Making Public Contracts Work for People: Experiences from Uganda
Human capital development in developing countries is affected by lack of adequate investment and leakage of the little resources that are devoted to uplift communities. What happened to the Kasenge Primary School in northwest Uganda’s Nebbi District can help illustrate this.
In 1994 the community, with the help of the protestant church of Uganda, improvised to set up a school for the first time. They constructed mad and wattle huts, and set up classes in them as well as under the shade of several trees. In 2011, government funds allowed to increase the number of staff and extend enrollment to seventh grade. The number of pupils rose from less than 300 to 897 and the number of teachers to 12, 9 of whom were paid by the government and 3 by the community.
Nevertheless, the lack of proper classrooms, teacher’s houses and staffroom persisted. Its teachers often had to travel long distances to get to the school leading to problems of absenteeism. Improvements came only after the school was identified as a beneficiary of the Uganda Teacher and School Effectiveness Project implemented by the Ministry of Education and funded by the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education. But as in many cases, the availability of new funds didn’t mean that improvements came easy.
Social accountability in public procurement project
Experience and research show that often, donor and Government aided projects that are implemented through public contracts do not yield the intended value due to many factors including; corruption, conflict, non-existent (ghost) contracts, inflated costs, diversion of funds, unnecessary contracts, secrecy, cost overruns and budget revisions, among other challenges.
To address this issue, Africa Freedom of information Centre (AFIC), a Ugandan based pan-African CSO, in collaboration with Transparency International-Uganda and the Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition in 2014 initiated the project Enhancing Performance and Accountability of Social Service Contracts in Uganda, supported by the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA). The project is implemented in five districts and focuses on agriculture, health and education sector contracts.
The project trained 186 community-based volunteers to monitor contracts in the three sectors using specially developed monitoring tools. Community members and leaders were trained on their right to public information, and radio awareness campaigns informed the general public about the importance of tracking public contracts being executed in their respective communities. In addition, civil society members organized constructive dialogue meetings with ministries of education, health, PPDA in Kampala as well as officials in each of the five districts.
In order to make contract monitoring work pay off at all levels of the public system, the AFIC team soon realized how important it was to sensitize all members of the participating communities on how to obtain and review contracts for service delivery activities. Therefore, starting in 2018, AFIC obtained copies of contracts from the Ministry of Education and explained them to the respective community members, that is, the contract sum, name of contractor, start and finish dates of school facility upgrades, among other issues. Based on the citizens’ feedback, complemented with the targeted data gathered by the trained monitors, AFIC made several important recommendations to Government to among others, proactively disclose procurement information on GPP, actively respond information requests, address, collusion, diversion of funds and fraud among others. AFIC also recommended training of district officials on how to disclose data on GPP. These were contained in 3 reports: Mapping of GPP, first and second contracts monitoring reports.
A sharp eye helps Kasenge school finally receive its upgrades
At Kasenge school, this process helped the community members to stay informed and assess what was being constructed. The community asked AFIC to engage with the Ministry on its behalf and request materials to build staff houses, as well as the missing classrooms for lower primary grade.
On August 2, 2018 the Ministry of Education and Sports granted permission for materials but two weeks after the Nebbi District Local Government was notified by the Ministry of Education and Sports, Silas Okumu, the school’s Parents, Teachers’ Association (PTA) chairperson the school saw the materials being loaded onto a truck ready to be taken away. Fortunately, AFIC had already informed the community of the Government’s approval and the materials were not taken. On November 16, 2018, it was agreed that the materials would be used to build two classrooms for infants and houses for teachers.
The parent/school head gratefully observes: “AFIC didn’t only train us on how to track construction to get good facilities as per the contract document, it also provided an important bridge between us and the ministry officials in Kampala. Our school has never registered grade 1 but this year we hope to get 3-5 pupils passing the grade”.
Other districts also applauded the project and what they have been learning. In Nakaseke District, Nalongo Ruth Nankabirwa, Vice Chairperson of the Primary Teachers Association of Namulamude Primary School observed: “AFIC opened our eyes, they gave us copies of the contract and taught us how to track them. We know exactly what the contractor is supposed to build and can no longer be deceived.”
The project has not only impacted communities at the local level but also institutionalized disclosure of public procurement information in Uganda. Following AFIC’s recommendations and collaboration, the Government aligned its Procurement Portal to international Open Contracting Data Standards, making it the first country to do so in Africa. Furthermore, subsequent to AFIC advocacy, the government registered 43 additional agencies to the portal, making it possible for citizens to proactively access a wide variety of contracts. Through this collaboration with Government AFIC has learnt these five lessons.
January 09, 2019