By our reporter
In a 69 page report, a group of consultants have applied international standards to determine the most compliant Procurement & Disposal Entities (PDEs) in Uganda when it comes to adhering to corporate governance practices such as transparency, accountability, openness and citizens’ participation while planning and implementing large public infrastructure projects. With the active acquiescence of Works and Transport Minister Gen Katumba Wamala, CoST (which works with states, CSOs and private sector) to globally assess governments’ transparency during planning & implementation of public infrastructure projects embarked on the task to assess the same among Ugandan PDEs. It was the first time Uganda was being assessed by CoST which closely works with UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) in its activities. When CoST expressed interest in assessing the Ugandan PDEs, Katumba saw it as an opportunity to enhance transparency and citizens’ participation in these projects because its the only way to ensure value for taxpayers money. And in Uganda’s case, inquiring into public procurement decisions and management of the resultant contracting is of extreme importance because the government of Gen YK Museveni has lately been spending a fortune. World Bank and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) literature which this newspaper reviewed indicates that 55% of Uganda’s budget is directed to invest into public infrastructure projects. And at the end of the day, an average of 33% of the GoU’s actual expenditure is expended on the same public infrastructure projects. This shows the extent to which the NRM government prioritizes investment into public infrastructure projects. To Gen Katumba Wamala, this justifies the keenness that is visible in the 69 page report the CoST consultants (Michael Cengkuru, Joshua Allan Okuja, Derrick Muzoora, Samuel Mutongole, Olive Kabatwairwe, David Zamora, Evelyn Hernandez and Gilbert Sendugwa) have authored on Uganda.
Having reflected on four broad areas of (i) enabling environment (e.g. relevant laws & regulations being in place), (ii) capabilities of the PDEs’ employees to understand their statutory duties relating to the need to operate transparently, (iii) citizens participation and (iv) deliberate disclosure of information relating to mega public infrastructure projects being undertaken, the CoST consultants inquired into 30 PDEs and a total of 60 public infrastructure projects that were being implemented during the assessment period.
Let’s briefly define each of these four dimensions. Citizens’ participation is being used here to mean the availability of opportunities for citizens to freely and actively participate in the planning and implementation of public infrastructure projects as required by the Constitution and also under the provisions of the Access to Information Act and the attendant regulations. The consultants also reflected on the extent to which citizens are made aware that they can use that information once obtained to engage and influence the making of public infrastructure-related decisions.
Capability is being used to imply ability by the employees or staff of the different PDEs to understand and appreciate the mandatory obligations and duties imposed on them by the relevant legal framework to generously disclose and share information with citizens relating to the public infrastructure projects being implemented. And “information disclosure” is being used to refer to the amount of information deliberately disclosed by the PDE relating to planning, implementation and other stages of the public infrastructure project. The relevant laws, whose timely enactment enabled Uganda to score 41% on the “enabling environment-related assessment,” require that such information is generously availed through the GoU Procurement Portal (GPP) and the respective websites of the different PDEs. The same legal framework permits interested citizens to write to the PDE demanding to be promptly availed with information that may not be disclosed already. The citizen doesn’t have to disclose the reasons why he or she wants that information.
The Infrastructure Transparency Index (ITI) surveying period by the CoST consultants lasted 88 days partly because of the Covid19 lockdown-related restrictions and in some cases because the public officers the accounting officers had assigned to work with the consultants were generally hostile and unwilling to disclose information. The report, which recommends incentivizing of those PDEs who fully comply and sanctioning of the non-compliant ones, indicates that in a lot of cases, the PDEs staffers refused to respond to questions (sent through email) ostensibly because they didn’t see how they would benefit from sharing such information. That many employees (more than 80%) weren’t even aware of the disclosure obligations imposed by statute.
Specifically on page 41, the report shows that 20 of the 30 PDEs that had been written to officially by Katumba’s Ministry, imploring them to participate in the survey, didn’t respond to the emailed questions at all promoting the CoST consultants to depend on online sources of information such as the government Procurement Portal, media reports and PDEs’ websites which in most cases are not updated and therefore contain very old information.
This refusal to respond and cooperate with the consultants remained even after several phone call reminders and postponement of the survey closure deadline thrice. It’s an attitude the report authors implore the GoU to severely punish if the country is to improve its rankings at the subsequent ITI assessments. Only 6 PDEs gave complete responses and the remaining 4 (to make the total of 30 PDEs) responded with inconsistent data (different from what is disclosed on their websites or govt Procurement Portal) and uncategorized data which the consultants in their report describe as “complex to comprehend.”
The 30 PDEs that were indexed were carefully selected to cover or represent 5 broad sectors namely Education, Gender Labor & Social Development; public sector management, local economic development plus Works and Transport which registered the highest average score (24.4%) on all the indicators as Education trailed with an average score of 7.3%.
Besides celebrating the likes of KCCA and UNRA, which were ranked best, Gen Katumba Wamala (the CoST Uganda Champion) implores the rest of the rest of the GoU PDEs to prioritize peer-learning from KCCA and others that are already doing well to amplify service delivery for the citizens of Uganda. The Minister also references the fact that in the latest CoST ITI ranking, Uganda overall scored 41.4% on the “enabling environment” indicator; 18.4% on information disclosure; 13.8% on citizens participation and 13.5% on institutional capacities & processes. The district/Municipality-based local government PDEs performed even worse in all these indicators, something Gen Katumba says must worry everyone.
Gen Katumba, whose Ministry provides stewardship for all CoST programs and activities in Uganda, says the report must be used to identify gaps and the bad areas which must be urgently tackled for better outcomes at the subsequent CoST ITI rankings for the country. He welcomes the CoST ITI index as an intervention that is capable of complimenting what the country had achieved through the “Assurance Reports” his Ministry issues annually focusing on the same thing. Gen Katumba wonders why some PDEs could exhibit hostile attitudes aimed at frustrating consultants yet their/consultants’ work was endorsed and commissioned by the GoU (through his Ministry) to effect the country’s first ever “Infrastructure Transparency Index.”
Overall, Dorothy Kisaka’s KCCA was ranked the best and most compliant PDE with an overall score of 62%. This implies that its employees were found to be compliant when it comes to availing citizens information relating to any public infrastructure projects under implementation. KCCA staffers also scored highly on citizens’ participation in their public infrastructure projects implying that any citizen seeking to know anything about a project can readily obtain the information solicited the same being provided for under both the Constitution and the Access to Information Act. Next was Allen Kagina’s UNRA which scored 58% on all indicators: followed by OPM which scored 48%.
The worst performer was Deputy Speaker Anita Among’s native Bukedea District LG (2%), Betty Amongin’s Gender Ministry (3.1%), Makerere University (10.2%), Judith Nabakooba’s Lands Ministry (12.1%), Parliament of Uganda (13.2%), Mbale District LG (13.2%) and others as illustrated on our list.