BASE
Institute for Construction and Real Estate

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The Portuguese Public Contracts Code was published in January 2008 and entered into force late in July 2008. This Code has brought about a number of changes and innovations aimed at solving a lot of problems with the rationalisation of expenditure in Public Administration as regards the procurement process, the value creation and the definition of sustainable strategies. One of the biggest problems Portugal had been facing until that moment was the lack of transparency in procurement procedures, their proven inefficiency (excessive red tape) as well as a permanent climate of suspicion, which has led to a widespread conviction of corruption or mismanagement and damaged the country’s image both internally and externally. Therefore, the new legal framework was designed to introduce mechanisms of information transparency and corruption prevention and avoid the mismanagement of public expenditure in everything relating to the procurement of goods, services and public works. In fact, procurement in Portugal was largely carried out through restricted procedures (not subject to competition), where the public administration bodies themselves complained about the lack of mechanisms to speed-up procedures. There was also a widespread conviction that “the State buys as it wishes and, as a rule, it buys badly”, leading to a permanent mistrust among the citizens and ultimately to a feeling of helplessness in view of the fact that it was almost impossible to penetrate the “meshes” of the public entities in order to find out what was really happening. Besides the citizens’ perspective, there was also a somewhat ludicrous problem: the State itself, and in particular the Government, had no way of obtaining specific and reliable data on the purchasing processes as regards the categories and values of public contracts. In fact, there was a lack of information for the Government to be able to examine the conduct on the part of the Public Administration, devise strategies and build an evidence-based public procurement policy. Such a situation has greatly undermined the Portuguese State’s capability not only to report to external entities but also to collect reliable data on its internal accounting. In order to solve these problems, the Portuguese Public Contracts Code provided for the creation of the Public Contracts Portal (named “BASE Portal”) whose configuration had the virtue of being designed for the sake of both the transparency and the architecture of a complex information system aimed at bringing public management up to a level of greater effectiveness, efficiency and quality. Before the Public Contracts Portal was put in place, the only existing control over public procurement expenditure consisted in the audits performed by the Court of Auditors’ supervisory services. Therefore, citizens did not know how the State spent their tax money, it was not possible to make public entities really accountable for the management of public money, and the only control over the contracts concluded by public or private entities was performed by those involved in the purchasing process.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The solution to these problems was found by the Portuguese Government. When transposing into national law the European Directives 2004/17/EC and 2004/18/EC (both of the European Parliament and the Council, as amended by Directive 2005/51/EC of the Commission of 7 September 2005 and corrected by Directive 2005/75/EC of the European Parliament and of the Commission of 16 November 2005), the Portuguese Government decided to make substantial changes to pre-contractual procedures by providing an open and universal access web platform where the citizens could see the main aspects of contracts through. This technological platform (the official public contracts portal or BASE Portal) was regulated by the Public Contracts Code (PPC) itself and is now a key piece in the monitoring and control of contracts concluded by the different public and private entities covered by the PPC. The BASE Portal is a unique platform and Portugal pioneered in the European Union the launch of such a public portal that is nowadays singled out by the European Commission as a success history. The BASE Portal has become an outstanding accountability tool for the management of public expenditure by the State, as well as the central repository of all the information on purchasing procedures carried out through electronic platforms (used in SaaS model) and subsequently submitted through the BASE Portal. The BASE Portal is undoubtedly a main achievement of the model provided for in the Public Contracts Code, as it enabled the State to examine the implementation of the legislation and reflect on how public money is spent and, most importantly, it helped to consider how the system could be improved. Another key feature of the new system was the reduction of occurrence of errors thanks to the interoperability between different systems, namely between the Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda (the Portuguese Mint, which publishes the notices), the electronic procurement platforms (through which the pre-contractual procedures are carried out) and the BASE Portal. Besides the concerns over transparency and stakeholder accountability in the purchasing process, the wish to go further has led to the implementation of mechanisms to control and monitor the procurement processes, by introducing binding conditions in the registration and publication processes. In the case of closed procedures (the so-called direct awards), if the resulting contracts are