Posted by & filed under Brazil.

This is a guest blog post by Andrew Simms analyst and campaigner at our coalition partner Global Witness. If you believe public contracts should be open contracts, sign our petition and let world leaders know. This article first appeared on Global Witness’s website.


Symbolism doesn’t get much better than this – thousands of homeless Brazilians set up camp outside São Paolo’s stadium as it prepares for the opening game of the most expensive World Cup ever.

Brazil’s World Cup stadiums have become monuments to broken promises – largely publicly-funded (contrary to government assurances), colossally expensive (around four times over-budget on average, with allegations of overpricing abounding), and some fated to become post-Cup white elephants because their host cities can’t sustain them.

A who’s who of World Cup infrastructure sheds light on a paradox in Brazil’s development model. A major investor in its stadiums was the biggest bank most people haven’t heard of – the country’s national development bank (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES)), a majority public-funded bank whose mandate involves ‘promoting socio-environmental sustainability and reducing inequalities.’

These goals sit uncomfortably alongside the World Cup’s potential legacy.

Take the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre, for example, built by Brazil’s second largest construction company, Andrade Gutierrez (which Associated Press says increased its political donations 500-fold in Brazil’s most recent elections). The cost of building Beira Rio went more than 150% over budget, and 80% of total costs were carried by the BNDES.

Andrade Gutierrez also built Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadium, along with engineering firm Via Engenharia. A seat in that stadium cost three times what an average stadium seat cost in South Africa and Germany for the last two World Cups.

The BNDES is a major player in Brazil and parts of Latin America and Africa, with a bigger investment portfolio even than the World Bank’s. In 2012 around a quarter of the bank’s funds came from Brazil’s Worker’s Assistance Fund and just over half from the National Treasury. As much as 70 percent of the bank’s expenditure meanwhile goes to ‘big companies’ whose gross annual revenue exceeds US$ 135 million.

Global Witness has three major concerns about the BNDES:

  1. Choice of investment partners

Senior officials from six World Cup contractors – Construcap, Galvão, Mendes Júnior, OAS, Odebrecht and Via Engenharia – are currently on trial for alleged illicit enrichment through the construction of key infrastructure at ten Brazilian airports between 2003 and 2006 – infrastructure that will bring millions of visitors to World Cup venues. Dozens of representatives stand accused of being part of a criminal association with officials at Infraero, a government-owned company that operates Brazil’s key airports.

Together they are charged with illicit enrichment that Brazil’s Public Attorney claims resulted in over US$ 440 million in public money being diverted. Investigators say that price inflation occurred on such a scale that at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas Airport alone the footbridges used by passengers to board planes were overpriced by 190%, amounting to US$ 2.6 million lost to Brazilian taxpayers.

This case first came to court in 2011. Three years later there have been no convictions. The accused deny the charges.

  1. Lack of transparency

While some ad hoc data is available on the volumes of money that BNDES invests in certain companies, the bank’s transparency tends to end there.

BNDES does not publish details of its loans to private entities inside or outside Brazil, claiming exemption to freedom of information requests on the basis of banking secrecy.

In the absence of publicly available information on BNDES’ rationale for financing certain companies over others, or the objectives or results of the projects it is funding, citizens are unable to scrutinise what their taxes are spent on.

BNDES investments in public institutions continue to be audited by public officials, but those in companies are not. This seems inconsistent considering that the BNDES is a federal public company under the supervision of the Ministry of Development, Industry and Trade.

  1. Social and environmental footprint

The BNDES lacks effective environmental and social safeguards to guide its investment choices or monitor their impact. This is evidenced by the fact that the bank is the majority funder of an infrastructure boom in the Amazon basin region, home to the world’s largest rainforest. Globally we are losing forests at a rate of fifty football pitches a minute.

One particularly controversial BNDES-backed project is the Belo Monte Dam, being built on one of the Amazon’s major tributaries. It is anticipated that the dam will result in the destruction of an area of over 1,500 square kilometres of rainforest, the forced displacement of between 20,000 and 40,000 people, and untold impacts on local livelihoods and eco-systems.

