Transparency in the delivery of infrastructure projects can be achieved through access to information. The African Union has on many occasions cautioned governments on disclosure pointing out that, Disclosure of information is the rule and secrecy the exception. Reasons for secrecy must be clearly and narrowly defined by the law. Unless the disclosure of information will seriously compromise national security, privacy, law enforcement or commercial interests, it must be disclosed. Knowledge capacity assessment revealed that; there were no tools for monitoring infrastructure.
In the opening discussion during the GuluDIPF training, members reiterated the need to enhance disclosure of information on infrastructure projects to inform stakeholder participation. Pointing at various Municipal roads that are narrow and the reasons for this was not disclosed. Talking to the members, the Municipal Clerk informed the members that, the designs were made in Kampala but efforts are ongoing to have most of the affected road sections enlarged. Perhaps, this reveals the need to involve all stakeholders, beneficiaries right from the imaginary stages of the proposed project, as per CoST Infrastructure Data Standard, information should be disclosed at preparation, identification, planning, procurement, implementation and completion, this helps address most of the untold questions that arise as the projects are ongoing.
“Our experience is that we normally follow procurement laws in implementing or maintaining district infrastructure, we do advertise locally, nationally and internationally of late, firms undertaking district works are encouraged to give us feedback and complaints too. Our bid documents are clear on what we need, but still firms come and fail. They mostly fail at the quotation stage. We also have administrative reviews and we expect the highest level of transparency. We even inform them of the quoted amounts and invite them all to the bid opening ceremony so that we reduce on the likelihood of being suspected of foul play, favourism and other forms of corruption” Samuel Nyeko the District Engineer sharing the district’s experience on Infrastructure transparency.
The district however has challenges of interference especially from the district leadership in procurement. These are things that should not be done, but they do happen. There is also a lack of capacity in terms of personnel and equipment especially for the local contractors. Some of the projects in question are those that are being supervised by the line ministries whose presence in the district is minimal. We also have a challenge with the individuals with all these buildings mushrooming in Gulumunicipality. We needed to see to it that we are able to monitor and ensure standards are met. In Kampala, the UNBS may have the ability to see to it that this is enforced, but we do not enjoy the same level of funding, the reason we find CoST a better partner to help us address infrastructure transparency gaps, by making infrastructure everyone’s concern. The public is also called upon to not over expect a lot from the district as the district most often suffers budgetary constraints. This pauses a need for increasing financing to public infrastructure within the local governments.
“I also have people coming into my office saying the new roads are too narrow, they should have been left the way they were before the upgrades were done, seriously?, sometimes I want to ask these people if they preferred the pot-holed-filled roads that they had within Gulu, but common sense prevails and I stay calm. These are things we may not be able to answer in the interim, but in attempts to be transparent, we even go to the radios to tell them what is happening, but this only happens if and when we have the capacity in-terms of resources and financial ability” added the District Engineer, in wonder.
“It is important that you find local solutions to local problems, us at DEI in Kampala would never have known that there are problems with the roads in Gulu. It is good now that the district leadership is calling on the people to have site visits through the DIPF. Look at the narrow roads, if you do not address this as a forum, the people who park their cars in the streets could easily mobilise people to riot and you will have so many problems in this town. We know that local leaders have very many court cases and many of them could have been avoided had the district leaderships cared to listen a little” advised the Senior Ethics Officer, DEI, Mr. Moses Bwire.
The relevance of infrastructure monitoring from a joint partnership approach helps achieve two folds, for instance Government has suffered setbacks of warnings from donors pulling out from giving support to the sector because some people involved were sexually exploiting the locals, at the end of the day, you have a project that also led to the birth of many children who do not know their parents, on the other hand, a classroom structure that is constructed without a second check and has a crack will affect the entire community whose children will risk sitting in the classroom for lessons. Meetings such as DIPF and other stakeholder gatherings should be used as avenues for information sharing on infrastructure projects, information is power and by doing this, blame games will be history in the district. Ideas and experiences from joint monitoring should be crafted into ordinances it is the work of the DIPFs to inform the council work with evidence. It is also the mandate of the forum to follow up corruption cases related to government programmes, instead of people saying you have eaten money, the magistrates; Resident State Attorneys should help the forum members understand the law and how to implement it.
The Forum is a hybrid forum for action and change within public infrastructure and thus should be seen to work, it is a replica of the Inter-Agency Forum at the national level with an idea of combating corruption and improve delivery of better services. As the training went by, the forum members appreciated the Infrastructure Data Standard posters as the foundation for their engagements and sensitization with the public on access to information since the posters, indicate what information should everyone know about projects and why, the “very rich” IMT gave the forum members a sigh of relief that, since they now have a the tool and have learnt how to use it, and it applies to various infrastructure projects, they committed to actively engage in monitoring infrastructure. The desire to use the tool encouraged the DPIF members to set aside the 17th July, 2018 as a meeting to discuss further about the tool but also, to agree on how to operationalise the tool in their work.