism were also quite common problems in the public procurement sphere. Among administrative barriers, companies emphasized the complexity of documentation preparation and imperfect legislation. Important economic problems were inflation and unequal conditions for public and private enterprises.

International experiences and recommendations in fighting corruption and tax evasion in the construction sector

Corruption and tax evasion can be stimulated by different factors. One of the main preconditions of the shadow economy in the Belarusian construction sector is inconsistent and frequently changing legislation. For example, public procurements are regulated by the Presidential Decree (Ukaz) on procurement of goods (works, services) in construction. However, this regulation document expires at the end of 2018. Before 2017, such operations were regulated by several legislative acts. Developing understandable and sustainable legislation, which creates clear rules for participants of the market, is very important to increase transparency and openness of the market [11; 12; 13; 15; 18].

Another problem concerns the relations of contractors and sub-contractors. In many cases negotiations between parties are closed and non-transparent. So, it is very difficult to estimate the effectiveness of costs and proper use of funds.

Modern E-Government system adoption can support increased transparency between contractors and sub-contractors, as well as improve the quality of state services. One of the directions in this sphere is the transition towards full electronic document management. [3; 4; 6].

Another risk is related to public procurement procedure. Direct communications between public tender participants and organizers create possibilities for unfair competition. There is substantial international evidence showing that full digitalization of the process would improve the transparency of the public procurement procedure [3; 4; 21]. For example, good reference points for implementation of such digitalization can be the Georgian or Ukrainian experiences of electronic tenders. These two countries have relatively similar institutional environment and heritage as Belarus.

The problem of tax evasion is often related with payments in cash. Such transactions are less transparent and visible for authorities. According to national legislation operations between legal entities should be in cashless form. But there are exceptions to the rule [20]. In this regards the level of tax evasion would be decreased if payments in cash will be minimized.

Another concern is the efficiency of the public procurement procedures. During public procurement auctions in construction, price plays the most important role. The share of “Bid Price” criterion in total volume of all criteria can be up to 50%. The project with the lowest price has the best chance to win the tender. This is not always reasonable. Moreover, some companies hire disabled people that allow them to obtain preferential treatment in the public procurement procedure – for example, apply special correction indicators to the final price. In many cases it is better to install more expensive but high efficiency (more qualitative or ecological) equipment instead of buying cheap but low quality ones. Of course, even in EU legislation, the cost or price of projects is a very important criterion. But then it is often defined as a price-quality ratio. In this regards, the quality of the project can be estimated from the environmental, qualitative or social side [12; 19].

One more issue according to survey results is the problem of unregistered labor force in construction. It can be partly resolved by ID card implementation for all workers and employers in construction sector. In Finland, for example, all workers in construction must have such cards during workdays. Tax authorities can check the availability of the cards at any time [17].


Our survey of Belarusian construction companies confirmed wide exposure of the sector to tax evasion and corruption. The majority of the respondents agreed that some companies hire unregistered workers, pay wages in envelopes, or have hidden income. The most common answer to the main problems in the public procurement sphere was corruption. Based on international experience and national peculiarities, it is advisable to propose the following measures to reduce corruption and tax evasion in construction sector:

  1. Adoption of sustainable legislation.
  2. E-Government system development.
  3. Modernization of the electronic tender system to require no direct contacts between organizers and tender participants.
  4. Reduction of the possibilities of making payments in cash.
  5. Implementation of a price-quality ratio as one of the main criteria for choosing the winner of tenders.
  6. Introduction of ID cards for all employees and employers in the construction sector.

These and other measures are likely to significantly improve the business environment in the construction sector.


[1] Anderson, E. 2013. Municipal “Best Practices”: Preventing Fraud, Bribery and Corruption, International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy. Available on the Internet:http://icclr.law.ubc.ca/sites/icclr.law.ubc.ca/files/publications/pdfs/Municipal%20Best%20Practices%20-%20Preventing%20Fraud%2C%20Bribery%20and%20Corruption%20FINAL.pdf.

[2] Fazekas, M., Toth, I.J., King, L.P. 2013. Corruption manual for beginners: “Corruption techniques” in public procurement with examples from Hungary, Working Paper series: CRCB-WP/2013:01 Version 2.0, Budapest, Hungary. Available on the Internet: http://www.crcb.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Fazekas-Toth-King_Corruption-manual-for-beginners_v2_2013.pdf.

[3] Krasny, A. 2014. Georgia E-Government. Available on the Internet: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/ua/Documents/public-sector/e-government/Electronic%20government%20of%20Georgia.pdf.

