Open Data Day: Makerere University Students Excited by Access to Information Portal
In Uganda, Open Data Day 2018 was celebrated by holding an open contracting clinic with Makerere University Students pursuing bachelor’s degree in procurement. The clinic was organised by Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) in collaboration with the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority and Makerere University.
The main focus of the event was to create awareness about about their right to information, open contracting and to share experience on the use of the Government Procurement Portal (GPP) and as well as the www.askyourgov.ug (AYG) portal in the advancement of citizen participation and promotion of value for money in public projects.
At the beginning of the symposium, students were tested on their level of awareness and practice regarding access to information and open contracting. The purpose of this activity was to gain appreciation of their level of awareness in order to pitch the discussions accordingly. It was also to facilitate measurement of the effect of the event on participants. Altogether, seventy one (36 male and 35 female) students attended.
Twitter session accompanied the process in order to engage a wider audience beyond those who were in the room.
At the end of the event, an evaluation questionnaire was administered among participants. It was found that as compared to the beginning of the session when 63% of the participants didn’t have knowledge of the existence of an access to information law, a significant majority, 85% answered in affirmative while 7% said no while 9% were not sure.
When asked about their awareness of the existence of the Askyourgov portal (www.askyourgov.ug), 77% indicated they were not aware while 23% had heard about the portal but never used it before. This portal was developed by AFIC in collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister in 2014 in order to facilitate filing of online information requests. The portal has an advantage that both filed requests and responses are deposited on the portal, limiting the possibility of repeat questions. The portal also generates statistics on requests received and how agencies have dealt with requests as well as feedback from requestors. Following the training 93% of the participants said they were aware about the Askyourgov portal, a significant gain from the clinic.
Public contracts mean a lot to every Ugandan. It is a means through which many citizens receive government services or face frustrations with failure of services. Yet many Ugandans remain unaware of what government has contracted, they service they are to provide, to whom, when, where and how.
Short as these questions may appear, they are important to determine whether citizens will get services paid for by governments, in the right quantities and quality. This was revealed by a recent contracts monitoring report by AFIC in which 79% of contracts accessed were not reflected in procurement plans as required, up to 95% of contracts were being procured through selective bidding, contract prices being determined by source of funding rather than technical designs and scope of work, revealing of high possibility of collusion and fraud. This work was done with support from the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA). Access to information was enabled by visiting use of information requests from the GPP which was recently aligned to the Open Contracting Data Standards (OCDS) following AFIC’s advocacy to PPDA.
The main lesson from this finding was a positive government attitude to the feedback: all districts where monitoring was done accepted findings and committed to implement recommendations. The Minister of finance alongside PPDA also agreed to strengthen oversight of contracting processes as well as training procurement entities on the law, procedures and disclosure requirements.
Dr. Catherine Mbide, the Head of Procurement Department at Makerere University commended AFIC for organizing the training. She recalled how she was forced to change her research topic for her doctorate studies due to lack of access to information. She invited AFIC and PPDA to consider a long term collaboration on open contracting and access to information with the University.
Well this was a very exciting event and the enthusiasm and commitment by students and their lecturers demonstrated eagerness.
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