The government of Uganda has since 2008 prioritised road construction and maintenance by committing a substantial part of the budget towards the same. Uganda already spends more than Shs3.3 trillion ($1b) annually on public infrastructure. The sector will still receive a lion's share of the 2018/19 budget as per the budget frame work paper.
These efforts are commendable, as they have greatly improved the country's road network. The improved road infrastructure has also facilitated commerce given the fact that more than 90 per cent of the country's cargo is moved using roads.
Infrastructure development is pivotal in promoting economic growth, and we would have no problem with government allocating chunks of monies to the sector, only if the sector was well insulated against corruption tendencies.
Unfortunately, the sector has been shrouded in allegations of corruption and questionable standards of some constructed roads. Contract prices have in most cases been inflated through bribes and connivance. The sector that has continuously received substantial amount of monies has also been riddled with corruption related tendencies hence prompting the President a few years back to set up a commission of inquiry that revealed exponential corruption.
The commission of inquiry into misuse of funds at Uganda National Roads Authority, revealed that an astronomical Shs4 trillion had been misappropriated in more than seven years.
The sector has also been obscured in secrecy and lack of public access to road construction information. Limited information disclosure of project data and the technicality of the sector has been partly attributed to low performance in the sector. Access to information is a right as envisaged under Article 41 of the 1995 Constitution and re-instated by the Access to Information Act 2005. Corruption thrives where information is not availed to the public.
Governments that are liberal in sharing information with citizens are more likely to develop faster than those that withhold or give piecemeal information. Openness in infrastructure projects is not only important in empowering citizens to monitor and hold the relevant agencies accountable, but also builds public trust, especially right now, where public apathy is on the rise and citizen trust levels are low as regards government's commitment to fight corruption.
Players in the construction sector and government in general should adopt more efficient means of sharing information with the public as a means of reducing corruption related tendencies.
Online platforms can reduce mismanagement, inefficiency, corruption and improve value for money in government projects through real-time access to information on road construction projects. An empowered citizenry with basic information can go a long way to advocate for the change they want to see.
Systems such as the Uganda System for Electronic Open Date Records (USER) initiated by Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda in partnership with Kampala City Council Authority can go a long way towards improving public confidence and trust in a sector that is prone to corruption tendencies.
Through such platforms citizens can be empowered with information to act as monitors and whistleblowers that can hold their leaders accountable.
Citizen participation in e-governance can empower the public to demand for accountability, bearing in mind that the infrastructure/road sector has not had strict citizen scrutiny to ensure appropriate spending, transparency and accountability.
We believe that e-governance can reduce mismanagement, inefficiency, corruption and improve value for money in government projects, because an empowered citizenry with basic information can go a long way to advocate for the change they want to see.
Ms Kagaba works with Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda.