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Role of Open Contracting in Transparency and Accountability Agenda in Uganda: Presentation

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Role of Open Contracting in Transparency and Accountability Agenda in Uganda: Presentation at the ODDC research event in Kampala

Role of Open Contracting in Transparency and Accountability Agenda in Uganda: Presentation at the ODDC research event in Kampala

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  • 1. By Mutabazi Sam Stewart Executive Director Uganda Road Sector Support Initiative (URSSI) Email: info@ugandaroadsector.org A Presentation at the Dissemination Workshop of the Uganda, Kenya Case study On Open Data, Transparency And Accountability Hotel Africana 5th June 2014 The Role of Open Contracting in Transparency and Accountability Agenda in Uganda
  • 2.  Open contracting refers to norms and practices that lead to increased disclosure and participation and information availability in public contracting. Open contracting/open data is a new phenomenon.  Open contracting is a new chapter on a new frontier of empowering citizens, reducing the secrecy surrounding government projects and therefore challenging the age old bureaucratic tendencies of government holding back information that belongs to the citizens in the first place.  The opposite of open contracting is opaque contracting which as the name suggests means non-transparent contracting. Introduction
  • 3.  Open contracting will not necessarily lead to outright accountability from the onset. It is likely to be a long process for governments especially in Africa to embrace open contracting. Naturally individuals and institutions find it difficult to be open.  It takes convincing, negotiations for them to know that if they mean well they must open up because they “have nothing to hide”. For open contracting to be meaningful there must be recognition and convergence of opinion that the agenda of government is the agenda of the citizens and that the information government is holding is doing so in trust of the wider public.  Those seeking for this information on the other hand must be willing to use it for the furtherance and improvement of best practices and value for money. Are governments ready to be open?
  • 4.  Why did it take this long for the global world to embrace open contracting? One may argue that the time for open contracting had not come. The other reason could be that everyone was in a confortable zone fearing that disclosure could lead to unintended results /repercussions.  The most probable reason is that global trends today dictate that individuals and institutions have to share information for the common good. The inter linkage of different actors worldwide mandate everyone to become more responsible for the resources they are entrusted with. Open Contracting a New Innovation?
  • 5.  As time will tell, open government (full disclosure) is likely to be one of the greatest global movements that will have far reaching impact on universal poverty reduction and creating a fairer world economically. Openness will lead to greater efficiency and improved service delivery.  Citizens will be empowered to demand disclosure of public contracts. Once the message “Government only acts as a custodian of public resources and in turn, signs contracts on behalf of citizens” is appreciated by everyone, greater transparency will be realized. Future of Open Contracting
  • 6.  With an increasing population in the world, comes with increasing resources mainly for the few and less for the majority. The irony is that although the majority is the poorest, they contribute most to the resources of the world owned by the few.  The majority are the labourers on the coffee farms in eastern Uganda, the masons on a construction site in Zambia, the tea pickers in Kenya highlands and diamond miners in South Africa.  All these labourers pay taxes to their respective governments and they expect better returns in form of Hydro dams, a functioning railway network, good roads, hospitals and schools. Without open contracting, it will take long for the labourer mentioned above access these infrastructures. Open Contracting & Poverty Reduction
  • 7.  The Policy Brief on potential of open data to impact resource allocation for poverty eradication in Kenya and Uganda is an eye opener.  It correctly observes that Open data exists because of supply and demand of data. Increased awareness of availability and accessibility leads to increased demand which leads to increased accountability and transparency.  However it needs to clearly make a correlation between open data and poverty eradication. Although it can be assumed that open data/contracting can lead to efficient utilization of resources, the linkage between the two needs to be further explained for clarity purposes. Open Contracting & Poverty Reduction
  • 8.  Uganda loses approximately US $500 Million US to corruption every year. Of course corruption and lack of disclosure move together like Siamese twins.  The total budget for UNRA for FY 2013/14 was UGX 2,198.304bn out of which UGX 36.53bn was recurrent expenditure, UGX 1,897.138bn was for Development and UGX 254.440bn for maintanance  Government of Uganda is willing to embrace and live by open contracting principles. It is however not yet fully prepared to jump into the deep end. Civil society is becoming more proactive.  Proactive disclosure e.g. disclosing information on websites is still very limited. Most MDA websites take years to be updated and when they are finally updated sometimes information provided is not helpful. Open Contracting Uganda’s Case
  • 9. Poor Access on a New Road
  • 10.  UCMC and URSSI in particular are seeking to demystify contracts in roads, agriculture, health, extractives etc.  An empowered citizenry with basic information will go a long way to demand for services the population is yearning for.  Citizens need to be granted an opportunity to get all the information about a project although they may not necessarily go into technical details. This helps them to own the outcome of the project. The Role of Civil Society in Contract Monitoring
