Access to information is one of the keys to democracy. When people seek and receive public documents, they can use them as critical tools for fighting corruption. Citizens equipped with information can exercise their fundamental human rights by participating in the demand for accountability and hence making governments more efficient.
As part of the process of implementing the project, AFIC in collaboration with the Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) in May 2019, undertook a contract monitoring process on the vital social services sectors; Health and Education to ascertain the performance of the contracts and effectiveness of service delivery and project implementation in Mbarara, Ntungamo, Kabale, Kanungu, Nebbi, and Pakwach districts in FY 2018/19. The levels of disclosure both proactively and reactively by PDEs; the participation of citizens in contracts’ monitoring and the feedback generated by public officials about the reports were reviewed. The process analyzed the importance of disclosure of public procurement as an enabler of analyzing public procurement processes and holding duty bearers accountable. The reports generated were shared with the district officials with specific recommendations on areas of improvement.
For Kabale district, the feedback meeting was held on 22nd August 2019 at the district headquarters. The meeting was held with public officials to share findings and recommendations from the 1st contract monitoring process.
During the meeting, the district leadership made commitments which included; providing a separate noticeboard for public procurement information, updating the district website, and the Government Procurement Portal (GPP) to enable access to information on public procurement. They further committed to providing contract management information and appointing contract managers for every project; preparing a monthly report on all micro procurements undertaken by the district, providing bid evaluation reports for all district procurements; usage of more competitive procurement methods like domestic/open bidding; improving supervision on all public contracts executed in the district; and involving community members in the monitoring of public projects in the district.
It was also noted that fundamentally there was no separate noticeboard for displaying public procurement information as part of supporting proactive disclosure mechanisms. And thus, in October 2020, Kabale District Local Government made an effort to identify and mark a separate noticeboard for public procurement and disposal information. This was possible with the full support of the Deputy CAO; Mr. Nsubuga Hood who committed to ensuring compliance. The noticeboard is now being utilized to share public procurement information such as call for tenders, tender notices and best-evaluated bidders.
In the due process, it was observed that the procurement noticeboard was being used to display some other information other than its intended purpose. On that note, on November 13th, 2020, the Deputy CAO issued a notice warning the public not to display unauthorized information on the district noticeboards. To that effect, during a follow-up meeting with the district officials in Kabale on 19th February 2020, the district leadership resolved to put a glass door on the same noticeboard by the end of June 2020.
“I encourage the procurement department, all heads of department and the Information Officer to always share as much information as possible to the public because the ATI Act is very clear, public information must be shared, there’s no need to hide anything. When citizens ask for information, please guide them on the rightful procedure of accessing information through the Chief Administrative Officer using the information request form,’’ Mr. Nsubuga Hood emphasized.
The Senior Procurement Officer, Mrs. Mercy Atuheire, attributed this development to the initiative by AFIC to train them on the need for effective proactive disclosure. It has helped them to improve the timely sharing of public procurement information.
“We thank AFIC for the support it is giving us as a district and for opening our eyes on the need for ATI and Open Contracting. We can now see improvement in our work because we can create awareness of the public on what is happening in the district, especially around contracts,” said Mercy Atuheire.
The district did not stop at providing a separate notice for the display of procurement information but further designed and established a website, a move which depicted the willingness of the district to improve proactive disclosure. Besides, Kabale DLG designated Mr. Ndyabawe Swizen as the Acting Information Officer to ensure that the website had timely information uploaded. The Acting Information Officer thanked AFIC for the support and constant reminders to the district leadership to have a website. Mr. Ndyabawe indicated the website was an opportunity to inform the public on whatever is going on in the district, especially government programmes.
In the same vein, Ntungamo district also established a website in 2019, after AFIC’s intervention. This improved the proactive disclosure of public information in the district.
Initially, accessing local governments’ procurement data was a challenge, some public officials had little knowledge about Access to Information and Open Contracting. They had never seen or used an information request form however with accessed ATI and OC knowledge among public officials through capacity building training and mentor-ship sessions, both reactive and proactive disclosure improved in Kabale, Kanungu, Ntungamo, Mbarara, Nebbi and Pakwach District Local Governments. Public officials can respond to accountability issues. Public officials across all the target districts now use the acquired ATI, OC and public procurement knowledge to effectively execute their work.
In Kanungu district, the Information Officer, Ms. Mwajuma Twongyeirwe used the acquired knowledge to mobilize heads of departments to participate in radio programs to educate/sensitize citizens on ongoing government programs. Whereas in Pakwach district, officials used the knowledge and skills acquired to conduct four community Barazas to sensitize and provide citizens with information on the ongoing government projects. This has greatly improved the relationship between citizens and local government leaders.
The Access to Information Act adopted in 2005 and the Access to Information Regulations prescribe how public information can be obtained. The Act under Section 16(1) requires public agencies to provide the requested information within twenty-one working days, other than proactive disclosure through public notice boards and websites. Also, the PPDA Act (amended 2011) in section 45 emphasizes that all public procurement should be conducted in accordance with the principles of transparency, accountability and fairness. This can be partly achieved through proactive disclosure of information on public procurement noticeboards and websites.
Citizens in Kabale, Nebbi, and Ntungamo can now access public procurement information with ease. The important thing to keep in mind is that citizens look at government websites for information that’s useful, timely, informative and up to date.