Government moving all its purchases
to an online site
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff
One after another Costa Rican ministries, institutes and other agencies
are turning over their purchasing procedures to the Sistema Mer-Link,
an online project that is supposed to inject transparency into
The system would appear to be a boon for vendors both in Costa Rica
and elsewhere. U.S. firms, for example, have certain rights to offer
goods and services under the free trade treaty with the United States
and Central America.
Costa Rica is following in the steps of other Latin countries, like
México, Brazil and Chile in putting government purchases online
and open to anyone who wants to watch.
The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad announced that it would
eliminate its list of vendors March 7 in favor of the data base
maintained by Mer-Link. The Instituto Costarricense de Turismo said
last week that it would direct all its purchases through Mer-Link,
which has the formal name of Sistema de Compras Públicas
en Línea Mercado.
Until now, a vendor who sought to do business with a government agency
would have to register with that agency. That meant a series of
repetitive filings, and even then there was a chance that the company
would miss out on a lucrative deal because it did not happen to be
registered with the agency seeking the product or service.
Now all the bid offerings are listed online and can be seen all over
the world. A quick check of the principal Web page shows that the
Costarricense de Turismo is seeking office supplies, including paper,
plastic covers, a whiteboard and transparency sheets for an overhead
projector. This will be a direct contract in which the complexities are
held to a minimum. The institute also seeks a refrigerator. All
products are described in great detail.
But one has to dig deep to get all the information. The various
products and services are listed by code numbers, and vendors can list
the services or goods that they offer. Mer-Link promises an email or a
telephone call when items are sought that match the products
have said they offer. Each solicitation for goods or services also
contains the name of a contact person at the agency or Mer-Link for
All of this information was available previously, but not in a
concentrated form. Agencies used to advertise their needs in the la
Gaceta official newspaper, but it was clear that sales representatives
who had established a relationship with the agency got the lion's share
of the deals.
With the electronic system, a firm in Iowa or an expat in Pérez
would have the same opportunity to respond to a bid invitation at a
firm in San José. However, agencies still will require sales
explain exactly what they need. The personal touch still is needed to
Mer-Link is a place where the digital signature comes in handy. When
the Gobierno Digital program announced the creation of such signatures
in 2005, the emphasis was on electronically signing legal documents
from afar. But Mer-Link requires a vendor to have a digital signature
for full access into the system and to submit bids. The digital
signature is nothing more than an encoded card unique to the users and
a small card reader that plugs into a computer.
Mer-Link promises a reduction in cost for state agencies, a savings in
time, transparency and greater competitivity among vendors.
The Mer-Link offices are in San José above the Mas x Menos
on the Autopista General Cañas just west of Parque la Sabana.