The economic viability of the dam has also been called into question, with industry analysts claiming that due to the challenges of building a project of this size in the Amazon total costs could easily exceed government predictions by US$ 5 billion.

The camp for homeless families outside São Paolo’s stadium has been nicknamed ‘The People’s Cup’ and is a stark reminder to World Cup visitors that Brazil’s booming economy remains elusive in much of the country.

Brazil’s month-long football revelries will likely distract from the real winners and losers of the 2014 World Cup, but the tournament offers critical insights into Brazil’s development trajectory – embodied in a bank that facilitates the cosy relationship between business and politics, lacks accountability back to its tax-payer donors, and finances projects that may undermine rather than further sustainable development.


Posted by & filed under Hungary.

This post originally appeared on the Open Knowledge blog.

kmonitorlogoThe Hungarian government has started to target transparency and humanitarian NGOs.

The political climate in Hungary has been deteriorating sharply since the re-election of the government led by Viktor Orban. The latest indication of a harsher political environment is the harassment of humanitarian and transparency NGOs. The Hungarian government accuses the targeted NGOs to be connection to the opposition and to be under foreign influence on the basis that the NGOs in question received funds from the Norwegian civil society fund. Among the organisations are transparency NGOs, such as K-Monitor and Atlatszo – documenting and investigating corruption cases in Hungary. Open Knowledge maintains close contact and collaborations with K-Monitor including but not limited to the Stop Secret Contracts campaign and the School of Data.

Open Knowledge stands in solidarity with Hungarian civil society and NGOs. The selection and intimidation towards NGOs that act to increase transparency of the government is damaging to civil society and a healthy democracy. Independent civil society organisations are a key to hold up the checks and balances necessary in a democratic state. We urge the Hungarian government to stop the targeted harassment of NGOs immediately.

K-Monitor’s work on investigating corruption is important and aligned with many Open Knowledge activities around transparency, accountability, and anti-corruption. Open government information combined with an enabling environment for civil society is vital for accountability. Open information about public finances, budgets, spending and contracts is important and helps citizens understand what their government does. Among others K-Monitor collects public procurement data to help citizens understand what their government spends their money on.

If you are interested in this topic, join our global campaign to stop secret government contracting and secure critical open information to support NGOs like K-monitor in their work. (K-Monitor is a member of the  coalition.)

Posted by & filed under Nigeria.

This post originally appeared on the Open Knowledge blog and is authored by Sam Leon, a School of Data fellow at Global Witness.

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Royal Dutch Shell and the Italian oil company, Eni, have been implicated in a secret oil deal that enriched the former Nigerian oil minister to a staggering degree, and lost the Nigerian state $1.1 billion that could have been spent on vital and much needed services. As shareholders and investors gather today at Shell’s Annual General Meeting, they would be wise to consider whether Shell’s choices are those of a responsible company and whether such activity is good for business.

Global Witness, an anti-corruption NGO, first uncovered the story in 2012. It involves the sale of one of West Africa’s biggest oil blocks, OPL 245, to Shell and Eni via an anonymous shell company that is now known to have been controlled by the former Nigerian oil minister, Dan Etete. Etete had awarded himself the lucrative block while oil minister.

Authorities in the UK, Italy and Nigeria are now investigating the deal and the the Nigerian House of Representatives is threatening cancellation of the contract for the block, potentially costing Shell 447m barrels of oil. However, the original secrecy around the deal has severely limited the ability of law enforcement and civil society to hold those at fault to account.

In collaboration with Global Witness, we produced an infographic that tries to capture the vast sums involved by illustrating what the money could have been spent on. Nigeria has one of the worst records on maternal mortality in the world and their are over 5.5 million girls currently out of school. The money from the oil deal could have been used to train many thousands more midwives and help give 1.7 million out-of-school girls a primary education.

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Stories like this one are all too common. Individuals and corporations using a veil of secrecy to enrich themselves at the expense of the many. This must stop. If you too believe this is wrong, sign up to our #StopSecretContracts campaign and send a message to governments and corporations worldwide that contracts must be made in the open. For more information on the full story of oil block OPL 245 and to see the full infographic on where the money could have gone, go to

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Posted by & filed under EU.

