State's e-marketplace draws mixed reviews

THE INTERIOR Ministry has revealed the first results of its €3.5-milion e-marketplace project to save money and help tackle corruption. Since tests were launched in July, 34 trades have taken place, saving the state about €21,000. While the ministry talks success, watchdog groups remain sceptical.

First online trades took place.First online trades took place. (Source: TASR)

THE INTERIOR Ministry has revealed the first results of its €3.5-milion e-marketplace project to save money and help tackle corruption. Since tests were launched in July, 34 trades have taken place, saving the state about €21,000. While the ministry talks success, watchdog groups remain sceptical.

“It becomes apparent that this project will be ground-breaking for Slovakia,” Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák told the press on November 3, as quoted by the Sme daily.

The new system is designed for offices, municipalities and state firms to purchase common goods and services, with the commercial operation planned to start as of the beginning of 2015. The price range of sales is between €1,000 and €134,000 for state, though the others have a higher cap at €207,000. In the case of construction projects, like changing windows or installing floors, prices are capped at €5.2 million.

Thus far, the bids have totalled €161,000. The list of closed deals includes the Comenius University in Bratislava, which bought alpha radiation counters, the village of Hontianske Moravce (Banská Bystrica Region), which bought services like cutting tree branches and repairing a local road, but also the Interior Ministry which ordered 500 small Slovak and European Union flags that will be used during Slovakia’s presidency of the European Council, the TASR newswire wrote.

“This anti-corruption tool has saved public finances €20,954 over the first weeks, which equals 11 percent of the total original cost,” Kaliňák said, as quoted by TASR.

Kaliňák touts the system’s transparency, anonymity and efficiency. Moreover, nobody can interfere with the auction, which diminishes the possibilities to speculate on or influence the competition. The state is also protected from various cartel agreements, Kaliňák added, as reported by the SITA newswire.

“We are becoming the enemies of all speculators in public tenders,” said Prime Minister Robert Fico, who joined Kaliňák at the press conference, as quoted by TASR.

Peter Kunder of ethics watchdog Fair-Play Alliance (AFP) is, however, critical, saying that the number of materialised trades should be much higher, especially if dozens of thousands of trades are expected to be done during commercial operation.

Moreover, two of the trades include requests for a concrete brand which is otherwise prohibited in public procurement laws.

“Theses trades have been successfully materialised, which obviously proves that the quarantine mechanism designed by the Interior Ministry does not function,” Kunder told The Slovak Spectator.

Not user-friendly

The e-marketplace system works similarly to e-Bay. The state and the municipalities publish their demands on the Electronic Contractual System (EKS) website and the system sends emails to all registered suppliers with tender conditions. Then, firms publish the price they want for their goods or services and compete with other bidders for the lowest price.

Suppliers need only to fill in identification information, contacts, and choose the sectors in which they want to receive notices on running tenders. Registration is free, but suppliers willing to compete have to be registered on the list of entrepreneurs run by the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO), which costs €66.

In total 1,482 suppliers and 1,008 customers have registered on the EKS website so far.

Gabriel Šípoš, head of the ethics watchdog Transparency International Slovensko, considers the e-marketplace a good idea for small purchases.

“What still needs to be done is the public control of the trades,” Šípoš told The Slovak Spectator, adding there is no real possibility to get complex information about the trade in the form of open data, which is a precondition for effective public control.

Kunder, however, considers the whole system “user unfriendly”, and can hardly imagine how it will allow for effective public control. For example, it is not possible to see the contracted price of the trade on the list of materialised auctions. When users want to see the details, they need to download a PDF document. Moreover, it is not possible to set the specific period when using the search tool, he said.

Though the users cannot “overlook the self-praise of the Interior Ministry over the anti-corruption effect of e-marketplace”, Kunder says instructions on how to report possible violations of the law are missing.

“We live in the age when on every decent discussion website there is a button with which the user can alert the administrator if somebody uses vulgarisms or does not discuss to the point,” Kunder continued. “But it is not possible to notify about violating the law that takes place directly on the website belonging to the Interior Ministry.”

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