New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Open Procurement Processes a Major Tool in Fighting Graft

opinion

Photo: New Vision
Former health minister Jim Muhwezi and his deputy Capt. Mike Mukula were in the middle of the 2008 Global Fund scandal.

For years, Ugandans have been waking up to alarming reports of mismanagement of public resources, more especially of multi-billion aid-funded development programmes and projects.

Stories of Government officials swindling public funds have overshadowed other events in the press as the number of those put behind bars in connection with corruption scandals has continued to grow.

Whereas memories of corruption scandals in the Global Fund, GAVI and CHOGM projects are still fresh in our minds, new outrages have emerged in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and Ministry of Public Service in respect of the Peace Recovery and Development Programme (PRDP) and the pension system respectively.

In all these cases, officials have taken advantage of public ignorance on the purpose of the invested funds and the amounts involved.

Hardly is there space for the public to question the implementation process until the time of monitoring and evaluation. It is even strange to note that in all these cases, except for a few officials directly implementing such programmes, the rest of the staff are ignorant about what is happening in their respective offices.

This abuse has been exacerbated by the secrecy surrounding the procurement of goods and services on development programmes. Officials flout procurement regulations and procedures with no sense of shame.

If this kind of abuse can happen to donor-funded programmes with water-tight disbursement and accountability regulations, one can only imagine the fate of domestically raised revenues.

Procurement processes should be subjected to public scrutiny right from the beginning to the end of the value chain. Currently, bids are advertised in print and electronic media. If one is lucky he/she could catch the advertisement online. Or access a PDF document for about two weeks, after two-four weeks, such information will not be openly available.

Subsequent processes of awarding, delivery of services, monitoring and evaluation will be closed processes. After about three years, the public will be treated to the Auditor General's reports informing it of terrifying stories of financial misconduct.

The public should be actively engaged in understanding the procurement processes specifically the call for bids, appraisal, selection and award processes, share important information about the bid applicants and the entire bidding process.

This is only possible if the Government shares information about the bid winners, services to be delivered, tangible and intangible results, amounts of money involved and government institutions through which the funds were disbursed. Such information should be available, accessible and user friendly to the public.

In the countryside, the situation is worse. People find themselves at the tail end of development processes. In the case of the PRDP, there was hope that the northern region would recover from negative consequences of the two decade of devastating armed conflict.

With the latest developments, this will be difficult since a few public officials have taken advantage of the loopholes in the information channels to misuse the funds.

This impunity has to stop. The Government should disassociate itself from such embarrassments by embracing open governance.

The writer is the executive director, Development Research and Training.

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