Ecosystem of the digital procurement world (to steal less)
It is no secret that government purchases are sometimes not weakly abused. Sometimes billions of rubles. The term “steal” in this context is not quite applicable, rather, we are talking about various components of corruption. So, if we succeed in reducing the scale of these abuses by at least a quarter, then the Russian economy will make an unprecedented leap forward.
It is important that we can influence this situation with embezzlement in public procurement, and we have been influencing for almost 10 years.
The essence of the problem is this: the process of "paper" offline purchases is full of all sorts of bugs. Transparency complicates abuse processes. Electronic form adds transparency.
The whole story with the transition to the brave world of information technology began in 2007–2009, that is, given the scale of the process, quite recently.
The meaning of any tender is to create competition between suppliers. But predictably everything went a little out of plan.
There are two mutually exclusive ways to reduce violations and “theft”:
- Tightly control every purchase and every customer.
- Create a purchasing ecosystem in which to steal will be simply unprofitable.
It was along the path of creating a purchasing ecosystem that our country went after the tight control of every little thing about the economic plan of the USSR. The logic was very simple: if you give access to any participant to the procurement, then from the set N = 1 + K (with natural K → ∞) players there will be such a player N x who decides to win the tender at a price asymptotically tending to cost. Naturally, in reality, the number of participants is finite: on average, they are five to six per purchase. And the price of each such purchase conditionally includes some allowable profit, for which participants "fight" during electronic trading.
In fact, the distribution of orders needed by the state and state-owned companies is carried out at the lowest possible price and, importantly, with preservation of product quality only due to the fact that everyone who can supply such goods or services in the market knows that someone buys and buys a lot. The next question is which supplier will offer the best conditions.
And for the customer, the question of the correctness of the definition of product quality criteria, that is, in writing the technical assignment (TOR) for the purchase, remains extremely important.
Clash with the real world
In reality, problems arose almost everywhere: starting with the transfer of purchases to the digital world and the adjustment of legislation and ending with the involvement of suppliers for bidding. Yes, and just out of the blue were problems. Traditionally.
But gradually the situation began to be corrected, and now it looks noticeably better.
The main problem of purchases of "pre-digital" times, their closeness, was significantly solved. Then the main factor in corruption was procurement with one participant. The very fact of the tender was tried not to advertise: the idea of the customer was that he would receive something from a well-known supplier, and no one would “fit in” with this purchase (that is, you can not bother with very detailed TZ, and this is the hardest work by writing it somehow). And the idea of the supplier was that once he is participating in a tender, then it can be sold at a price without a discount.
The first trading in the digital world was, of course, not as smooth as it should have been originally intended.
At first it turned out that some suppliers, far from the digital procurement world, needed to make themselves an electronic digital signature (EDS, now it is called just an electronic signature - ED). If you have ever tried to explain to the director of a dairy plant, why do backup accounting, and met a look that was completely incomprehensible, now imagine what it was like to explain about the EA. And the process of obtaining an electronic signature was not the same as today, in two hours: it was a whole adventure in a few days with the signing of a ton of papers.
Then it turned out that serious changes are needed in the legislation and the rules for conducting purchases on electronic platforms.
For example, do you feel the difference between the words “pen” and “handle”? And she is. And the second word search is not found. There was a whole period when tenders hid in transliteration by keywords, plus other tricks were used, including various encoding possibilities.
There were problems with bots, we will tell about them separately. Sites of sites for procurement and information sites aggregators (this is the type of zakupki.gov.ru ) did not lie for a couple of minutes or hours, but sometimes for several days.
New schemes of conspiracy appeared, new mechanics of kamikaze companies that brought down tenders appeared. The fight of the shield and the sword continues to this day, but justice and sanity still prevail.
Of course, the lawmakers also brought us a lot of “pleasant” minutes with hotfixes 44-ФЗ (the law on public procurement), because of which, it happened, we had to spend the night in the office for weeks in time for the law to come into force.
At the moment, the situation is as follows:
- Purchases have become relatively clear: the law describes in detail all the algorithms for conducting purchases. The package of documents for participation in the tender can be collected in 5–6 days, even if you are planning to take part in public procurement for the first time in your life. And if at least some experience is already there, then it will be possible to prepare in 1-2 days.
