Access to Public Procurement Database in Georgia Remains a Problem
Public procurement database in Georgia is still unavailable in a machine-readable format. Even 10 years after the system was digitized, stakeholders do not have easy and direct access to aggregated procurement data. The Government of Georgia and the State Procurement Agency must show political will and allocate necessary resources to fully open the public procurement system and make sure that the information held within is accessible in an open data format.
What is implied by the “full opening” of information? The Georgian procurement system is completely electronic and transparent, is it not? While this is largely true, the fact is that the existing system shows information only about individual procurements and it is impossible to acquire any kind of general statistics or aggregated data from it. This, in turn, is an enormous obstacle for the interested parties working on public procurement issues, as they have no access to aggregate procurement data and cannot use it for civic, academic or commercial purposes.
Why is access to procurement information in open data format important?
Access to procurement information in open data format is extremely important both for the general development of the procurement system as well as for reducing the risks of corruption:
Public sector – access to public procurement information in open data format will benefit procurers who will be able to easily track and assess their procurement, identify problems and set quantifiable goals. Open data access to procurement information would also facilitate data processing by the State Procurement Agency itself.
Private sector – the private sector will be able to use open data to set up new commercial services involving procurement, for example - business analytics services, which will stimulate the interest of businesses towards public procurement.
Civil society – civil society will be able to easily obtain and analyse aggregate data, evaluate the performance of procuring entities and identify systemic problems in the public procurement system. Also, civil society will be able use open data to create procurement monitoring mechanisms (for example - red flag systems), which will simplify the identification of possible corruption or other kinds of violations.
The electronic procurement system was created in Georgia in 2010 and, at the time, it was unprecedented in the world in terms of its transparency and automatization, which increased efficiency and decreased corruption risks.
Since then, digital procurement systems have gained popularity throughout the world. It took the form of a global movement and better systems have since appeared, for example - the public procurement system in Ukraine. Georgia has failed to keep developing its own system at such a pace as to maintain its leading position in the global arena.
Open data visualization website - vod.spa.ge
The State Procurement Agency has committed to publishing procurement information in an open data format several years ago under various international reform formats. However, the goal remains unattained – the complete procurement database in a machine-readable format is not available.
The open data visualisation website – vod.spa.ge – was the most recent unsuccessful attempt (see Image #1). The website was created in 2019. Given its functions, the launch of such a website would bring about the final opening of the public procurement system, which would have taken the entire system to the next level. However, the website was presented to a modest audience and, for the time being, seems to have been abandoned.
Image 1 – Public procurement open data visualisation website – vod.spa.ge
The open data visualisation website vod.spa.ge, unlike the public procurement website, has two main functions:
1. Download of aggregate data in a machine-readable format, without which it is virtually impossible to efficiently process procurement data.
As an example: the official public procurement website allows the user to find detailed information about each individual tender announced by a procuring entity. However, it is impossible to quickly and efficiently extract information about, for example, how much the same procuring entity spent in total in 2019, or what was the average number of bidders participating in its tenders during the same period. It is impossible to obtain this kind of aggregate information automatically, and doing this manually is unrealistic since hundreds or thousands of entries would need to be summed up manually.
2. API (application programming interface) – which allows to establish a programmatic link to the website and create various (commercial or non-commercial) services using procurement data. Adding an API to the electronic public procurement system is considered best practice. This kind of system was introduced in Ukraine and is today considered to be one of the best in the world since it brought about unprecedented possibilities for business services and monitoring.
Problems concerning vod.spa.ge
The website vod.spa.ge, the way it exists at the moment, cannot provide for open and full access to procurement data, more specifically: real-time access to aggregate and structured data in a machine-readable format. To achieve this goal, the following problems need to be addressed:
The data are not updated in real-time – the database on the website has not been updated since August 2019. Updates must occur in real-time (rather than periodically), at least once a day. Without this, the platform becomes useless for certain uses, such as the creation of supporting business services.
The website does not contain the complete procurement database – vod.spa.ge does not contain the database of simplified procurements, which constitutes approximately one-third of the total amount spent on procurement. Consolidated tenders are not on the website either. All kinds of procurement generated by the unified electronic system must be reflected on the open data website.
Technical problems – the website does not have the https certificate, which restricts access to it. The open data website needs to receive all the necessary technical services in order to ensure that it works smoothly.
No one knows about the website – the website has not been presented to the public since its creation (by the World Bank team) in the summer of 2019; no events to raise awareness about it were ever held; the State Procurement Agency did not even mention the website in its 2019 annual report.
There is no plan for the future of the website – the State Procurement Agency must elaborate and carry out a plan of development of the open data website. It is possible to add information fields (for example, geographic locations of procurements) which would create new possibilities for processing, sorting, accesses, and visualization of data.
Position of the State Procurement Agency
We asked the State Procurement Agency for comment on this topic. According to the official position of this agency:
"Ensuring the improvement, efficiency and transparency of Georgian public procurement data, procedures, tools or other business processes remains a priority of our agency. Currently, due to limited resources, our attention and resources are focused on fulfilling the commitments made under the AA / DCFTA [Georgia EU Association Agreement] and the technical implementation of relevant legislative changes within the procurement system.
As for Open Data / OCDS [Open Contracting Data Standard], we continue to work with our international and local partners. We hope to launch a new initiative in the near future… " 
Transparency International Georgia calls on the Government of Georgia to demonstrate its political will to increase access to public procurement information, and the State Procurement Agency to allocate necessary resources to ensure that the full public procurement database is available in the open data format in the nearest future.
 Communication between Transparency International Georgia and the State Procurement Agency via e-mail, September 11, 2020.