not publicized on the Portal, the contracting authority cannot proceed with payment. Open competitive procedures are no longer subject to this requirement to become effective, because their main steps must be the object of a notice that is automatically sent to the system. The information provided on the BASE Portal concerns: -The pre-contractual procedure, -The contract data, with their respective supporting documents, -The performance and completion of the contract (namely for changes of more than 15% of the price, showing any differences between the values and/or deadlines provided for in the contract and the actual ones as well as their justification). The Portal has helped the Portuguese State to solve a serious transparency problem as regards the management and implementation of the public budget, as well as data centralization and standardization, by providing nowadays a privileged position for the analysis of public expenditure. This solution is part of a wider context where Portugal was a pioneer by making mandatory the use of electronic procurement in all the stages of contract formation from 1 November 2009 onwards. This strategic decision placed Portugal ahead of the other Member States of the European Union in the area of electronic public procurement.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
The BASE Portal is available at www.base.gov.pt. It is the accountability tool of the Portuguese State and the central repository of information on public procurement since August 2008. This web Portal is unique among the Member States of the European Union and even in the world, because of the role it plays as a window through which the citizen/taxpayer can see what public entities do purchase, who they invite to tender, to whom they buy and for what price. All the transactions of the pre-contractual phase are performed through an electronic platform (no longer in paper) and are automatically transmitted to the BASE Portal by web services, thus making this Portal one of the most effective and efficient systems that ensures interoperability among approximately 8,000 contracting entities. Portugal is, therefore, the only country in Europe to provide daily information on public contracts and their performance without any access restrictions.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The BASE Portal was implemented in two distinct phases, which also represented two distinct technological solutions: - BASE 1 - from August 2008 to December 2011 - BASE 2 - from January 2012 to date. The implementation of BASE 1 was very eventful at the different levels: design, execution and utilization. Many difficulties have arisen as a result of the following situations: - The system hat to be implemented within a short period of time because of the publication of decree orders and the requirement for the effectiveness of contracts concluded by direct award. - The system architecture was not built in collaboration with the different entities with which it interacts. - The implemented system is the technological materialization of a reality that is also very recent (the new procurement system), this being the most relevant factor for the difficulties experienced. A new structure has been built to address an equally new reality. And, as in any other completely new process, we have learned along the way not only from the mistakes that have been made but also from the feedback from the users and the public at large. In 2010, the Portal’s managing body decided to develop a new technological solution but this time with the involvement of the main stakeholders from the outset. To that end, the development of BASE 2 - from its design to its entry into production - was based on a governance model previously defined and coordinated by the managing body. This fundamental difference from BASE 1 to BASE 2 was crucial for the system to be accepted and successful, mostly in terms of interoperability of the data produced and exchanged between the various instruments that shaped BASE 2. It was, therefore, a much more consensual system among the different operators and users. Now, a new version of the Portal’s public component (the BASE 2.1) is being prepared, including important improvements in terms of graphics and usability. A success factor eventually crucial to the system longevity and growth was the team openness to criticism and the acceptance of imperfections as an integral part of the process. Another success factor was, in our opinion, the fact that the system was based on “open data” models, thus enabling the export of data to Excel files and their exploitation by the different system users. Besides the direct export made available on the website, the Portal is also connected to the “open data” Government portal (www.dados.gov.pt), which manages the files that gather all the updated information. This Portal tool is presently used by a wide variety of users, namely universities and research groups, supervision and inspection bodies and, last but not least, by the media that brought to the public procurement system a very tight control over the political assurance of the regularity of financial operations and the correctness of contracts

