Chairing a meeting at Kampala Serena hotel recently, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi shocked his audience when he confessed that too many power centres in public procurement were frustrating infrastructure projects in the country.
Public procurement, he said, should facilitate government operations, but not stifle them. Mbabazi gave the example of the Mitano bridge in Kanungu, which collapsed under heavy rains in April 2012. The bridge used to connect Kanungu and Rukungiri districts to the rest of the country, but despite its importance, it is yet to be rebuilt.
Mbabazi explained that when the bridge collapsed, Uganda National Roads Authority (UNRA) invited bids for building a new one. When UNRA was about to award a tender to the lowest bidder, a whistleblower alleged that the company that was about to be awarded a tender had falsified its experience. UNRA investigated the allegations and found them true.
UNRA then decided to award the contract to the second lowest bidder. But the loser dragged UNRA to court, which stopped the process. When court finally lifted the ban, the contractor ran to the Inspector General of Government (IGG), who also suspended the process. When the IGG gave the tender a green light, the same aggrieved company petitioned State House.
“You can imagine, for the last two years, in Kanungu we have no bridge because of many power centers.”Mbabazi said.
Yet Kanungu seems to represent the norm rather than exception, in a country where many infrastructure projects often fall behind schedule.
A Makerere University study, ‘An investigation into the causes of the delays and cost overrun in Uganda’s public sector construction projects’, attributes the delays to poor designs and specifications and problems associated with management and supervision. The study was conducted by lecturers Ruth Apolot, Henry Alinaitwe and Dan Tindiwensi, all from the university’s department of Civil Engineering.
Noting that delays are rampant, the study cites the Northern bypass, which was delayed by more than five years. The researchers identified several key problems: delayed payments to contractors, poor equipment, bureaucracy and change in work scope.
“Delayed payment to contractors has knock-on effects on many activities of the contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers” the researchers wrote.
Dr Arthur Bainomugisha, the executive director of Aocates Coalition for Development and Environment (Acode), blames the delays on the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) Act. He says according to the act, public procurement is lengthy and breeds corruption, as firms attempt to circumvent the process.
“There is an urgent need to review the law [PPDA Act] to ensure efficiency, avoid delays, minimise corruption but maintain integrity” Bainomugisha said.
He argues that as government looks to review the law, the focus should be on stamping out corruption and inefficiency in public procurement.
Source : The Observer