Curbing Corruption in Pandemic Spending

July 28, 2021

Between March and September 2020, emergency COVID-19 procurement in Kazakhstan amounted to nearly $1 billion. As the crisis deepened and citizens across the country became increasingly dependent on state healthcare, so too did activists begin to question the effectiveness of public health spending. Eurasia Foundation’s Social Innovation in Central Asia program supported Kazakhstani citizens to independently monitor government spending, advocate for improved emergency procurement procedures, and champion the public interest during the COVID-19 crisis.

In the Mangystau region of Kazakhstan, as the pandemic dragged on, citizens recognized a dearth of critical medical supplies, including life-saving drugs and medical equipment. With support from Eurasia Foundation, members of the Mangystau Oblast Civil Alliance undertook a six-month public spending watchdog campaign. E-procurement specialists trained citizens across Mangystau region in effective public procurement monitoring. Using open data available through Kazakhstan’s public e-procurement system, combined with a government-supplied filter for COVID-19-related contracts, citizens of Mangystau analyzed high risk, potentially corrupt tenders. The project revealed dubious purchases of various medical devices, including fans and personal hygiene items, by regional agencies.

One trainee, Khanshaiym Kuspanova, focused on public spending on a Mangystau agricultural stabilization fund. The fund provided financial assistance to farmers to stabilize regional food prices during the crisis. However, Khanshaiym’s analysis revealed that the prices of staple foods in Mangystau skyrocketed during the pandemic, growing at the fastest rate nationwide. The agricultural stabilization fund had failed to contain food prices, suggesting it had not been applied effectively. Khanshaiym also revealed that purchases related to the fund were carried out in violation of the rules of public procurement—that is, they lacked technical specifications or proof of work performed—but were accepted and paid in full.

Based on the results of these investigations, the Mangystau Oblast Civil Alliance prepared a series of recommendations for local authorities, who have opened multiple investigations into the suspect procurements.

For more stories from Eurasia Foundation’s 2020 Annual Report: A Year Like No Other, click here.