- Electronic signature is issued in a couple of hours. It is installed automatically. That is, no dancing with a tambourine is required.
- An information environment has formed around the entire procurement sphere, which allows various public activists and controllers to track purchases with violations and raise public profile, simultaneously reporting them to law enforcement and control authorities.
Thus, an important achievement of this difficult 10-year work is the emergence of the opportunity to see, analyze and determine which purchase is competitive and which is not. Previously, it was impossible to do this: the whole situation was a kind of closed black box. The current system allows to study and evaluate all purchases with further improvement of all processes.
Naturally, in the process of setting up the system "howled" everything. It was painful, but necessary. The most difficult thing was to explain to customers that disrupting their purchases is not related to the fact that someone misinterprets their TK, and the problem is that TK must initially be normally written. About what are the vulnerabilities in this process, we also talk more separately.
After running the system on the “hardcore” 44-FZ, approximately the same thing was implemented in the “light” 223-FZ (on the procurement of companies with state participation). Why "light"? And because in 223-FZ, the procedures are described in less detail, and this allows companies in many ways to determine the rules of their purchases themselves.
The e-procurement system has been sharpened to the point that it really began to solve one of the most important tasks - procurement finally and irrevocably moved into the public information field, complicating the process of corruption abuses by opening up the system. How exactly - you can see for yourself at various posts of social activists and publications in the media. Abuse has become either less, or smarter, or in other places. The level of corruption has been declining, and this has become especially noticeable in recent years, when some officials realized that open and transparent procurement is part of their public relations.
However, the following difficulty arose. A customized open information system, which allows you to track all purchases, can become, for example, a free space for foreign intelligence. The fact is that the army buys weapons and ammunition at closed auctions (this is a separate type of auction that is not public, and there are not so many vulnerabilities because the producers of the necessary products in the country are well known and they are personally invited to participate in the procurement). But the army should buy toilet paper, stationery and other household items at public auction.
This means the following: no one seems to know the exact number of troops on this or that military base, but analysts can calculate it with fairly high accuracy by analyzing the volume of products purchased at public auction.
And now the adjusted system again demanded a tightening of procedural controls: it became necessary to establish control points and remove data at each stage. This leads to a decrease in the openness of the system and, consequently, to a decrease in the level of competition.
The approach of free competition is to put the Petri dish under sunlight, and let ultraviolet destroy the mold. The control approach is to take a sterile jar and store it in an airtight safe, but this approach makes it much harder for suppliers to purchase.
The example is very simple. Suppose the company "Pound and Sons" need to buy 10 laptops. A tender is announced with the correct TZ, a set of pre-installed software and other requirements are determined. The starting price is 110 thousand rubles, six suppliers submit bids in the range from 94 to 109 thousand. Wins the one who offered 94 thousand rubles.
In the ecosystem of free competition, we do not ask where it will take a laptop for 94 thousand rubles. The main thing is that it corresponds to the TZ. It is important for us that all possible suppliers come and one of them wins.
And in the ecosystem of tightened control over purchases, the supplier undertakes not only to deliver goods for 94 thousand rubles, but also to bring all the documents confirming its origin and all stages of pricing. For example, the following documents are necessary for control: where did you buy it, by whom and how did you deliver, the customs declaration, the calculation in the spirit of "a total of 82 thousand rubles plus an additional 12 thousand extras, and now - 94". The result - only professional players will participate in such auctions. So brokers get into purchases (professional participants). And this is an additional layer that reduces the efficiency of the purchase.
However, this does not mean that a professional supplier without competitors is better than two similar, but unprofessional ones.
Thus, an ecosystem of tightened control can lead to an increase in procurement inefficiency, that is, to a lower level of competition and a return to the “state plan”, where purchases will simply turn into a state function. But in a market economy, following the rules of which our country is developing, healthy competition is the only incentive for suppliers to develop the quality of their products. Make one - the rest will start to catch up.
In the procurement market you need easy access for participants. Purchasing is a matter of balance between openness and efficiency, so not just a state function is needed, but a system with fair competition.
We are working to make it a little better.