[4] Luzgina, A. International experience of the e-Government System development/ A. Luzgina //Journal of the Belarusian State University. Economics. – Minsk, 2017. – P.76-83.

[5] Luzgina, A., Laukkanen E., Larjavaara I., Viavode I., Volberts J. ,Corporate engagement in fighting corruption and tax evasion in construction sector”, forthcoming in “Entrepreneurship and sustainability issues”

[6] Naumov, A. 2014. Georgia E-experience for Belarus. Available on the Internet: http://e-gov.by/best-practices/elektronnyj-opyt-gruzii-dlya-belarusi.

[7] Official website of Transparency International. Available on the Internet: https://www.transparency.org/.

[8] Official website of Belarusian National Statistical Committee. Available on the Internet: http://www.belstat.gov.by.

[9] Official website of the European Commission. Available on the Internet: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/index_en.

[10] On procurements of goods (works, services) [Electronic source] // Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus/ 20.10.2016 # 380. Rus.: О закупках товаров (работ, услуг) при строительстве, Указ Президента Республики Беларусь от 20.10.2016, №380. – Mode of access: http://www.pravo.by/document/?guid=3871&p0=P31600380.

[11] On public procurements of goods [Electronic source] // Law of the Republic of Belarus/ 13.07.2012, # 419-З. Rus.: О государственных закупках товаров, работ услуг Закон Республики Беларусь от 13 июля 2012 г. № 419-З. – Mode of access: http://www.pravo.by/document/?guid=3871&p0=h11200419&p1=2.

[12] On organization and conduct of the procurement of goods (works, services) procedures and settlements between customer and contractor in facilities construction [Electronic source] // Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus / 31.12.2014, # 88.: Rus: Об организации и проведении процедур закупок товаров (работ, услуг) и расчетах между заказчиком и подрядчиком при строительстве объектов, Постановление Совета Министров Республики Беларусь №88 от 31.12.2014. – Mode of access: http://www.pravo.by/document/?guid=3871&p0=C21400088.

[13] Putnis, J.T., Sauka, A. 2016. Shadow economy index for the Baltic countries 2009 – 2016. The Center for Sustainable Business at SSE Riga. – 47 p.

[14] Pelipas, I., Tochitskaya, I. 2016. Problems of corruption in the assessments of small and medium enterprises. Available on the Internet:

[15] Procurement in construction, what has been changed since January 1, 2017. Available on the Internet: http://www.mas.by/ru/news_ru/view/zakupki-v-stroitelstve-chto-izmenilos-s-1-janvarja-2017-goda-852/

[16] Preventing corruption in public procurements. 2016. OECD Publishing. Available on the Internet: http://www.oecd.org/gov/ethics/Corruption-in-Public-Procurement-Brochure.pdf.

[17] Briganti, F., Machalska, M., Steinmeyer, Heinz-Dietrich, Buelen, W. 2015. Social Identity cards in the European construction industry, edited by Buelen W. Available on the Internet: http://www.efbww.org/pdfs/EFBWW-FIEC%20report%20on%20social%20ID%20cards%20in%20the%20construction%20industry.pdf.

[18] Zaiats, D. 2015. The authorities will strengthen the fight against the shadow economy [Electronic resource]. – Mode of access: https://news.tut.by/economics/465337.html.

[19] On public procurement and repealing Directive 2004/18/EC [Electronic resource]// Directive 2014/24/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council / 26 Februay 2014.  – Mode of access: https://news.tut.by/economics/465337.html.

[20] On making amendments and alterations to Instruction on the procedure of conducting cash transactions and the procedure of the cash settlement in Belarusian rubles on the territory of the Republic of Belarus // Resolution of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus / 31.03.2014. #199. Rus: – О внесении дополнений и изменений в Инструкцию о порядке ведения кассовых операций и порядке расчетов наличными денежными средствами в белорусских рублях на территории Республики Беларусь. Mode of access: http://pravo.by/document/?guid=12551&p0=B21428983&p1=1&p5=0.

[21] Prozorro [Electronic source]. – Mode of access: https: //prozorro.gov.ua/en.

