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Citizen Engagement in Local Government Projects: How Citizens Can Fight Corruption in Local Government Projects.

The quality of citizen feedback has a significant role in determining the quality of integrity in public procurement. Under the Hewlett Foundation-funded project, From Disclosure to Impact: Deepening and Broadening Open Contracting in Africa, the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) works to ensure quality citizen feedback by deepening and broadening their timely access to quality information. Central to this project is the notion that citizens must be provided with timely access to quality information to inform and enrich the quality of their feedback to government, value for money, and services delivery.

The way we acquire and distribute knowledge and information is changing rapidly. Increased access and rapidly changing ICTs and e-tools make this transition possible, and as a result, it is due time to reassess existing information practices. One of the most important processes at the core of the public sector is public procurement. It is an ongoing process and involves many players, such as public officers, members of the public and private sector actors. The processes related to public procurement are, however, vulnerable to corruption and fraud, which is why an empowered citizenry is absolutely paramount especially in countries with poor governance and oversight. Lack of access to information (ATI) prevents citizens from being able to identify and report on malfeasance and irregularities, making it difficult for them to hold public officers accountable and provide informed quality feedback.

It is of paramount importance that the public is provided with timely and quality information about public procurement and how it can serve them and their communities. This will enrich the quality of citizen feedback and consequently the quality of integrity in public procurement. Citizen monitoring of public procurement provides a channel through which public authorities and private sector entities can address the concerns of citizens and improve the quality of integrity in public procurement.

Public procurement refers to the procurement of goods and services by government entities, such as departments and municipalities. The ability to access information of public interest regarding this purchasing of products and services is governed by legislation known as access to information legislation; in Uganda the ATI Act (2005) and Regulations (2011). This legislation forms the core of the principles of open governance and transparency. It is also the basis of a critical aspect of governance, providing citizens with timely access to quality information to enrich the quality of their feedback.

In the past, citizens have not been able to access procurement information from the procurement entities in Gulu District. This has been attributed to low levels of disclosure and high secrecy within the entities. For example, there is barely any information on the online Government Procurement Portal (GPP) for any entity in Gulu since FY 2019/2020; in contrast to access to information guarantees provided by both the Ugandan Constitution and applicable ATI laws.The procurement information on the entity websites dates back as far as 2018. Citizens, including bidders,have had to travel to the entity officers to view contract information on the notice boards. The inaccessibility of procurement information in Gulu has raised concerns over the level of transparency and accountability in the district.

Despite challenges to access information, the advent of the community monitoring model in Gulu, as introduced by AFIC, has ushered in much-desired changes in accountability and transparency in the way local governments deliver services in the area. The monitors have been trained to make information requests and use data to track the execution of projects within their areas. As a result, PDEs in Gulu are starting to disclose information reactively through responding to information requests, despite their shortcomings in disclosure proactively on the GPP.

We applaud Gulu District Local Government for the achievements attained but also urge the Gulu District Local Government to establish a Citizen Feedback Mechanism where citizens can give feedback on how government officials are doing their job and fulfilling their ATI obligations. Given technological advances, there are many ways through which citizens and other stakeholders can give their feedback. In rethinking the status quo, where citizens often had to physically travel to request and get information in person or give feedback on public service delivery, feedback can now be provided at meetings organized by the district, through voice calls, and through sending feedback via text messaging just to name a few.

In this vein, in order to make sure that feedback from the citizenry reaches the right officials, AFIC has created an SMS Platform through which citizens can send their service delivery concerns and questions with AFIC working to ensure that the information and feedback reach the right people.

Conclusion:

Compliance with proactive disclosure obligations by public institutions would reduce the burden of having to process numerous individual requests for information made by members of the public. Equally, in fighting corruption and poor service delivery in Local Government projects, citizens have a responsibility to engage with public procurement information and take part in the open contracting process.