The following post is by Friedrich Lindenberg (and on Twitter), originally posted here.

What is the next European dataset that investigative journalists should look at? Back in 2012 at the DataHarvest conference, Brigitte, investigative superstar from FarmSubsidy and co-host of the conference, had a clear answer: let’s open up TED (Tenders Electronic Daily). TED is the EU’s shared procurement mechanism, and is at the heart of the EU contracting process. Opening it up would shine a light on the key questions of who receives public money, and what they receive it for.

Her suggestion triggered a two-year project, OpenTED, which, as of last week, has finally matured into a useful resource for journalists and researchers. While gaps remain, we hope it will now start to be used by journalists, NGOs, analysts and citizens to get information on everything from large scale trends to local municipal developments.

The current OpenTED web site, providing easy access to European tenders and contract awards data.


TED collects tender notices for large public projects so that companies from all EU countries can bid on those contracts. For journalists, there are many exciting questions such a database would be able to answer: What major projects are being announced? Who is winning the contracts for these projects, and is that decision made prudently and impartially? Who are the biggest suppliers in a particular country or industry?

The OpenTED project, started by Anders Pedersen and Joost Cassee, was initially born as an attempt to scrape the official TED web site. Soon, however, this first version of OpenTED was faced with a number of practical problems: the data was impossible for journalists to use without an interface, and the stuff was so messy that even Sunlight Foundation’s finance data genius Kaitlin Devine couldn’t help us pull apart the errors. To make things worse, in June 2013 the EU Publications Office updated the TED web site to make bulk scraping impossible – leaving us without a way to update the data.

We were out of options. To answer our questions, we were going to need to look at the database directly – not just at the website provided by the EU Publications Office.

Scraping with words

We decided to take a radical step for a bunch of nerds: talk to the EU. Speaking to the Publication Office’s unit lead, we were surprised to learn that they were already in the process of changing their licensing regime: while access to machine-readable data had been sold to re-users in the past, the plan was to make the data freely available in January 2014. Thanks, Neelie!

So, in early January, I pinged @EUTenders on Twitter, asking what happened to the publication plan. Expecting some sort of rejection, I was surprised to promptly receive a direct message with credentials for their raw data file server. The site offered DVD images for download, with XML dumps of TED’s data since 2011 – this was exactly what we were looking for.

Building a community

As DataHarvest 2014 approached, we decided to make an updated version of OpenTED, offering slices of the newly opened data in an accessible format (CSV) and in small portions, divided by country and year, so that journalists without database skills would be able to grab the data and explore it in a spreadsheet application.

Hack day at DataHarvest 2014, coders and journalists from across Europe explore EU procurement data.

The resulting discussion focussed on the quality and completeness of the data. Many pieces of essential information are missing – including many contract values and supplier names. Additionally, the existing data is very messy, particularly when it comes to clearly identifying the public body and economic operator involved in a contract.

What now?

In many ways, the next step is up to the journalists who attended DataHarvest. We have, I think, created a rich resource for them to use in investigations and have set up a network of technologists that are ready to support analysis of the data. However, while we now have access to contract metadata – the recipient, amount and topic of EU contracts, it became clear during the workshop that in order to answer the in-depth questions journalists want to ask, access to the actual contract documents, detailing the terms and precise scope of the agreements our governments make on our behalf, is required. For this, we need to insist in greater contracting transparency and tell our governments to Stop Secret Contracts.

Oh, and I’d love to know more about that 700 trillion Euro building they’re constructing in Galway…


The data & tools:

Some code:

Posted by & filed under Engage.

Do you have a story of fraud, waste, or corruption where you live? Is there a so called public contract that could help shine light on that story but is hidden in secrecy. Let us know at [email protected]

We’ll collect and share your stories back here. By working together we amplify our voices, are better able to raise awareness about the prevalence of and damage caused by secret contracting all across the world and become more effective by sharing tactics and experiences with peers from across the globe.

Thank you for sharing your stories with us.