The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) has faulted the Masindi district procurement department over what it calls a big and growing problem of corruption among the local government officials and contractors.
Andrew Emejeit, the senior officer in charge of performance monitoring at PPDA, said the latest report was based on investigations conducted in November last year after they sampled some contracts which had been awarded by selective bidding in the financial year 2022/23. He said the investigations discovered a lot of chilling irregularities.
Emejeit said it was discovered that most bidders are not comfortable with submitting bids because they doubt the procurement unit’s integrity.
“Notices of submitting bids are sent to service providers but they are not given enough time, same service providers are given opportunity to do the service year after year, failure to approve shortlist for bidders, submitting bids in the names of other bidders without their consent, tempering with the bids by the internal people and awards being made to people who do not qualify,” the report reads in part.
The other iniquities cited are failure to communicate the changes in prices, signing of contracts based on expired bids, unjustified changes in contract terms, forgery of bids, delayed contracts committee award of contracts, among others.
Emejeit said the issue of the internal audit not providing oversight at all but coming in only at the time of paying also needs streamlining to stop the contracts committee from giving blanket approval.
He said the engineering department and the finance department also need to be streamlined to eradicate the procurement red tape in Masindi.
The irregularities made PPDA to compel Masindi district authorities to re-advertise the procurement process of over 10 projects which had been considered under the selective bidding in the 2022/23 fiscal year which caused financial loss to government.
Some experts have attributed the gross impropriety to unfair competition for tenders which has resulted into some contractors devising unconventional and crooked ways of out-competing others such as through offering sweeteners and kickbacks to procurement officers.
The politicians and the technical officials have also been accused of taking some of the contracts, failing to supervise themselves and do due diligence.
Many structures are involved in procurement such as the user committee, user department, and supervising and evaluation committees.
“These many structures have different powers and all of them look at benefiting at all costs during the procurement cycle,” Ismail Kusemererwa, the Executive Director of Mid-Western Region Anti-Corruption Coalition (MIRAC), a local civil society organisation, said.
Part of the problem for Masindi, he argues, is that the procurement officer has been there for too long, mastered the game and knows how to handle the usually ‘pesky’ councilors and contractors, noting that in such a way it was easy to have corruption thrive.
“That is why some reports previously could not see the light of the day because the technical officers influence that they don’t come out…but corruption has been there for long,” he added.
During the February 17, stakeholders’ engagement at Masindi district local government offices on public procurement performance of work plans for 2021/2022 financial year, some councilors were visibly sympathetic to the procurement officials.
The councilors, were castigating the district executive committee of engaging in dubious procurement deals like the sh2b for roads.
They mentioned roads have not been worked on well and that money ended up in people’s pockets including politicians and technical officials, they charged.
Fiona Sanyu, the Masindi district Chief Administrative Officer, said they are working to ensure they are counted among quality performers, adding that the output of the report will not leave them the same.
“Incase improvement fails, disciplinary actions will be taken,” she added.
Residents are contending with poor service delivery that would come with better handled procurement.
In one case, the roads are in bad shape, especially Kimina-Kitana road, ghost boreholes making the community to go without safe drinking water. Some projects have remained incomplete and developed cracks before commissioning.
Budongo Seed School construction was poorly done and had developed cracks on the ceiling, floor, the playground was poorly done and has no proper demarcation. Computers were not supplied to the said school computer laboratory.
CMD Investments limited which is accused of doing shoddy work at Budongo seed school was awarded Kijumjubwa seed school.
Sanyu said Masindi had a sh30.6b budget where sh10.8b was for capital development works and procurement.
“If we are to stand a loss, let us look where it is coming from and see the area of procurement is given attention as a driver to proper service delivery,” Sanyu who was deployed to the district a year ago, added.
Anti-graft civil society organisations (CSOs) in Masindi in an adjoining report observed lack of effective monitoring and transparency in the awarding of contracts coupled with less involvement of the community.
The CSOs report indicated that road works on Ibaralibi road were abandoned for long and marram left piled on the road which is risky to road users and made the road impassable.
They recommended community participation in planning and implementation of public projects, access information about ongoing projects, and increase supervision of field visits by government officials.
They said community monitoring should be supported and encouraged since they are the service users.
Others are establishment of committees for project planning of all stakeholders to capture all issues. This would be responsible for monitoring and ensuring quality work and value for money.
Cosmas Byaruhanga, the district chairperson for Masindi said the coming of PPDA to Masindi was not for fact finding mission but to examine themselves on what had been happening such that they are able to correct irregularities.
Godfrey Byarugaba the district procurement officer said after residents were annoyed the district had to sit with the political and the technical wing and resolved not to give each other contracts.
“We agreed to have at least a clean procurement process. There has been a slight improvement though there still gaps,” he said.
Benson Turamye, the PPDA Executive Director has warned the staff members of the procurement unit to stop flouting the principles of public procurement if better services are to be realised.
He noted that all the principles required must be observed but not to favour a section of people, though he did not say what they will be doing going forward.