Too High or Too Low? The Pros and Cons of Regulating the Reserve Price in Public Procurement in Russia

Too High or Too Low FREE Policy Brief Image

In theory, an optimally set reserve price leads to an optimal outcome in all standard auctions. In reality, however, it is difficult to identify the optimal reserve price. In public procurement auctions, a higher reserve price may lead to a higher competition for the contract, because more suppliers will find the contract profitable. Thereby a higher reserve price may lead to lower prices. But on the other hand, if competition in the market is already quite low or the risk of collusion is high, a higher reserve price will just lead to higher contract prices. The controlling bodies in Russia become suspicious when the reserve price in public procurement auctions is too low because they are afraid it is a sign of collusion between the procurer and the seller. Indeed it may be the case that the reserve price is set low to exclude other sellers from competing, thus acting against efficiency. Using data on public procurement of gasoline in 11 Russian regions in 2011-2013, we show that a higher reserve price did not lead to lower contract prices, and that low competition in the private market was a major obstacle to efficiency.

Why is the reserve price important?

The reserve price is widely discussed in the auction and procurement literature. Standard auction theory says that an optimally set public reserve price results in the optimal outcome in all standard forms of auctions with risk-neutral agents and independent private values (Myerson, 1981). But practice is far from pure theory. The procurer does not have all information to set the optimal price and this leads to losses in social welfare (Klemperer, 2004; Dimitri et al, 2006).

There are several concerns for a practitioner here. First, there is the question of whether the reserve price should be known to everybody in advance (Dimitri et al, 2006; Brisset et al, 2015; Eklof&Lunander, 2003). Second, the reserve price influences the entry decision and competition for the contract (Klemperer, 2004; Krishna, 2009; Wang, 2016). Generally, a higher reserve price may lead to higher competition for the contract, because more suppliers will find that contract profitable, which may in turn lead to lower prices. But on the other hand, if there is a high probability of collusion in the market, a higher reserve price will just lead to higher contract prices due to coordinated behavior of the potential sellers (Wang, 2016). The procurer could use lower reserve prices to decrease gains from collusion (Krishna, 2009), but in a corrupt environment a lower reserve price is treated as an instrument to restrict entry for the favor of preferred bidders in exchange for bribe (Guide to Combating Corruption & Fraud in Development Projects).

Hence, there are various arguments for and against setting the reserve price in public procurement auctions higher rather than lower. We are interested in showing which of them hold true in practice, or in other words, do higher reserve prices lead to lower contract prices in public procurement auctions?

In Russian public procurement, the reserve price in an auction is set by the procurer and is visible to everybody. Moreover, before April 2011, procurers were free to set the reserve price, and they could easily set it unreasonably high, and then share the surplus with a seller. Starting from April 2011, procurers are obliged to prove that the reserve price is set at a reasonable level. In the explanations to the Law from Ministries of Economy and Finance, there are recommendations to set the reserve price higher rather than lower. Regulators are much more afraid of corruption than a high price of the contract.

Using data on public procurement of gasoline in 11 Russian regions in 2011-2013, we show that a higher reserve price did not lead to lower contract prices, and that low competition in the private market was a major obstacle to efficiency.

How does public procurement of gasoline work in Russia?

To make it clear how auctions in Russia are held, we will now present some details on Russian public procurement of gasoline.

First, the public procurement law is the same for all Russian regions. Second, the detailed information on public procurements – including calls for bids, chosen procedure, auction protocols, and supporting technical documentation – is published online at a unified website. If the reserve price is below 500000 rubles, public buyers of gasoline may choose between sealed-bid “paper” auctions and open-bid electronic auctions. If the reserve price is above 500000 rubles, they should use open electronic auctions.

To set the reserve price, a procurer may ask a few firms to provide estimates of an expected price of the contract at which they would agree to sign the contract. Alternatively, procurers may search for price information on the Internet or in other open sources on prices of goods and services (some gasoline stations publish its prices online, e.g.). The reserve price may then be calculated on the basis of these prices.

The procedures start when a procurer publishes the call for bids, stating basic characteristics of the contract and the reserve price. In sealed-bid auctions the bidders send their price quotations and the supporting documents. The bids are opened simultaneously, and the lowest bid (or the earliest bid in case where two or more equal prices are announced) wins. Open-bid auctions are conducted in two stages. By the first deadline all perspective bidders should provide a statement of interest, including the supporting documents and in some cases monetary deposits. Procurer may assess the statements of interest and exclude the firms that do not meet the basic requirements at the bidding stage. At the second stage, the preselected bidders show up at the auction and make descending open bids. The lowest bid wins the contract.

Data, empirical strategy, and results

To figure out whether higher reserve prices lead to lower contract prices in public procurement auctions, we used data on public procurement procedures available at a unified official public procurement website. In particular, we collected data on all public purchases of gasoline with octane number 92 at the regional level in 2011-2013 in 11 regions of Russia (1559 observations).

