The Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) implemented a GPSA funded project, ‘Enhancing Performance and Accountability of Social Service Contracts in Uganda’ ” to enhance to enhance transparency and accountability of public contracting in the agriculture, education and health sectors through support to meaningful engagement between civil society and government. The project also sought to strengthen the capacity of civil society partnerships for better engagement in policymaking and service delivery implementation.
AFIC learnt that Social accountability is only successful when citizens are empowered to make meaningful decisions and hold their leaders accountable for their conduct and performance to deliver services, improving their welfare and protecting their rights. During our implementation, we saw tremendous changes within communities and transformation of people’s lives derived from an empowered citizenry that put their leaders to account. The recognition that disclosure and citizen participation in public contracting are essential for enhancing value for money, improving services, building trust and promoting fair business practices.
In the five project districts of Uganda; Mityana, Mubende, Nakaseke, Nebbi and Ntungamo we saw district officials agree to disclose information through our constructive engagement with them. Through active collaboration with Uganda’s Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets, the project accessed 179 contracts in education, health, and agriculture. The project working with the Open Contracting Partnership supported the review and re-design of the Government Procurement Portal to adopt open contracting data standards and strengthened social accountability processes at different levels. Ongoing discussions in Uganda on how to improve contract performance are helping the government to strengthen its hand in implementing contracts at local level.
“AFIC has played a crucial role at all stages on the open contracting journey. It played a leading role in creating the contracts monitoring coalition; it made proposals to Parliament for opening up public procurement contracts and has supported both financially and technically the incorporation of OCDS in the Government Procurement Portal. AFIC through their monitoring activities have also produced several reports that have supplemented Government oversight. AFIC has also engaged in training Government officials, other CSOs, the media, and other stakeholders on open contracting. They have also been involved in advocacy to improve the legal and policy framework that creates an enabling environment for open contracting. PPDA has an MOU with AFIC on work that strengthens our partnership with them.” Mr. Edwin Muhumuza, the Director of Corporate Affairs at PPDA
Our contract monitoring process has over the years, provided for citizens’ empowerment through the 186 Community Monitors whose capacity we built to monitor performance of contracts and provide feedback to the duty bearers. Through this feedback, we have seen shoddy works on roads improved on, poor health facilities closed off, school structures constructed and information walls provided.
We have based the power of engagement through this process on citizens being available to demand for accountability and government officials accepting to disclose information and act on feedback provided and improve on development outcomes. Constructive engagement between civil society and government in monitoring service delivery can lead to commendable results that largely improve citizens’ livelihoods. In order to be successful at this, there must be mutual trust build between the two actors which we have heavily invested in while undertaking this work. While it took time to have this trust built, it eventually delivered many results including improved disclosure of public procurement information that has been resourceful.
Lessons learned and factors for success
- One way to facilitate open contracting processes is to encourage greater citizen involvement in the procurement processes, leading to more efficient delivery of public goods and services. Specifically, a focus on citizen engagement is one of the key lessons we learned over the years. Engaging citizens in public procurement through direct involvement in contract monitoring allows them to gain a deeper understanding of how processes actually work and how to use their right of access to information to ask the right questions. This can lead to improved procurement efficiencies. Through engaging citizens, the process becomes more stakeholder-oriented. It also makes the process more transparent, as citizens become more involved in decision-making processes.
- Arising from the GPSA project and in recognition of the importance of open contracting, PPDA has developed a framework to work more with CSOs, such as Civil Society Budget Advocacy Group, Anticorruption Coalition and Uganda Debt Network on open contracting. This was because of continued engagement with UCMC and PPDA and sharing information on open contracting. PPDA appreciated the feedback given by CSOs and engaged them in a more structured manner. To that effect, the PPDA Act was amended to incorporate open contracting and citizen participation on monitoring public contracts. This was after recognizing the value addition of CSOs in contract monitoring and advocacy efforts by AFIC. Collaboration has been a crucial element of this achievement from the very beginning. Since 2011, the Ugandan government has been working with us and the Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) to promote value for money in public procurement through monitoring of contracts.
- The Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MoFPED) launched the National Framework for Collaborating with CSOs in monitoring public contracts. The framework provides for CSOs across the country to access and monitor contracts. This emerged from the project’s approach of engaging strategic GoU institutions including MoFPED by sharing project achievements and feedback on contract monitoring.
- At the East African procurement level. AFIC was invited to make a presentation on open contracting and citizen involvement in contract monitoring at the East African Procurement Forum. After they presentation, members were inspired and Tanzania Procurement Authority moved that AFIC proposes a paragraph on open contracting as part of the meeting resolution. AFIC drafted a resolution on enhancing partner states to embrace open contracting and enterprises led by disadvantaged groups especially women, youth and people with PWDs. These groups should be prioritized in public procurement. This was after AFIC presented an analysis that 60-65% of the national budget in East African countries was spent through public procurement yet participation of women led enterprises was very low. Partner states agreed to commit to open contracting and passed these two resolutions on public procurement.
- There was scaling up the project in other countries. Based on learning from this project, William and Flora Foundation funded similar interventions in Senegal and Ghana. In addition, Hewlett Packard, Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), USA Results for Development and the IDRC Canada provided more funds to AFIC and UCMC to scale up open contracting in Uganda.
The Way Forward
We are now focusing on enhancing the implementation of open contracting principles and commitments in Africa, we want to ensure that the Open Contracting Working Group members are knowledgeable on the concept of open contracting, can champion its implementation and identify strategies to promote open contracting in their respective countries.
We are continuing to advocate for increased disclosure of public procurement data in line with OCDS through implementation of Access to information frameworks, including laws, principles and practices in respective project’s countries, while encouraging data use by the different stakeholders (government, private sector and civil society) as a necessary approach to reach better value for money in public contract.
The focus of AFIC in taking forward these actions and recommendations from the project has been to launch several data analyses and studies to further collect and analyse country practices on open contracting. Ongoing initiatives include a focus on women in public procurement, current progress to support the SDG 16: 10: through program implementation and experience sharing with like-minded actors across Africa, including government and CSOs. We continue to encourage government to disclose as much information as possible and ensure that citizens are central in all service delivery monitoring engagements. Citizens can only monitor when they have been empowered with information.