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The BASE Portal is a system of the Portuguese Public Administration that was developed by the Institute for Construction and Real Estate (InCI), and automatically receives information from the national official journal (Diário da República Eletrónico) and from the seven electronic platforms operating in the Portuguese market. On the other hand, the BASE Portal is an information source for the State auditing bodies (such as the Inspectorate-General of Finance - IGF, the sectoral inspectorates and the Court of Auditors), the State senior and middle management, the various users and the public in general (namely the media). The BASE Portal is the central repository of information on public procurement and is the basis for the annual statistical reports to the European Commission in compliance with the reporting obligations provided for in the Public Contracts Code. A wide variety of public and private entities took part in the development of BASE 2, namely: -7 electronic procurement platforms (certified in the Portuguese market), -Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda - INCM (the Portuguese Mint, which is responsible for publishing in the official journal all the notices required by law), -Inspectorate-General of Finance - IGF, -Court of Auditors, -Entidade de Serviços Partilhados da Administração Pública, I.P. - ESPAP (a body of public administration shared services that manages the National Public Purchasing System), -Agência da Administração Pública - AMA (Administrative Modernisation Agency, which manages the interoperability platform for Public Administration), -Centro de Gestão da Rede Informática do Governo - CEGER (the management centre for the Government computer network that certifies the security of electronic platforms), -Instituto Nacional de Estatística – INE, or Statistics Portugal (which produces statistical information at the national level), -Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil – LNEC (National Laboratory for Civil Engineering, a building research institution).
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
As a rule, public entities don’t have enough own resources to develop applications for more demanding projects and, therefore, the development of the BASE Portal has been outsourced although under the coordination of the Public Administration. In fact, the development of the system was committed to private partners for its two phases and, in the final solution, consideration was given to the connection to R&D and the selected partner was an institution devoted to innovative and unique projects, with links to universities. The project has been managed by the InCI from the outset, as this institution had also played a decisive role in the drafting of the Public Contracts Code. On the one hand, it was possible to develop the project with no burden on the Portuguese State budget, and on the other hand, the adopted solution made unnecessary the use of Community funds. Therefore, the whole project has been financed by the InCI, since its budget includes own revenues from the regulation of the construction and real estate sectors that were partly allocated to this initiative. It is thus not unimportant the fact that the BASE Portal has a subsystem dedicated to data from public procurement procedures relating to public works contracts (the Observatório de Obras Públicas – OOP – or Public Works Observatory). This system was crucial in changing the contracting entities’ behaviour as regards public works contracts. The traditional occurrence of differences in values, works and deadlines during the execution stage was so frequent that the ordinary citizen envisaged this sector as a typical example of public fund mismanagement by the State. Now that this registration subsystem is in operation and the main elements of public works contracts concluded and their respective amendments (if any) as regards the actually implemented prices, works and dates are broadly publicized, there is a retraction in assuming differences that may be regarded as excessive. That publicity had a disciplinary impact on contracting entities from the moment they felt the influence of public scrutiny in their actions related to this type of contracts.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Broadly speaking, the main advantages of implementing an electronic public procurement system as the BASE Portal are as follows: At the level of contract formation (pre-contractual phase): -Use of technological means instead of data processing handbooks; -Elimination of paper, with an immediate impact on the environment; -Minimisation of the occurrence of clerical errors; -Interoperability between distinct technological systems; -Information standardization; -Greater effectiveness, efficiency and quality in procurement procedures. At the level of the contract itself: -Transparency in the contracts concluded by the State; -Centralization of information on public contracts in a single tool. At the level of contract performance: -Greater control over payments; -Greater control over contractual changes (more or less work than expected, reduction or extension of contracts). At the level of reporting obligations -Improved data quality; -Use of technological means instead of data processing handbooks; -Minimisation of the occurrence of clerical errors; -Information standardisation; -Greater effectiveness, efficiency and quality in analysis and reporting processes. At the level of accountability -State accountability tool; -Higher accountability by the State agents. At the level of strategic management -Assurance of data reliability; -Strategic analysis of procedures and contracts; -Control over public expenditure; -Publicity; -Transparency. Summing up, one could say that this tool enables any citizen/taxpayer to exercise his right of citizenship on an informed basis. It even enables any citizen/voter to analyse on an individual basis the conduct of the different governments in terms of political strategic options. The Portuguese official portal for public contracts (BASE Portal) is therefore a very useful and necessary tool for any country and is undoubtedly a system that can be exported to anywhere in the world.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