Among the characteristics of the procurement procedures, the most important are the number of bidders, the type of the procurement procedure (sealed-bid or open), and the characteristics of the contract (the volume and duration). We also take into account the number of price quotations the procurer uses to calculate the reserve price and some other characteristics of the purchase: the number of procurers in centralized purchase, the number of purchases of gasoline this procurer made in 2011-2013, and whether the procurer requested some special conditions from the seller (e.g., that the seller should have a network of gasoline stations).

The information allowed identifying:

  • Procurements with only one bidder;
  • Procurements with no or a very small price decrease as a result of the auction;
  • Procurements with a reserve price higher than the market price;
  • Procurements with a reserve price higher than the maximum of the price quotations.

Using these new variables, we test whether the probability that there is only one bidder (which is not what a regulating body would wish to see) correlates with auction characteristics and the fact that the reserve price is higher than the maximum of the price quotations (implying it is unreasonably and probably inefficiently high).

Table 1 Regression results

Probabilty Probabilty
VARIABLES One bidder Discount = 0
one bidder 1.074***
open auction 0.749*** -0.191*
(0.0973) (0.115)
volume 8.62e-06*** -3.03e-06
(2.51e-06) (1.96e-06)
duration 0.000828* 0.00209***
(0.000454) (0.000610)
number of price quotations -0.126*** 0.386***
(0.0436) (0.0539)
reserve price is higher than max of quotations -0.469*** 0.560***
(0.108) (0.136)
Constant -0.264** -0.694***
(0.126) (0.160)
Observations 931 932

Standard errors in parentheses

*** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1

We also test whether the probability that there is no price decrease during the auction (discount equals zero) correlates with the auction characteristics and the fact that the reserve price was higher than the maximum of the price quotations or just higher than the market price.

Table 1 shows that a higher reserve price does not lead to a higher competition, but leads to higher probability of the situation that there will be no price decrease at all. Hence, there is no evidence that setting the reserve price at a higher level will attract more bidders and result in lower contract prices.


Auctions are viewed as one of the best ways to achieve lower prices. But in reality there are many factors that make this questionable. In this policy brief, we focus on the regulation of the reserve prices in public procurement. Is it reasonable to recommend procurers to set high reserve prices? We look at a specific market with high entry barriers, and a relatively low number of suppliers active on the public procurement market. Such markets face high collusion risk.  We show that high prices do not attract more bidders and auctions with reserve prices set higher than all quotations end up with no price decreases during the auction. A big share of auctions (46% in our data set) in Russia is inconsistent (only one bidder comes to bid), and in such an environment high reserve prices can only increase government spending. It is more reasonable to follow the ideas mentioned by Krishna (2009) and use low reserve prices to decrease contract prices and, thus, gains of suppliers from colluding behavior, even if it happens. Our study shows that general recommendations that do not take into account market specifics could not help procurers achieve efficient results.


  • Krishna, Vijay. Auction theory. Academic press, 2009, ch.11.
  • Klemperer, Paul. “Auctions: Theory and Practice.” Princeton University Press, 2004, ch.1,3,4.
  • Dimitri, Nicola, Gustavo Piga, and Giancarlo Spagnolo, eds. Handbook of procurement. Cambridge University Press, 2006, ch.11.
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Expanding Leniency to Fight Collusion and Corruption

20161003 Giancarlo Spagnolo FREE Policy Brief Image

Leniency policies offering immunity to the first cartel member that blows the whistle and self-reports to the antitrust authority have become the main instrument in the fight against cartels around the world. In public procurement markets, however, bid-rigging schemes are often accompanied by corruption of public officials. In the absence of coordinated forms of leniency for unveiling corruption, a policy offering immunity from antitrust sanctions may not be sufficient to encourage wrongdoers to blow the whistle, as the leniency recipient will then be exposed to the risk of conviction for corruption. Explicitly introducing leniency policies for corruption, as has been recently done in Brazil and Mexico, is only a first step. To increase the effectiveness of leniency in multiple offense cases, we suggest, besides extending automatic leniency to individual criminal sanctions, the creation of a ‘one-stop-point’ enabling firms and individuals to report different crimes simultaneously and receive leniency for all of them at once if they are entitled to it.

