In June 2021 the president of Uganda gave a directive to install digital motoring systems in all motorcycles and vehicles as means to crack down on rising insecurity in the country. However, reports indicate that Joint Stock Company Global Security that was awarded the 10-year contract to install digital monitoring system is facing bankruptcy litigations in Russia, and more than a dozen other debt-related litigations. Do Ugandans know why this company was chosen? Whether they are the best fit for the job. Or did they simply have the best relationships to get the deal?
Unfortunately, we rarely know, because as a recent study by Africa Freedom of Information Centre revealed, that over 84% of digital technology procurements in Uganda use direct or uncompetitive methods of contracting new work for the government.
The use of direct and uncompetitive methods in public procurement of Digital Technology Systems, in particular, pose a significant risk and a cost to our society: inflated prices, influence peddling, collusion, corruption, and inferior products or services. When suppliers are pre-determined, the procurement entities are often paying far above market value (they do not conduct the market surveys as is a best practice), meaning that we are wasting public funds and rarely—if ever— getting value for our tax money. The public is denied their right to take part, which eventually leads to mistrust and stifles the economic and investment opportunities across Uganda.
Uganda has incurred huge losses due to use of procurement methods that do not facilitate competition compared to other African countries like Nigeria. For example, it was reported that 401 National Identity Cards were printed at a cost of 240 billion Uganda shillings an equivalent of USD 67.2million, compared to Nigeria that printed 73.5 million permanent voter cards (PVCs) using the same technology at the cost of USD 31.8 million. Why would there be such a huge difference in expenditure on similar technologies?
Furthermore, analysis of information on the Government Procurement Portal (GPP) in Uganda indicated that a company called Smartmatic has been dominating the market after winning two contracts worth 44 billion Uganda shillings to supply voter biometric equipment for 2016 and 2021. One company taking tenders from the same government agency all the time raises questions as to whether Smartmatic is the best or whether it has established the best relations with the procuring agency in Uganda. Considering that bidding is a costly venture in terms of money and time, such instances create mistrust and lack of motivation for the business community to even try and venture in such investments given the perception that suppliers are predetermined.
Some might argue that Digital Technology Systems are security sensitive and thus contain classified information that should not open up for open procurement methods. However, when we’re dealing with secure information and data, we should be even more vigilant and thorough in our procurement. For example, the contract awarded to the bankrupt company Joint Stock Company Global Security could be a huge risk. The company is already facing legitimacy and budget challenges. At the very least, their application should be vetted thoroughly and compared to other companies to ensure that they are not compromising on data security and safety.
Government should urgently facilitate open methods of procurement especially while procuring digital technology systems given their sensitivity. This will promote value for money and transparency in these processes. It’s also key that there is constant capacity building of government procurement staff to handle procurement of new and ever emerging fields in digital technology as well as creating strategic collaborations between local private sector, civil society and government. These changes could go a long way in enhancing the needed procurement capacity, facilitate innovation and economic growth.
Charity Komujjurizi is the Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator at Africa Freedom of Information Centre