In August 2019, Africa Freedom of Information Centre conducted a contracts monitoring of selected districts for FY2018/19, and it was observed that strengthening the performance of public contracts at local government in Uganda will be an important factor for ensuring that both the government and its constituents, the citizens’ participation, achieve the full benefits of public contracts. The exercise was meant to determine the extent to which public contract information is disclosed; the level of citizens’ participation in public contracts; the extent to which contract execution meets contract requirements; and to provide the government with feedback on contract performance in project districts. The contract monitoring exercise focused on the leading social services sectors: Health, Education and Water to ascertain the implementation of the public procurement contracts and efficiency of the service delivery overall.
Ongoing discussions in Uganda on how to improve contract performance are helping the government to strengthen its hand in implementing contracts at local level. However, despite the commitment to strengthening the performance of public contracts at both the national and local government levels, the government has yet to address shortcomings in procurement.
The need for an effective procurement policy implementation is evident at both the national and local government levels. There are a number of challenges that are affecting the implementation of contract processes at both levels. The findings from this exercise indicated that public procurement in Uganda still faces many challenges that inhibit effective service delivery given that it is composed of a high level of mistrust, and the implementation of Access to Information (ATI) laws and procurement requirements is still weak.
At the time of the monitoring, the analysis identified that PDEs were not disclosing enough information as they revealed only 4% of planned procurements in the districts procurement plans and the districts had not yet fully embraced the electronic forms of procurement disclosure, especially the use of the Government Procurement Portal. There was a certain level of negligence, or possible collusion noted from the inconsistencies of contract documentation and lumping up of contracts.
It was also noted that all the agencies highly used selective bidding as the primary method of procurement, which affects competition and promotes a lack of trust in public procurement. During the implementation of the contracts, it was noted that there were shoddy works, the commencement of work before contracts were signed, limited co-operation between stakeholders, poor adherence to occupational and health standards and low citizens’ participation.
Notable was the fact that PDEs were not sharing information with Heads of Units that affected the overall performance of contracts. These findings indicate that there is a need to engage citizens in contracts monitoring and handle public procurement in a much more coordinated manner.
The key issues which are causing disparity in contract performance at both the national and district level are lack of transparency and lack of contract monitoring at both the national and district levels.
The lack of transparency in the execution of public procurement is the main cause for poor contract performance. Most often, only the schedule and pricing details of the contracts are made available to the stakeholders at the time of contract award. To make matters worse, sometimes only the most basic contract information may be released prior to award. To remedy this problem, most districts are now embracing norms and practices which require contract award notification to be made available to all stakeholders at the time of contract award.
Another significant flaw in the current practice of contract monitoring is the absence of contract review. Most districts conduct contract reviews after the completion of the contract, thereby missing out on valuable opportunities to examine the contract delivery process. These opportunities are especially important for districts which have awarded a large sum of money to contractors which have performed below expectations in terms of contract performance or have delayed contract award. Without proper contract monitoring, these problematic contracts could become a major source of embarrassment for the district, causing delay in the awarding of future projects, costs which may ultimately be borne by the district.
Strengthening the performance of public contracts at local government level requires timely communication between all stakeholders and the contracting agency. The procuring entities must maintain timely communication with all project stakeholders. In addition, the procuring entities must regularly monitor the performance of public contract to determine whether project developments are consistent with the goals and purposes of the contract.
It is also important that procuring entities stay actively engaged with their communities to build and maintain good will. It is unrealistic to expect that PDEs will continue to build and strengthen the public’s trust and confidence in public procurement. If PDEs do not engage with their communities in a meaningful way, then the communities will doubt their commitment to the overall success of contract management. This can undermine the ability of the PDEs to perform their basic functions. Instead of building community goodwill, PDEs must focus their efforts on communicating clearly with the community.
The above examples are just a few of the issues that must be considered when strengthening the performance of public contracts at local government level. The PDEs must not only develop and maintain effective communication with all stakeholder groups, but it must also develop and maintain effective communication with each contract delivery phase. The failure to communicate effectively with key stakeholder groups can significantly reduce the value of public contracts. The key issues discussed above are just a few of the many that exist and which must be addressed in order to successfully strengthen the performance of public contracts at local government level. The challenge is to develop an integrated, holistic approach that takes into consideration the impact of contract performance management at each phase of implementation and develops and implements strategies that address each issue in a manner that is consistent with the ultimate goal of contract monitoring.
While the PDEs and Local Government officials have already made commitments to improve on the conduct of public procurement in the districts, the report makes the following overall recommendations:
1. The district local government leadership should fully embrace and step up the utilization of the available disclosure mechanisms at their disposal such as GPP, and public notice boards to disclose procurement information. All procurement information should be displayed on the available means of disclosure as provided by the law to enable the monitoring of public procurement.
2. The district user departments should promote procurement methods that encourage citizens’ participation and competition to achieve value for money in public projects.
3. Procuring entities should endeavor to use more competitive means of procurement as opposed to the high use of selective bidding which is normally abused by procuring entities by contacting a few prequalified service providers as a means of building public trust in the procurement processes.
4. PPDA should initiate a quick mechanism for effective communication and dispute resolution on contracts where consultants are involved. This reduces on time and cost overruns in procurement and litigation processes that have a high cost on the taxpayers.
5. The government should always involve citizens in contract management and monitoring to ensure ownership and sustainability of projects. Therefore, PPDA needs to develop a mechanism through which entities are mandated to engage communities in monitoring public contracts.
6. The district local governments should step up the monitoring and supervision of contracts to reduce the occurrence of shoddy work in public projects.
7. PDEs should address Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) concerns at all construction sites to ensure contractors mainstream and observe Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) issues at the construction sites.
8. The Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development and Parliament need to ensure that there is a budget allocation for equipment like laptops and internet access to Local Government Officials to enable and support online disclosure mechanisms.
9. The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) should ensure that there is effective coordination of governments’ program implementation and communication between the central government and local governments to avoid collision and poor coordination at local government level that leads to poor service delivery.
10. The OPM Baraza Program should be enhanced to ensure that citizens continue to hold their leaders accountable to deliver effectively on the implementation of contracts and overall service delivery.
11. The Ministry of ICT and National Guidance should provide training and guidance to the Information Officers at districts on updating information on websites and other e-platform to enable full disclosure.
In conclusion, there is a need for the regulator (PPDA) and stakeholder to intervene to help improve the prevailing situation, either through capacity building or to step up regular supervisions to the District Local Governments.
Contract monitoring is an initiative of the Africa Freedom of Information Centre, which was supported by the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) through a project titled, “Improving Social Service Delivery to Citizens through Open Contracting in Uganda,” from 2018 to 2020. As a build up to this project, AFIC is currently implementing a 2 year project titled, “Enhancing value for money in social services through open contracting and citizen’s access to information.” This is aimed at improving transparency and accountability of PDEs in public contracting processes, an empowered citizenry for improved accountability, and improving government responsiveness towards citizens’ demand for accountability.