The Principles on Commercial Transparency in Public Contracts

The Working Group on Commercial Transparency in Public Contracts
March 07, 2019

Summary of the Principles

Transparency by design: Transparency should be the norm for all government contracts, particularly regarding information on what is being exchanged and for what price. Contracting systems should be designed to support proactive publication of contracts as open data.

  1. Public contracting should be designed for transparency and efficiency.

  2. Full contract publication should be the norm.

  3. Information needed to judge value for money should be disclosed.

Exceptions in the public interest: Redactions on the basis of commercial sensitivity should only be justified where the public interest in withholding information is greater than the public interest in having that information published. The assessment should take into account both any commercial harm to the contractor and the broader benefits of transparency to markets and public trust.

Where exceptions to publication are considered:

  1. Information should only be redacted for reasons of commercial sensitivity when the public interest in withholding information is greater than the public interest in disclosure.

  2. The public interest test should take into account the wider economic benefits of the sharing of commercial information, as well as the case for accountability and the public’s right to know.

  3. All redactions should be clearly marked with the reason for redaction.

A clear and robust process: Governments should issue detailed guidance on commercial sensitivity principles and exemptions, put in place systems to support publication, ensure that redaction is time-limited, and use other oversight mechanisms to compensate for information withheld from publication.

  1. Governments should issue clear guidance to public entities, agencies, and firms on contract publication and when information may be exempted from publication for commercial sensitivity reasons.

  2. Where redaction is potentially allowed, there should be a clear process for determining what is redacted, why, for how long, and with what appeals process.

  3. There should be a system for ensuring that contracts and contract information are in fact disclosed in practice.

  4. Where exemption to disclosure of information is granted for commercial sensitivity reasons, this should be grounds for increased scrutiny through other oversight mechanisms.

For the full principles read the report.

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