Activists Push for Greater Openness in Public Contracts

1264 Views Kampala, Uganda

In short
A Ghanaian oil and gas expert Amin Mohammed says access to contract information should be unfettered in order to allow citizens inspect and review them, adding the private interest of the contractors and some government officials should not override public interest.

Government is urged to increase openness in the way public contracts are managed.

A Ghanaian oil and gas expert Amin Mohammed says access to contract information should be unfettered in order to allow citizens inspect and review them, adding the private interest of the contractors and some government officials should not override public interest.

Mohmmed adds that transparency in contracts should cut across the entire process, from beginning to completion. He said while the pre-contract processes tend to be transparent, the actual signing, the details, implementation and completion are always shrouded in secrecy.

He was speaking at a public dialogue on the theme "Open Contracts: The Need for Contract Transparency in Public Sector Contracts in Uganda", several speakers underscored the importance of transparency in all sectors held in Kampala.

The dialogue was organized by Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), Civil Society Coalition on Oil (CSCO), the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) and Ghana-based Open Governance Institute.

Mohammed added that it is important that access to contract information is backed by law which does not hinder the access. He cited Uganda's case where although the Access to Information Act allows access, it offers a number of roadblocks like applying to access information, payment of fees and other red tapes.

Public contracts in all areas in Uganda tend to be largely secretive. A popular case in point is the four oil Production Sharing Agreements which have not been made public.

Mohammed said Uganda could emulate Sierra Leone; a country Uganda is ahead of in most areas, which by law, defines and upholds public interest in contract matters. He said in the event of direct negotiations with a contractor, the responsible minister has to give public notice with reasons which is subjected to public scrutiny.

On ownership of companies, Mohammed said special interest should be put in finding the true owners of extractive companies, who pull strings from behind. He suggested that Uganda could emulate South Sudan which requires full disclosure of all beneficial owners before signing any contracts with multinationals.

Earlier State Minister for Mineral Development Peter Lokeris cited the Access to Information Act, the Public Private Partnership Act and Uganda Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority Act as laws that are aimed at promoting transparency and accountability.

Lokeris also stressed that while the public sector must be transparent, the private sector too must be transparent in their works.

Dr Arthur Bainomugisha, the Executive Director of ACODE observed an urgent need to promote contract transparency and monitoring, especially in the oil and gas sector which has reached a critical stage, in order to strengthen citizen-centred development, reduce corruption and open governance.

Bainomugisha added that having good laws and policies are not good enough if they don't translate into the contracts and ultimately reduction of poverty.

Prof Elijah Mushemeza, who moderated the dialogue, said the most critical thing is how to ensure that the good laws and policies actually make the contracts better, adding that as things stand, the reverse is true.

Stephen Gunya, the Chief Administrative Officer of Buliisa District, where much of the oil has been discovered, said they still lack the capacity to tap all the opportunities brought by oil. He said there is need to build the capacity of local governments in dealing with oil and gas issues.
 

 

About the author

David Rupiny
In his own words, David Rupiny says, "I am literally a self-trained journalist with over 12 years of experience. Add the formative, student days then I can trace my journalism roots to 1988 when as a fresher in Ordinary Level I used to report for The Giraffe News at St Aloysius College Nyapea in northern Uganda.


In addition to URN for which I have worked for five years now, I have had stints at Radio Paidha, Radio Pacis, Nile FM and KFM. I have also contributed stories for The Crusader, The New Vision and The Monitor. I have also been a contributor for international news organisations like the BBC and Institute for War and Peace Reporting. I am also a local stringer for Radio Netherlands Worldwide.


I am also a media entrepreneur. I founded The West Niler newspaper and now runs Rainbow Media Corporation (Rainbow Radio 88.2 FM in Nebbi). My areas of interest are conflict and peacebuilding, business, climate change, health and children and young people, among others."