Company Ownership Transparency: essential datasets to help fight corruption in procurement

This document addresses the current state of openness in procurement and company ownership data in the EU, and explains how the lack of transparency created an environment that allowed corruption to thrive during the pandemic. It then makes recommendations on implementation of transparency obligations, and on how to combine them effectively with procurement systems to allow for proper due diligence of suppliers to fight corruption.
The concept of transparency within procurement, company registers and beneficial ownership data is nothing new, rather civil society have been campaigning on this for years. Indeed, increasing transparency in these areas has also been at the forefront of the EU agenda: 

  • Procurement transparency - the 2014 EU Public Procurement Directives mandated more transparency in procumbent processes, through mandatory reporting and publications of above the threshold tenders; 
  • Beneficial ownership transparency - the Anti-Money Laundering Directive called for all Member States to establish publically available, centralised beneficial ownership registers for companies by January 2020, and;
  • Company registers transparency – the 2019 Open Data Directive defined company registers and ownership high value datasets, “documents the re-use of which is associated with important benefits for the society and economy”.  

Yet, while the initiative is being taken at the EU level, implementation at the member state level is lagging behind. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the subsequent corruption scandals within procurement that followed made evidently clear just how important transparency is in public procurement data in general, but also specifically in company ownership data (both company registers and beneficial ownership).

The response to the pandemic has also highlighted that the efforts to ensure transparency in both procurement and company ownership data are not only moving too slowly, but are not being combined effectively in order to fight corruption. Integrating open data on company ownership into our procurement systems would significantly reduce this risk of corruption, even in times of crisis. It is imperative that governments open these datasets in order to fight corruption, ensure the proper allocation of public money, and, ultimately, save lives.