Government can reduce corruption through social accountability

Opinion published in New Vision

By Mujuni Benard Makuba

The Government of Uganda continues to spend billions of shillings annually to improve service delivery both at national and local levels through both national and local budgets.

In line with these budgets, the central and local governments provide various services to the public under programme priority areas (PPAs) of: health, education, agriculture, safe water, road infrastructure and governance that constitute the social development agenda.

Uganda has since 1993, adopted the policy of decentralisation which entails delivery of services by local authorities as detailed in the Local Governments’ Act, (1997) and amendments thereto. All these policy-legal regimes are to enhance delivery of services mainly to rural populations in both quantity and quality taking on districts and sub-counties as critical service points.

In 1988/1989, the Government of Uganda decided to carry out the first National Service Delivery Survey, (NSDS). This was followed by the Sentinel Community Surveillance Survey of 1996; and subsequently another NSDS co-ordinated by Ministry of Public Service, (2000) and, the next one in (2004).

The areas taken on included: transport services, governance issues, water and sanitation, health services, education, agriculture and veterinary extension services as well as access, use and satisfaction with facilities and services.

The purpose of NSDS as a baseline survey and, a significant data generating exercise is for enhancement of the following: planning for both national and local levels, resource allocation, as well as monitoring the performance of service delivery by local governments.

Although the Government has spent considerable amounts of financial resources on service delivery, both at local and national levels, in terms of quality and quantity, the outcomes have been insufficient in some respects. According to the NSDS, (2004), for instance, 17% of the locals described the quality of facilities in schools as “poor” while at the same time, 4% felt that the health sector had “worsened”; correspondingly, 30% felt it was the “same”.

In the water sector, 17% revealed that the services “worsened”, while 46% expressed that the quality of provisioning was the “same”. Regarding agriculture, the rating for quality of government extension services were also as follows: “poor”, 51.3%, while for roads, it was 14.2%.

At the same level, 67% of beneficiaries indicated that no projects originally earmarked had been implemented. The major implementers of development projects in Uganda are: district local governments, 27.9%; central government, 39.9%; private players, 3.7%; sub-counties, 8.9%; parish, 0.7; NGOs/churches/mosques, 9.9% and politicians, 1% (NSDS Report 2004:86)

In the capital city, dissatisfaction with service delivery is also apparent. This is in spite, of increased funding. This dissatisfaction is evidenced in the first ever Kampala Citizens Report Card, (2004); where only 33% were satisfied with the quality provision of water services, 33% with the educational services, 18% with road safety services, 45% with the quality of roads and only 42% with solid waste management services.

This level of satisfaction is, in spite of heavy financial investment, by both the local and central government. In fact, the Ministry of Local Government Performance Index, (2007) and the Ministry of Local Government Performance Report, (2007) stated that service delivery had only improved in 13 districts in Uganda.

In the latter report, a total of 27 districts had stagnated in local government development programmes’ delivery; including Kampala; while the other batch of districts had performed poorly. This implies that on the whole, the citizenry are affected because; ultimately they are the end users.

What needs to be addressed?

Cases and incidences of insufficient service delivery and non-service delivery in key public utilities are attributed to a large extent, corruption due to inadequate public servants facilitation and the public’s failure to hold the leadership accountable. Indeed, the nature of public accountability existent in Uganda is largely top-bottom.

This is worsened by Uganda’s inadequate civic education. Much of Uganda’s civic education is centered on voter education, neglecting other important areas that would improve governance, social service provision and realisation of MDGs.

According to a Policy Note on Social Accountability in Uganda, (2008) prepared for the World Bank, accountability in Uganda is of various mechanisms: political such as constitutional provisions, separation of powers between the executive and legislative as well as legislative, investigative commissions; fiscal, such as accounting and auditing systems; administrative, for instance, hierarchical reporting, norms of public sector probity, public service codes of conduct, rules and procedures on transparency and public oversight and, legal such as anti-corruption agencies, ombudsmen and the judiciary.

These mechanisms are formally referred to as “supply-side” of accountability or more popularly, vertical methodologies of accountability. The biggest disadvantage is that, to be effective, they generally require that citizens and civil society “demand” accountability through various forms of civic engagement, referred to as social accountability.

Uganda’s typically “top-bottom” approach to accountability, from service providers to development partners and citizens; through reports and audits does not effectively engage civil society and the general populace. Resultantly, the consequences have been the following:

  • There are a few opportunities for civil society and end-users to systematically exercise their voice on effectiveness, quality, timeliness, quantity, reliability, efficacy and equity of service delivery;
  • Evidently, this lack of capacity by grassroots, civil society organizations and some elements of the political society to hold leadership accountable has resulted into inadequate service delivery because of absence of such a “pressure -zone impact”;
  • Once leaders find a way of “muddling through” the top-bottom accountability modalities, they may not feel duly bothered by citizenry; who are ultimately, the end users;
  • The fundamental impact therefore, evidently and glaringly may be neglect and a downward spiral of poor service delivery in quality and quantity;
  • The development partners and government of Uganda lose value for money in the process;
  • Uganda, like most of the Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) is not likely to attain most of these MDG goals by 2015

A higher level of civic consciousness to hold leaders accountable is requisite. One of the recommendations of the Uganda Africa Peer Review Mechanism on achieving sustainable development and poverty reduction is the need to enforce accountability.

The report recommends thus far: “this should be reinforced by CSOs, which should come up and occupy their social space”. In line with this, it recommends that, people should be furnished with information that can help them to monitor development projects.

There are few opportunities for civil society and end-users to systematically exercise voice on effectiveness, quality, timeliness reliability and equity of service delivery (The World Bank, 2008). This has made Uganda score minimal strides with an overall score of 58.3 and overall ranking of 19 in the East African ranking; with a fourth position out of five countries in the region, according to Moo Ibrahim Index of African Governance.

Accordingly, this calls for integration of both top-bottom and bottom-top accountabilities for efficient and effective outputs. According to the World Bank, (2008) bottom-top accountability entails social accountability. It is defined as an approach toward building accountability that relies on civic engagement.

It refers to a broad range of actions beyond voting that citizens, communities and CSOs and the media can use to hold government officials and bureaucrats accountable.

CSOs and the media are good at monitoring development projects. There need for enhancing competence and citizen participation, dialogue, budget tracking and monitoring as well as reporting systems in public policy-making, participatory budgeting, public expenditure tracking, citizens’ monitoring and evaluation of public service delivery vehicles as well as advocacy campaigns.

An opinion poll on “Civic Engagement and Social Accountability in Uganda” in October, 2007, found out that three quarters of the respondents do not have a good understanding of citizens’ rights and obligations particularly, those related to participation in the affairs of government and influencing policies and service provision.

In addition to this, only 10% of the respondents apparently understand that it is their duty to hold national and local leaders accountable.

The object of the National Audit Act, (2008) is to give effect to articles 154 (3) and 163 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. The mandate of the Auditor General was hitherto, set under part IV of the Public Finance and Accountability Act that was enacted to provide for the development of an economic and fiscal framework for Uganda and, to regulate the financial management of the country.

However, for improved financial management and regulation, it is better to structure and systematically build grassroots social accountability that would enhance the existing ones. This can be done through building the civic capacities of Ugandans to get relevant information regarding upcoming development projects as well as project documents.

This approach will help build-up community-based monitoring and evaluation structures that will enhance accountable leadership in the long run. This project will henceforth, increase and improve efficiency, cost-effectiveness and equity in social service delivery.

Writer is a legal & policy analysis expert

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