It was on July 10, 2019 when the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) was invited by the World Bank Country Office in Uganda to its special Matooke Lunch. The matooke lunch is a very competitive meeting space to which the Bank selectively invites institutions and individuals with topical issues that are of interest to the Bank. AFIC was honored to be invited to this space to share its feedback and lessons learnt from its Enhancing Transparency and Performance of Social Service Contracts project; a project that has been implemented with support from the World Bank’s Global Partnership on Social Accountability (GPSA). In attendance of this meeting were the Bank’s country office representatives and Technical Team Leaders from the governance, health, education and agriculture thematic areas and the office Country Manager.
Gilbert, the Executive Director of AFIC in his presentation shared issues rising from the contracts monitoring exercise of the project. These included; Limited disclosure of information to the public, high risk of collusion, high possibility of fraud, discrepancy in information, failure to meet schedules, fraud, high diversion of funds, use of none competitive methods, non-compliance with contractual obligations to list but a few. He further noted that project has registered impact that is observed through; increased citizen participation in contract processes, 26% of the recommendations have been adopted, increased capacity for the use of data in open contracting. The project attributes its realization of success to, feedback meetings, constructive engagements and one on one meetings, used advocacy and IEC materials and media engagements on social accountability and contracts monitoring. However, emphasis was made that despite the increased disclosure in information, this is mostly by the local governments, a different case with the procuring entities at the central government yet they hold the largest procurements.
A general discussion ensued thereafter as the Country Manager called for members to address themselves to their role as third parties they can play – strategic involvement and thinking value for money for the citizens. In his discussion, the Country Manager asked the members present to why should the Bank continue to work with partners that are not disclosing information which is one of the elements that enable citizen’s participation in development. This was after the presentation that highlighted that the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries had not disclosed contracts information to AFIC for four years despite the efforts to access the information and the existing legal frameworks.
The meeting recognized that procurement processes are part of the bigger issues currently and need to be looked at more broadly. Rogers from the Bank pointed out that PPDA is very far from the majority of Ugandans and recommended that there is need to create a bigger base for the community where they are in control of these issues. He asked AFIC to share succinct views of the opportunities of disclosure at the community level where their participation can easily be felt.
Collusion was one of the high risks identified by AFIC and the Bank acknowledged the issue. The Bank went onto share how they have managed to deal with it given that it’s a very high risk and difficult vise to detect. They currently have a policy that requires collective procurement processes. For example, under the USMID project all beneficiary municipalities are required to merge and prequalify service providers together in sets of more than 3 entities. This helps to control conflict of interest by politicians and public officials who could have had interest and influenced the process. They further noted that the results emerging from this approach are very promising and realizing value for money from it.
In general, AFIC was commended for the good work done and pledged support to influence other development partners implement recommendations that were presented.