  • 11.  The role of civil society in contract monitoring cannot be over emphasized. If contracts are for the welfare of the people, then civil society which is supposed to be part of the people must take a leading role in ensuring that contracts are delivered according to agreed terms.  Civil society is yet to be fully accepted by government as a strategic partner in project performance and delivery. It is for instance important that civil society is represented on contract committees of various agencies. The Role of Civil Society in Contract Monitoring Cont.
  • 12.  Civil society is currently not involved in pre-contract actions or activities. There is need therefore for CSOs to be part of contracts committees so as to be part of the contracting process from the onset.  There is need for capacity building for CSOs and multi-stakeholder coalitions to create an effective lobbying and influencing platform that can lead to greater transparency and accountability for public contracts  Civil society should also recognize the fact that sometimes, agencies provide information especially on their websites and yet the would-be users either knowingly or otherwise fail to utilize the information. This is especially so with organizations with vast websites where “one can easily get lost” MOFPED has the most active website with very useful information – Is it because they don’t have contracts. The Role of Civil Society in Contract Monitoring Cont.
  • 13.  Government institutions fear the media. They argue that information put out in the media is not easy to retract whether false or true.  It has taken UCMC more than two years to get a letter from Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) to monitor roads. UNRA was very suspicious about our intentions until we managed to convince them that we and them had a similar goal – ensuring value for money. Need for Constructive Engagement
  • 14.  Civil society needs to strike a balance to ensure that it raises issues of concern with government agencies in a constructive manner but at the same time not compromising our beliefs and overall objectives.  It is possible that agencies can promise to address issues raised by monitors as a gimmick to buy time and to compromise the monitors. It is imperative that time frames are agreed upon when issues raised would be addressed failure of which would lead to other measures being undertaken. Need for Constructive Engagement Cont.
  • 15.  Roads have been getting the largest chunk of the budget consistently for the last five years. This current financial year up to 16% is dedicated to roads.  The unit cost of Road construction in Uganda was until recently one of the highest not only in the region but in the whole of Africa. It ranged between US $ 1 Million -1.5 Million per Km.  With the entrance of the Chinese however, the road construction subsector in Uganda has become a little more competitive with some projects reporting quotations as low as US$700,000 per Km.  It had become a common practice by contractors to low priced bid for projects in order to win the contract only to negotiate for revision of the same after they have won the contract citing price fluctuations. Roads & Open Contracting
  • 16.  Uganda has been known for projects that are never completed on time. Before the creation of UNRA no single road project had ever been completed on schedule.  The famous 21KmKampala Northern Bypass whose construction started in 2003 was completed almost six years after the expected date of completion. Even then it was opened due to public pressure; lights had not been fixed, drainage was not done etc. Yet it remains one of the most expensive roads in the country to date.  Why was this project messed up? Because the public did not have any information about it! The expansion of this road to make it dual carriage will commence in September 2014.Civil society will be vigilant to ensure that mistakes under the first phase are not repeated. Roads & Open Contracting Cont.
  • 17.  Many players have of recent joined the road construction subsector in Uganda.  The quality of the final product notwithstanding, Chinese construction firms have forced dominant players to revise the bids downwards. Currently the Chinese are in charge of up to 70% of ongoing major projects in the country.  The Chinese are also known to deliver projects on time. Fort portal –Bundibugyo-Lamia road which passes through a complicated terrain constructed by a Chinese firm CCCC was the first project of its magnitude in Uganda to be completed ahead of schedule. Since then, many more have followed. Competition good for Open Contracting
  • 18.  Government of Uganda finally accepted to join Construction Sector Transparency Initiative (CoST) five years after it had been requested to do so.  CoST has had enormous impact in countries that embraced it such as Ethiopia, Zambia Tanzania and Malawi.  Civil Society is very optimistic that CoST will have far reaching impact on project delivery in Uganda in the medium term. International Best Practices
  • 19.  Most contractors need serious supervision in order to deliver quality work. Contractors who have long-term contracts under term maintenance are likely to default if they are not strictly monitored.  The worst defaulters under term maintenance are those of gravel roads. Whereas they may be required to carry out interventions at particular timely intervals, this may not happen yet they continue to claim for their payments even when the interventions are not in tandem with what they actually did. Road Monitoring
  • 20.  There is lack of cooperation among the actors for instance whereas UNRA had given us a go ahead to monitor the roads most contractors out rightly refused to talk to us. In one instance, a consulting firm had invited us (Monitors) to be part of one of the regular monthly site meetings.  We were however later told to leave when the meeting was about to commence because “matters to be discussed are very confidential”. Contract files were not organized. We were given starks of files by UNRA to choose our information which was both time consuming and difficult to sieve what we wanted. Road Monitoring – Our Experience
  • 21.  Open contracting has come with a lot of expectation and the world , more so developing countries are waiting in suspense as to whether it will help deliver projects that are worthwhile.  There is need for strong linkage of Open contracting and poverty reduction  CSOs have a leading role to play but they need capacity enhancement  OPAQUE CONTRACTING + LACK OF INFORMATION x CORRUPTION - CITIZEN PARTICIPATION÷POOR SERVICE DELIVERY = POVERTY Conclusion

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