In order to monitor the implementation of the system and assess the developed activities, an annual report is drafted on public procurement in Portugal, having as its only source the data entered into the information system of the BASE Portal. Thanks to that annual report, it is possible to analyze the purchasing processes and their implementation as well as assess the evolution of the information registration in the system. Whenever any data registration shows a different behaviour from what should be expected, the contracting entities shall receive circular letters that work both as a guiding tool and a warning system concerning less correct aspects, compliance with legal deadlines or fundamental steps of the purchasing process. Regular workshops are also organized with contracting entities, which enable not only to dispel any doubts and provide guidance on the information registration process and the system operation, but also and above all provide the system managing body (InCI) with feedback on the services provided as a result of the system becoming operational. Finally, there is a governance model associated to the system management, consisting of several levels of competences. This model monitors the development of the BASE Portal and allows for the monitoring of the system in terms of strategic development, as it incorporates the input from the different institutions that play an active role within the public procurement system in Portugal.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The main problems encountered throughout the development of the system can be grouped into two types according to their nature: - Resistance to change; - Technical conditions of the process. The first group includes the initial difficulties for the contracting entities to accept that all the contracts would be publicly available on a web Portal. This is a substantial change with respect to the time before the Portal was created, when there was no way for the economic operators to be unrestrictedly informed about State purchasing and for the citizens in general to be able to monitor the execution of expenditure to which they contribute with their tax money. In fact, during the first years of operation of the system, the contracting entities have sent lots of communications invoking difficulties in filling in the forms, raising doubts as to the reasonableness of the procedures and questioning the legal legitimacy of the system. As regards the second group, i.e. the technical conditions of the process, it was very difficult to perform tests with all the stakeholders, because the level of linkage and automatism between entities made full testing unaffordable. This situation, in turn, involved some risk when deploying new features. It should also be noted that the processes of data migration between distinct technological solutions were quite complex and time-consuming because it was necessary to substantially change the model of the data that should migrate to the BASE Portal.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The BASE Portal has had a significant impact both nationally and internationally. At the national level, it was possible to discuss for the first time in Portugal, in a wide range of forums and on the basis of official and specific data, the issue of public spending as regards procurement. Many purchasing processes have made the news on television and in newspapers, obliging the politicians and managers to justify their actions publicly. The auditing and supervising bodies for public procurement have seen their work become easier, since they also started to survey the data entered into the BASE Portal as a basis for preparing their actions. People have become aware of the possibility of monitoring the actions of the State and nowadays the contracting entities are much more careful when conducting purchasing processes and even when planning future actions, since any citizen can scrutinize them. A no less significant advantage is the interoperability between systems, where there has been a significant evolution in the linkage between systems, an achievement that at the beginning nobody would envisage as possible. The BASE Portal has been an instrument of progress and development of interoperability according to the European standards, and Portugal was one of the first countries to use the common structure (promoted by the Agência para a Modernização Administrativa, or “Adminstrative Modernization Agency”). With respect to contracts concluded under framework agreements, the reception of data from the Entidade de Serviços Partilhados da Administração Publica (ESPAP – the body of public administration shared services) has been implemented (beyond what was originally envisaged), which represents an optimization of the system and prevents duplicate data entries. An extension of the interoperability mechanisms to two further public institutions (to AMA for the purchase of ICT goods and services and to ESPAP for the purchase of services) is now foreseen for the exchange of information on prior opinions related to the purchasing process. This will bring huge benefits to the administrative procedures in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, by reducing the response time and improving data reliability, as these latter are no longer manually entered into the system. At the international level, there is a clear impact from the system, which has been considered as a good practice as regards public expenditure monitoring and control. The European Commission has highlighted this instrument as a reference