A win-win for money and lives: why Uganda needs CoST  

Adapted from the Opinion Piece written by Olive Kabatwairwe, Manager of CoST Uganda and featured on New Vision

Uganda, like many countries around the world, allocates significant resources and finance to public infrastructure – at present its average expenditure on the sector is around $1b per year - the equivalent to 17% of its Gross Domestic Product. On its road network alone, at least sh3.3 trillion ($900 million) is spent annually on improvement works. This expenditure can be justified – Uganda’s roads play a huge role in the country’s economic development - they transport around 97% of Uganda’s cargo and they allow citizens to access health, education and livelihoods, bringing their status on par with other important constructions such as bridges, airports and stadiums.

Despite their significance, the quality of Uganda’s roads remains substandard – due in large part to shortfalls in transparency and accountability in public infrastructure. Uganda does not place huge importance on multi-stakeholder participation in the sector, it does not have a strong government agency demanding accountability and it does not currently comply with internationally accepted standards on project information disclosure, such as CoST’s Infrastructure Data Standard.

CoST Uganda’s Scoping Study, published in July 2017, noted that infrastructure procurement entities only disclosed 25% of information on specific projects selected for the study rather than the 40 data points required to be disclosed under the Infrastructure Data Standard. The study also pointed to a lack of awareness on disclosure and legal requirements, scepticism around its full benefits and inadequate capacity and financing invested in disclosure. Later in August, CoST Uganda’s First Assurance Report further revealed the impact of insufficient disclosure - with projects experiencing corruption, contract mismanagement, delays in procurement, weak supervision, safety and environmental challenges and exceeded timeframes and budgets.

Needless to say - corruption has significant ramifications - including those not always immediately thought of by the outsider. It leads to poor service delivery resulting in lower quality infrastructure which is unsuitable, defective and dangerous. It has the knock-on effect of decreasing foreign and domestic investment.  What does this mean for roads? They become susceptible to crumble and collapse, with ordinary citizens who rely on them to access livelihoods, education, health services and even water bearing the most severe brunt.   

Given the massive investment channelled into infrastructure and road network improvement specifically, disclosure on project information is a win-win it could save millions of dollars at the same time as improving millions of lives. Limited disclosure has also led to lengthy legal battles and has resulted in delays to important construction projects including, Uganda’s Karuma Hydro Power Dam, its Tirinyi road and its major road network which links to the oil producing region of the country and connects four large districts of Uganda – Kiryandongo, Masindi, Hoima and Kyenjojo.

Moving Uganda closer to disclosure 

For there to be sufficient disclosure on infrastructure, Uganda needs a more robust legal and policy framework relating to information disclosure on public infrastructure. Uganda should strengthen its requirements on transparency on infrastructure projects in its Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority Act 2003 (PPDA). Currently, the PPDA only demands disclosure of information on projects whose value is above a set financial threshold and disclosure is only required in relation to the tendering process and awards. Other legal and policy provisions which, among other things, place more importance on awarding tenders rather than informing the public about the projects awarded, should be addressed. These include the Official Secrets Act 1964 (which limits information disclosure), the Leadership Code Act 2002, the Code of Conduct and Ethics of the Ugandan Public Service 2005 and the Public Service Standing Orders 2010. Without a robust legal and policy framework to encourage public disclosure a lack of trust in the government and an unequal playing field for infrastructure bidders has been created.

In addition to addressing current shortfalls in legislation, Uganda needs to urgently put in place policy provisions for the adoption of the Infrastructure Data Standard.  And this is not as difficult as it may sound. Political will and support to comply with the standard exists – it has an Infrastructure Monitoring Unit in its State House which reports to the President and the Monitoring and Evaluation Department in the Office of the Prime Minister reports on infrastructure implementation. The challenge though, is that most agencies in the sector have no direct synergy with the line Ministry and other key players in the infrastructure sector so collaborative working on transparency and accountability is limited. Therefore, there is a need for government and particularly officials at the senior level to fully commit to all stages of disclosure using the Infrastructure Data Standard. This will require parliament to expedite passing the Uganda Construction Industry Commission Bill into law and for the Infrastructure Data Standard to be included within the PPDA.

Where does CoST come in?

CoST – the Infrastructure Transparency Initiative - has a huge role to play in strengthening accountability and transparency in public infrastructure in Uganda helping to address the aforementioned gaps and challenges that exist. CoST is at the forefront of international efforts to strengthen transparency and accountability in public infrastructure, creating better value for money and better lives for citizens.

Multi-Stakeholder Groups in all CoST countries which comprises government, private sector and civil society, enabling them to have a neutral platform to work together, to speak with an equal voice and overcome challenges - together - in open contracting. The Multi-Stakeholder Groups continually engage with procuring entities, reaching the range of actors involved, from contractors to consultants to engineers, all of whom are obliged to comply with disclosure frameworks established by governments indirectly supported by CoST. With the disclosed information, stakeholders such as civil society organisations and the media can help to further its dissemination among ordinary citizens, building trust between the public and government and moving from transparency to accountability. 

Date Published: 13 November 2017
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