In order to counter corruption in large public projects, the Uganda Debt Network (UDN), a civil society group has tipped the finance ministry to create a committee of eminent Ugandans of high ethical calibre to supervise procurement, and project execution.
Uganda’s rank in the transparency international world corruption index has declined in the past two straight years due to frequent reports of embezzlement, dropping to the 151st rank out of 176 surveyed countries in 2016 from the 139th rank the year before.
The index which measures perceptions about corruption ranked Uganda behind Rwanda (50th), Kenya (145th) and Tanzania (116th) but ahead of Burundi (159th) in the East African Community (EAC).
It is estimated that close to 30% of all funds used in road construction are lost to corruption.
Speaking at a post budget analysis seminar at the Uganda Management Institute (UMI), Julius Kapwepwe Mishambi, the director of programs at UDN urged government to create centralized committee of eminent Ugandans, composed of people with proven ethical and managerial qualities.
“We need a centralized committee of eminent Ugandans to oversee strategic projects instead of depending on parent institutions, local governments and government ministries departments and agencies,
“This can include people like former Arch Bishop Henry Luke Orombi, and former finance minister Dr. Ezra Suruma who can curb corruption at level of contracting during procurement and supervision,” Mishambi explained.
He hailed government for following a flagship model in its expenditure whereby public spending is concentrated in key sectors such as infrastructure that give the highest return.
David Bahati, state finance minister, revealed that procurement in government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) is set to be capped to three months in a bid to arrest laxity in implementation of projects and absorption of borrowed funds.
Bahati noted that Uganda’s $8.7b (about sh31.3 trillion) national debt is still sustainable but acknowledged that MDA’s need to be more efficient.
“If you have a vision to transform this country into a peaceful and prosperous country in 30 years, but you spend two and a half years just in procurement how will you achieve it?” he said.
“We have seen it with politics; the presidential election must be sorted in three months, now, how about paper? So beginning with next financial year, we are amending the procurement law to cap the procurement period to three months. We are also reducing the level of administrative reviews from four to two,” he added.
The minister revealed that about $17m (about sh61b) is set to be spent on debt repayment for projects that are yet to start. He pointed out that in future, no money will be borrowed before a requisite project design and feasibility studies are complete.
Ngobye Edward, a Senior Economist at Parliamentary Budget Office noted that urgent measures are needed to boost national savings and industrialization to ensure that national debt is kept within sustainable levels.
Dr. Nichodemus Rudaheranwa, Head of the Makerere University Business School Department Economics said that cutting public sector corruption and getting projects funds to accomplish their intended purpose will significantly boost national savings.
Dr. Asuman Guloba, the Manager Policy Research and Innovation at the National Planning Authority (NPA) pointed out that more needs to be done to bring down the cost of credit and utilities which have made local industry less competitive in the Eastern Africa region.
“You cannot borrow at the current rates to put up a factory. Most of our firms pay expensively for water and electricity and are not as competitive as firms in Kenya. There is need to lower these costs of production to make the country more competitive,” Guloba said.