Open Contracting Initiative in Uganda reflect trends of improvement in the public disclosure process.
In every country, nearly everyone will know or have experienced a contract which has either not been executed properly or citizens have lost money due to collusion, corruption, delays, cost escalation or conflicts. Open contracting seeks to promote value for money in public contracting through citizens’ access to information and participation through monitoring of contracts.
A recent scoping study on Open Contracting in Uganda conducted by AFIC with the support of Hivos shows that the country has a robust legal and institutional environment enabling the implementation of open contracting initiatives. A set of legislative instruments provide a substantial framework in regard to a public disclosure which is an absolute pre-requisite to transparency and accountability throughout the procurement cycle. The Government of Uganda and its leadership has committed to prioritising this issue as a means to reduce mismanagement, waste, corruption and to enhance value for money in public contracts and services.
President Museveni recently declared his current term of his presidency “Hakuna Muchezo”- no jokes in reference to his determination to ensure government projects deliver to citizens’ expectations while at the same time addressing corruption. A number of government institutions like Ministry of Finance, Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA), Ministry of Local Government, Directorate of Ethics and Integrity, and Office of the Prime Minister have embraced important elements of open contracting through proactive disclosure procurement information and openly speaking in favour of open contracts.
PPDA in particular, has taken major step towards open contracting by prioritising promotion of citizen monitoring of public contracts and establishing the Government Procurement Portal (GPP) where agencies publish procurement and disposal of public assets information. This is consistent with Articles 38 and 41 of the Constitution which guarantee citizens right to information and participation respectively. Inspite of a strong legal and policy environment that provides for obligations and guarantees regarding citizen access to information and public disclosure of data procurement, Global Integrity findings for Uganda in 2015 reveals gaps between commitment and implementation, rating both rights effectiveness at 25 over 100 in the practice. This is partly because emphasis has been placed on transparency by and not as much on stimulating authentic participation.
The Open Contracting Partnership (OCP) has developed important tools and methodologies to strengthen multi-stakeholder engagement to resolve common challenges in a constructive manner. The Open ContractingGlobal Principles in particular, provides framework for a positive policy and legal environment for open contracting. On the other hand, theOpen Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) provides guidance what data exists at different stages of the contracting process how this data should be published.
AFIC and its members in collaboration with OCP promote open contracting initiatives in Africa. The focus has been on advocating for an appropriate policy environment, research, capacity building and building alliances between the demand and supply sides of open contracting. Consequently African countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Corte d’Ivoire, Sierra Leone and Tunisia have through respective Open Government Partnership National Action Plans or anticorruption Summit declarations committed to implement open contracting. This is tremendous progress as compared to the year 2015 when no African country had an open contracting commitment.
In Uganda, AFIC engaged several procuring entities in regard to the compliance with their disclosure obligations. It has signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) with three district local governments and with PPDA to strengthen access to public information and enable citizens to monitor public expenditures and services. AFIC has also trained public servants and CSOs on ATI to enhance the implementation of the legal framework and promote citizens demand for information and accountability health, education, agriculture and social protection. These efforts address challenges earlier experienced with access to contract information as well as poor functioning of social services.
In September 2016, AFIC engaged PPDA on the need to strengthen open contracting by aligning GPP to OCDS. This was in follow-up to AFIC’s preliminary mapping of GPP which found a number of positive areas but also gaps such as missing data, inconsistence of data secured from GPP and directly from procurement entities and lack of unique identifier for the whole procurement process for individual contracts.
In a later communication from PPDA Compliance Manager, it was confirmed that these recommendations were being addressed. It was then agreed that AFIC undertakes a full mapping of GPP based on OCDS and provide a comprehensive report for discussion and action. During discussions with PPDA Director Capacity Building & Advisory Services, Mr Moses Ojambo it was agreed that collaboration on training community monitors could be explored since PPDA has guidelines and expertise on procurement laws and regulations while AFIC and its partners have a network of community monitors in districts.
Moreover in the Strategy and Roadmap for the Implementation of e-Government Procurement in Uganda, 2014, the Government of Uganda has identified e-procurement as an essential element in e-transactions, having a role both in accelerating the transition of the Ugandan economy to an information society; and contributing to the attainment of the Government objective of modernizing the public service through the development of new, innovative and more efficient procurement processes. Government objective of modernising the public service through the development of new, innovative and more efficient procurement processes shows an evolution towards the possibility to introduce OCDS into the e-procurement framework and the advantage that citizens and other stakeholders could draw from such initiative.
These efforts and commitments by Uganda illustrate a trend for improvement on open contracting and provide for new opportunities to strengthen the public disclosure process. If these initiatives and commitments were to be fully implemented, it would result in a significant progress towards better procurement outcomes and services.
Open contracting does not limit itself to improve public disclosure but extends to public participation and engagement as well as holding entities accountable. It relies on a constructive environment between government, private sector and civil society to ensure that there is trust amongst them. These efforts will increase performance and value for money in public procurement. PPDA has made significant commitments to its current strategic plan to "promote civil society monitoring of contracts" and has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) in this regard.
In order to foster such partnerships, public participation mechanisms in public affairs also need to be strengthened. For instance, internal and external institutional oversights should be more inclusive such as to favour exchange of information with the public. Another type of partnership could be induced in a consultative instance such as Baraza. This initiative offers opportunities for citizens and government to exchange information, identify public issues and remedies.
In December 2016, AFIC and other stakeholders will share their various experiences on open contracting and discuss ways in which disclosure and participation in public contracting could be improved. Participants will be introduced to and oriented to Open Contracting data Standards and experiences in their applications with a view of development of strategies to boost open contracting in Uganda.
The Uganda Bureau of StatisticsAct 1998; the Public Procurement and Disposal of Pubic Assets Act 2003; the National Information Technology Authority Act of 2009; Local Government Act 2010; Access to Information Act in 2005; and its related Access to Information Regulation in 2011.