and the Portal is visited by several international institutions that are following, also through this means, some of the policies the Portuguese Government has been implementing. There is also a strong demand for the system by institutions operating in the areas of higher education, research and development that use its data for a wide variety of analyses, given the difficulties in finding an exhaustive and reliable public repository with online data since August 2008 (it should be highlighted that these data are freely available and are not subject to any restriction or to the payment of any access fee). To conclude, the impact of the BASE Portal can be gauged from the InCI’s annual reports on public procurement, from the specific impact studies that have been requested, from the clear evidence (shown in published data) in the behaviour of the contracting entities that meanwhile have become more disciplined in the conduction and execution of purchasing processes, from the number of published articles on the system and its data and finally from the increasing number of requests for interoperability between the system and the products from other institutions.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
As mentioned in point 6, the Instituto da Construção e do Imobiliário (InCI) has been ensuring the management, development and funding of the system. As for the funding of the project, the present solution shall be maintained, supported by the InCI’s budget that is only made up of own resources. The Portuguese Government is not expected to adopt legislation with significant changes to the use or development of the system, excepting those changes that promote the increase of its use and development, or any changes resulting from any amendments to the Public Contracts Code (following the amendments to EU directives on public procurement). The system has been highlighted in the European Commission as a benchmark in the area of public procurement and some countries are starting to implement a new legal framework designed for the adoption of similar systems. In fact, some informal contacts have been established aimed at identifying the replication costs and conditions of this solution. The BASE Portal is a key element of the electronic procurement model in Portugal, as the electronic platforms are private-owned and the contracting entities purchase their services. The BASE Portal’s supporting system can be replicated in other countries/states/regions, if properly adapted to the interoperability of the electronic platforms operating in those places regardless of their private or public status. In the case of the European Commission, and considering a more simplified version, the BASE Portal can be regarded as a high level solution that would enable the centralization of information on public procurement from the Member States, which currently use Excel files to report that information. This is a universal and scalable concept, and the technical issues must necessarily be always adaptable to each reality until universal standards are promoted.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The main achievements of the BASE project can be seen in four major areas: Behavioural change: The transparency that is inherent in the whole purchasing process entailed a behavioural change among the agents as well as in the decision-making process and in the monitoring of the implementation and of the payments relating to the purchasing processes, as a result of the publication of the key elements of the contracts. Obviously, this fact entailed an increased accountability for the agents in the procurement process, both internally in the services where they perform their duties and externally among the general public. Public procurement regulation: The BASE Portal in now a fundamental tool for carrying out the regulation work of public contracts /markets as it enables the analysis and study of the data as well as a previously inexistent capacity to read them, which for the first time allows for the definition of strategies based on reliable and actual data. Public contracts repository: For the first time in Portugal, it was possible for the State to make available a central and comprehensive repository of public contracts, which is essential to any Public Administration and enables the definition of both market and strategic development policies. Public expenditure monitoring: In Portugal, the data entered in the BASE Portal play a key role in the development of public expenditure monitoring policies. The implementation of the BASE Portal has greatly enhanced the Central Government’s capability to act and respond to the different agents from both the direct and indirect public administration. At this moment, and bearing in mind how far we have come, it is particularly relevant to look at the future, where the next steps foreseen for the development of the project are as follows: 1)Legal reinforcement of training for public procurement agents and authorities; 2)Development of interoperability among the multiple purchasing-related systems; 3)Implementation of electronic platforms and regulation of their operation; 4)Enhancement of the electronic automatisms during contract performance.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Institute for Construction and Real Estate
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Fernando Silva
Title:   Mr. President  
Telephone/ Fax:   351217946700
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   conselho.diretivo@inci.pt  
Address:   Av. Júlio Dinis,11
Postal Code:   1069–010
City:   Lisbon
State/Province:   Lisbon
Country:  

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