Leniency provisions to fight corruption

It has been noted that leniency policies and other schemes that encourage whistleblowing — such as reward and protection policies — should work in the fight against corruption as it does in the fight against collusion (Spagnolo, 2004; Spagnolo 2008; Buccirossi and Spagnolo, 2006). Cartels, corruption, and many other types of multi-agent offenses depend on a certain level of trust among wrongdoers, which is precisely what leniency programs aim to undermine by offering incentives for criminals to betray their partners and cooperate with the authorities (Bigoni et al., 2015; Leslie, 2004).

Of course, for offenses not covered by antitrust law, such as corruption, relevant authorities may have their own ways of granting leniency and encourage reporting, such as plea bargaining, whistleblower reward programs, deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) and non-prosecution agreements (NPAs). On the other hand, some countries have recently introduced explicit leniency programs for corruption (for example, Brazil and Mexico). Yet, we observed that those instruments do not always cover all types of sanctions, are seldom integrated with antitrust leniency, and are often under the responsibility of multiple law enforcement agencies. Hence, improvements in the legal frameworks seem to still be necessary.

Leniency in a multi-offense scenario: the case of corruption cartels

Cartel offenses may be connected to other infringements. A particularly frequent and deleterious example of a multiple offense situation is the simultaneous occurrence of collusion (bid rigging) and corruption in public procurement (OECD, 2010). While cartels are estimated to raise prices by 20% or more above competitive levels (Connor, 2015; Froeb et al., 1993), corruption may add 5–25% to total contract values (EU, 2014; OECD, 2014b). Since public procurement is a market amounting to 13–20% of GDP in developed countries (OECD, 2011), it is clear that collusion and corruption represent a serious waste of public funds, negatively impacting the quality of public infrastructure and services provided by a state to its citizens.

Authorities face then two distinct, yet inter-related, challenges to guarantee the effectiveness of public procurement: ensuring integrity in the procurement process and promoting effective competition among suppliers (Anderson, 2010). Considering that success in deterring cartels and corruption depends largely on the incentives provided to infringers to self-report, the interaction between leniency provisions for cartels and the legal treatment of corruption adds a powerful new channel to the above-noted interdependence and thus should be — and already is — a concern to antitrust and anti-corruption authorities (OECD, 2014a).

A member of a corrupting cartel that blows the whistle on the cartel and applies for leniency to the antitrust authority will likely have to disclose information on the other infringement. Such information may then be used by the relevant law enforcement authority to prosecute and punish the applicant. Thus, the risk of prosecution for other cartel-connected offenses (corruption in this case) may reduce the attractiveness of reporting the cartel (Leslie, 2006). This kind of uncertainty works against the leniency policy’s deterrence goals and may even stabilize the cartel by providing its members with a credible threat to be used to prevent betrayal among them.

Existing leniency provisions for corrupting cartels

Antitrust leniency provisions are very similar worldwide, differing mainly in terms of whether cartels are only considered administrative infringements or are also criminally liable offenses. Where there is individual criminal liability, leniency programs should cover it. Surprisingly, Austria, France, German and Italy, where cartel, or at least bid rigging, is a criminal offense, do not follow this guideline. In these jurisdictions the co-operation of an individual with the antitrust authority during the administrative proceedings may be considered a mitigating circumstance, reducing imposed penalties or even allowing a discharge, but at the discretion of the court or the prosecution, which is likely to greatly reduce the propensity of wrongdoers to blow the whistle.

On the other hand, countries do not usually have specific leniency programs for corruption. Nonetheless, self-reporting and cooperation in bribery cases are usually given great importance by authorities and may lead to leniency and even immunity, through other mechanisms such as plea agreements, no-action letters, NPAs or DPAs, but those instruments rely on prosecutorial or judicial discretion. Brazil and Mexico do have formal leniency programs for corruption, providing more certainty and thus being more attractive to an applicant, although restricted to administrative liability. Individual corruption-related criminal provisions are laid down in each country’s criminal code and follow the recommendations made by the United Nations, in the 2003 Convention against Corruption, and by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, under its 1997 Convention against Corruption of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions.

Since enforcement authorities for collusion and corruption differ in most cases, such an arrangement demands that the infringer seek non-prosecution through at least two separate agreements, one with the antitrust authority and the other with the anti-corruption agency. The difficulty in coordinating such agreements is an obvious issue and will vary according to the number of authorities involved and to the proximity among them, that range from divisions of the same agency, in the case of the United States (Antitrust and Criminal Divisions of the Justice Department), to organizations from different government branches (Executive and Judiciary) in most jurisdictions.

