Empowering citizens to influence change: Experience from GPSA project in Uganda

According to Article 38 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995, every Ugandan has a right to participate in the affairs of the government individually and or through his or her representatives in accordance with the law. With funding from the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA), the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) in collaboration with the Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) have been implementing a project with the goal of enhancing Performance and Accountability of Social Service Contracts in Uganda. The project’s overarching objective is to increase disclosure of contracting information, improve public participation in contracting processes and collaborative engagement between government and civil society and to strengthen the capacity of citizens and civil society to collectively and effectively demand accountability and value for money in public contracting in agriculture, education and the health sectors. The project is being implemented in five District Local Governments of Ntungamo, Mubende, Mityana, Nakaseke and Nebbi in Uganda.

In many communities where the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) works especially in the 5 districts, citizens have embraced their roles in monitoring government services meant to benefit them. As the project promotes citizens participation in following the affairs  of the government, the citizens have participated in monitoring the contracts in  project districts of Nebbi, Mityana, Ntungamo, Mubende and Nakaseke.

The first and second contracts monitoring reports  generated learnings that AFIC hopes to promote. It  was observed that the constructive engagements with the government helps to increase government will  to become responsive to the  citizen. It was also revealed that with the right information citizens are able to know their rights and follow the affairs of the government.

Though Ministry of Educations and Sports had appointed clerks of works to monitor and ensure that work is of quality required and that materials are not stolen, they did not know much of their roles and responsibilities just like the citizen who in some cases do not know their roles and responsibilities in monitoring for value for money for the government projects in their communities.

In June 2018, AFIC in partnership with Transparency International – Uganda (TIU) organized a community dialogue meeting with the communities  around Schools that are funded under School effectiveness project by the World bank and shared the findings of the second monitoring project. Kisenge Primary School was one of the schools .This meeting was organized with the view of sensitizing communities about their roles and responsibilities and also to share the second Contracts Monitoring report.

The Head of AFIC, Mr. Gilbert Sendugwa explained to the community their roles and responsibilities in monitoring contracts of any government operations to support the community.

He told the community members that access to information was very vital to enable the communities to participate effectively in the contracting process. Therefore, the objective of the Access to Information Act is to empower citizens to hold their leaders to account. This right is guaranteed to every Ugandan; it is a requirement in the Access to Information Act, 2005, that when an information request is made, the Government is required to provide this information within 21 days. Communities cannot monitor contracts without contract information, even when everything goes as planned, the citizens still need to know how much has been paid to deliver a service and also that it is their constitutional responsibility to monitor all the affairs of the Government.

“When citizens have access to information, it enables them to participate and to hold their leaders to account in order to improve transparency and accountability. Access to information improves the rule of law, when people are aware of the law, the Government is likely to follow the law,” said Sendugwa.

The community members; including members of the PTA, School Management Committee, Teachers, sub county officials, District officials and the communities around Kisenge Primary School attended the meeting.

During the meeting one PTA member requested that the Ministry of Education and Sports allow the project managers to leave the site hording materials and screening as property of the school. The request was delivered to Ministry of Education and Sports, in the return,the education Ministry honoured  the request by directing all the districts implementing the World Bank Projects to leave all the site hording materials and screening property to the school. AFIC played its role in ensuring that the message was delivered to the districts.

However, to the dismay of all those involved, on August 24, 2018, the Chairman PTA reliably informed AFIC that the contractor had send a lorry to ferry all the hording  and screening materials from the site since the construction had already been completed.

AFIC communicated the removal of the material to the district leaders who engaged the site engineer regarding the issue. The constructive engagement between the district, the Community and AFIC compelled the site engineer to restore the materials to the school, in accordance with the contractual terms and the directive from the education ministry.

The community members including the school’s administrators and district leaders were grateful to AFIC for rescuing the situation.

Lessons learnt

  1. It was learnt that through constructive engagement between district and government authorities, commitments to reduce corruption and increase value for money were realised. It is now acknowledged that corruption by public officials negatively impacts on the ability to provide goods and services to the citizens.
  2. It was also learnt that there was political will in disclosing public contract information to the citizens; both proactively and re-actively but the fear that this may lead to holding the leaders accountable limits that government officials to fully commit.
  3. It was also learnt that with the right information, citizens were willing to participate in the affairs of the government and follow and monitor for value for money.
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