WB aid suspension: President Museveni must pull his head out of the sand

KAMPALA, SEPTEMBER30 – Uganda’s independent daily, The Monitor, reports today that President Museveni has written to the World Bank imploring them to stay their decision to suspend some $1.5 billion in funding to the country over poor absorption capacity.

In his letter, Museveni reportedly promises to resolve the structural gaps and loopholes that have bedeviled Uganda’s public system for decades. This publication cannot fault the President’s intentions. But we have reservations about his method.

To begin with, this is not a particularly new problem and it can be linked to 5th columnists’ resistance to initiatives first introduced to bring more accountability for public resources when Syda Bbumba was finance minister just over eight years ago. Until then absorption rates were good but there were no corresponding results from projects on the ground. A thoroughly corrupt and determined bureaucracy tried to demonstrate that the new financial control measures did not work. Thanks to people like Finance PS Keith Muhakanizi, the finance ministry has stood its ground and the result is stranded funds because the corrupt can no longer easily get their hands on project money.

That is where President Museveni’s proposal to add new layers of bureaucracy is doomed to fail because it does not address the core issue of lack of accountability within the public service. Take the case of education where any day they choose, the media publish pictures of children studying under tree shades yet the ministry cannot recruit contractors to build structures.

Museveni has the option of firing the guilty officials but he does not appear to be aware of that option and its almost miraculous results. This could partly be explained by the focus on caderisation that has progressively turned the public service into an extension of the ruling party. At the end, there are far too many friends of the Party that are untouchable too.

Instructively, Museveni is not proposing anything new having walked the same path in the wake of the WHO/GAVI funds scandal where new oversight regimes that were introduced have not stopped leakages.

There is only one answer to poor public performance in Uganda – make people accountable. Short of that, the World Bank may consider allowing Uganda to choose its projects, but contracting an international accounting firm like PWC to manage the procurement and execution.

There is a precedent to that. Irish Aid have taken that path in Karamoja and the quality of work being achieved there is way above what we are used to seeing.

Mr President, its time to get your head out of the sand.

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