Public procurement represents a substantial part of Costa Rica’s economy. For example, Costa Rica’s public procurement budget reached ¢5,265,857 million in 2017, equivalent to 15.5% of GDP, even though the budget allocations that make up public purchases historically have not presented satisfactory levels of execution: on average during the 2010-2015 period, only 57.1% of the budget was executed.
The main legislation related to public procurement has been in place since 1996 - the Law on Administrative Procurement, along with its corresponding Regulation which was approved in 2006. This law has received a number of modifications, clarifications and improvements through the years, and it’s complemented by a series of regulations and directives that deal wholly or in part with the procurement system. It must be noted that there are certain public enterprises, like the telecommunications and insurance institutes, that have their own regulations regarding their public procurement, and while these regulations must be in line with the principles of the Law on Administrative Procurement, certain aspects of their procedures are different.
In general terms, the legislative framework related to public procurement in Costa Rica stands out particularly for its upholding of the principles and values of Transparency, Efficiency, and Competitiveness and Impartiality. This has a lot to do with the relatively comprehensive nature of the legislation (even though it has gaps in some areas) and its explicit requirement for public institutions to comply with a number of best practices (such as equal treatment between bidders, sanctions for corruption, right to review for all parties, detailed information for bidders in the notices of intended procurement, etc), along with multiple efforts in recent years to regulate and implement a single unified digital system for public procurement.
The legislation stipulates that all procurement procedures must be fulfilled digitally through an online portal, named SICOP and which is free for the general public to use, and that any and all documents and information related to the procedures must also be uploaded to the portal. The legislation also stipulates that all these documents must be presented in open and interoperable formats in order to ensure their neutrality, equal access and integrity.
Nevertheless, there’s an important gap between what’s written in the legislation and what’s actually being implemented in this area: according to a recent report by the office of the Comptroller General, of September 13th 2017, the date by which according to the law all procurement activity should have migrated to SICOP, only 35.8% of the public institutions were using the system. There are important steps being taken currently to include more procedures and public institutions in the portal, but at the moment at least 30% of the public institutions still don’t use SICOP.
A comprehensive analysis of the Costa Rica’s existing public procurement system, prepared by ACCESA based on the legal evaluation using the TPPR methodology, including the overall results, the strengths and challenges of the system, gaps between the legislation and practice, and recommendations on how to improve certain key areas, can be found here.
August 2019 saw Costa Rica take an important step in improving its public procurement system. The Comptroller General’s Office with the support of several deputies presented a bill that comprehensively reforms the existing Administrative Contracting Law.
Public Procurement Legislation available at the following – link.
Public Procurement Portal of Costa Rica – link.