Public contracting is the main vehicle through which governments deliver commitments to citizens. However, things are not always smooth. Public contracting in many countries is shrouded by secrecy. Secrecy frustrates the ability of citizens to know and track contracts thus other challenges which undermine value for money in public contracting arise- collusion, corruption, unnecessary projects, unplanned contracts, conflicts, project delays and cost escalation among other challenges.
Open contracting- the disclosure of information, citizen monitoring of contracts and feedback from governments is an essential tool to avoid or minimize these challenges.
A recent contracts monitoring report by AFIC in collaboration with the Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) funded by the World Bank’s Global Partnership for Social Accountability revealed that:
i. There is General lack of compliance with disclosure obligations under the PPDA Act and Regulations as well as the Access to Information Act,
ii. 89% of the accessed contracts were not reflected in procurement plans contrary to the law, an indication of diversion of funds as these were not approved in respective procurement plans
iii. The study also found that a disproportionate number of tenders are awarded through uncompetitive selective bidding with a high risk of abuse of the process.
iv. In Nebbi district monitoring of contracts revealed that 95% of contract value is awarded through noncompetitive methods and unexplained big difference in contracted sums on facilities with same specifications.
v. High suspicion of collusion and fraud was also detected based on documents accessed indicating that different companies share physical address, originated documents on similar dates and received by the district on the similar dates. This is further augmented by estimated price in procurement plans and final contracted price in contracts almost matching.
These findings were presented to and validated by respective District Local Governments officials of the districts of Ntungamo, Nebbi and Mityana ahead of finalization of monitoring report. The results are positive:
a) All 3 districts monitored agreed with findings and agreed to implement recommendations. They requested AFIC and UCM to provide regular monitoring reports and in a tmely basis so that councilors can use them for oversight.
b) District officials on Nebbi, Ntungamo and Mityana all agreed to ensure that all contracts are reflected in respective procurement plans
c) Nebbi which had not denied signing of MoU with AFIC immediately committed to review its decision
d) Mityana which had not availed contracts to AFIC immediately provided 5 copies of contracts.
e) Based on the findings AFIC has recommended to the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority to institutionalise open contracting by including specific provisions in the PPDA Act.
f) AFIC has also recokemded to PPDA and Ministry of Finance to prioritise capacity strengthening of districts in order to ensure value for money through open contracting.
By embracing open contracting, governments can gain from feedback from citizens on how well projects are being implemented which can lead to better public contracting outcomes.
Open Contracting is one of the key continental programmes of AFIC. Its Working Group has conducted mapping of open contracting commitments by African governments and elaborated country action plans to promote open contracting in Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Malawi.
In Uganda, work has progressed thanks to funding support of the World Bank’s Global Programme for Social Accountability under the Enhancing Performance and Accountability of Social Service Contracts in Uganda, project. A project implemented by AFIC under the umbrella of the Uganda contracts monitoring coalition. The project aims to enhance transparency and accountability of public contracting in health and education sectors at district level in Uganda. The project’s overarching objective is to increase availability and use of contracting information, improve public participation in contracting processes, and foster collaborative engagement between government and civil society. The project will also provide information to the public sector enhancing fact-based decision-making in public contracting and planning of future procurement.