In Brazil and the United States, antitrust leniency programs can provide protection for non-antitrust violations, committed in connection with an antitrust violation. While in Brazil, this provision does not currently include corruption infringements, in the United States it does, but only binds the Antitrust Division and not any other federal or state prosecuting agencies, i.e. leniency agreements may not prevent other authority from prosecuting the applicant for the non-antitrust violation.

How to improve the current legal framework

Countries should follow Brazil and Mexico’s example and create ex ante, non-relying on prosecutorial or judiciary discretion leniency programs for corruption infringements. Unlike these programs, leniency should also cover individuals, especially in terms of criminal liability for bid rigging and corruption. The protection from lawsuits for managers and directors could then become a primary incentive for them to blow the whistle on their and their companies’ illegal acts.

Additionally, it is advisable not to depend on collaboration between law enforcement groups, but to establish clear legal provisions to allow wrongdoers to report all illegal acts simultaneously and to be confident that they will escape sanctions upon co-operation with the authorities and presentation of evidence, i.e. the creation of a ‘one-stop point’.

This ‘one-stop point’ should be available for applicants at every law enforcement agency and must prevent other agencies from prosecuting the leniency applicant. In other words, when someone approaches—as an individual or as a representative of a legal person—any authority to report crimes he is involved in, it is important to allow him to report any other crimes that he knows about in exchange for lenient treatment. In order to prevent conflicts among agencies, the authority first contacted by the wrongdoer must be obliged to immediately involve any other one who may be competent over other possible reported infringements. The self-reporting wrongdoer must be reasonably certain that he will be granted leniency for all reported wrongdoings, provided that he fulfills the legal requirements for each infringement, obviously. Failing to report all known involvement in infringements may be a reason to reduce or even revoke leniency altogether, creating a penalty plus-like provision over different areas of law and a more powerful incentive to a thorough self-report.

Information about the possibility of reporting several illegal acts at the same time, and of obtaining leniency for each one, must be consistently disseminated to minimize detection and prosecution costs, as well as to contribute to the deterrence of future criminal behavior.

Finally, we note that companies and individuals from jurisdictions where leniency provisions for corruption are highly discretionary or non-existent would be less inclined to report cartel behavior abroad when bribing foreign public officials. Despite existing confidentiality rules on leniency programs, they might not want to risk being prosecuted for corruption at home. This would possibly block antitrust leniency agreements by removing the incentives to self-report, undermining the ability to catch international corrupting cartels. To prevent that, laws should be amended to allow leniency for a company or someone that self-reports abroad, and further coordination and collaboration between agencies from different countries would be necessary to avoid stabilizing criminal collusion and undermining the effectiveness of leniency programs.


The fight against cartels and bribery requires efforts on a national level as well as multilateral co-operation.

Creating leniency policies to fight corruption, including foreign, and coordinating them with antitrust leniency policies, emerges as an important priority. The absence of formal leniency programs for corruption, besides hindering anti-corruption enforcement, reduces wrongdoers’ incentives to blow the whistle and collaborate in corrupting cartel cases through the risk of criminal prosecution for the corruption offense. These programs must be carefully designed, however, to avoid opportunistic behavior and thus to achieve their goal of deterrence.

In order to increase the effectiveness of leniency programs in multiple offenses cases, we suggest the creation of a ‘one-stop point’, enabling firms and individuals to report different crimes simultaneously and obtain leniency, provided that they offer sufficient information and evidence for their partners in crime to be prosecuted.


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Buyer Heterogeneity in Public Procurement

Authors: Elena Paltseva and Giancarlo Spagnolo, SITE.

We show that different types of contracting authorities exhibit rather different behavior in public procurement. In particular, in Sweden strategic bunching below the EU threshold is only observed for a certain type of authorities. The identity of the strategically behaving group is also non-uniform across different types of procurement contracts or geographic localities. Similarly, in Italy’s public works procurement only a specific type of public buyer seems related to bunching below the threshold. This suggests that the type of public buyer, and associated differences in incentives and outcomes, should be taken into consideration in designing procurement regulation and more general policy-making.

Public Procurement Thresholds in Sweden

Authors: Elena Paltseva and Giancarlo Spagnolo, SITE.

We investigate the impact of procurement thresholds on strategic behavior of public buyers in Sweden. We document signs of “bunching” at the threshold, which suggests that strategic behavior in procurement is potentially important in Sweden, and should not be overlooked in the on-going public debate on the procurement thresholds. At the same time, data limitations do not allow us to access the impact of this strategic behavior on procurement outcomes and efficiency. This calls for better and more extensive procurement data collection.