Service delivery in Uganda and other parts of Africa has been hampered by collusion, delays, poor delivery and high costs. Over the years African Governments have reformed public contracting legislations mainly by strengthening procedure and due process. These reforms have had marginal impacts but have not addressed the core problems that occasioned their enactment: ghost payments, falsification, delays, cost escalation and poor delivery of contracts still remains.
Part of the problem is that the new legal regimes do not provide for the freedom of information beyond contract parties and citizen engagement with the process. Evidence shows that providing citizens with information minimizes opportunities for corruption and enhances service delivery .
The Uganda Contracts Monitoring Coalition (ucmc.ug) has been working with the World Bank to pilot open contracting coalitions in Uganda’s education, health, agriculture, extractives and roads sectors. These activities have confirmed that citizens’ monitoring improves contract performance. However, challenges remain with public agencies reluctance to provide the public with key information about contracts.
The recently launched Open Government Partnership(OGP) provides opportunities for the scaling up Open Contracting. OGP is a global initiative that works to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In a partnership arrangement, government and civil society agree on key grand challenges and together create a country action plan to address them. The OGP also provides independent review mechanisms and commits countries to make continuous improvements on the key pillars of OGP.
In their first action plans, the Governments of Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa recognize reforms in public contracting as essential for improving public services. They also outline a number of commitments to enable citizen participation, but these do not go far enough to commit to allowing citizens access to information and independent monitoring of public contracting. AFIC’s discussion with stakeholders in each of the three countries showed that the consultation process was not sufficient enough to get civil society inputs on the matter. Soon the three countries will be embarking on generating new action plans. Open contracting should be addressed. Liberia and Ghana, who are working on their respective action plans, should take notice.