Parliamentary oversight in accountability affects service delivery in public institutions
Uganda, like many countries in Sub Saharan Africa continues to lag behind in poverty reduction, good governance and service delivery. This to some varying degree can be attributed to dysfunctional state institutions and departments. These have and continue to be scarred with corruption, poor financial management and governance challenges, which consequently decapitate their ability to ensure effective and efficient service delivery to the masses.
One of the many reasons for these shortcomings is the ineptitude of watchdogs and parliament in particular to play their oversight functions adequately.
One of the core functions of parliament is to ensure transparency and accountability in the application of public funds, through the work of accountability committees such as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Local Government Accounts Committee (LGAC), and Committee on Statutory Authority and State Enterprises (COSASE). These committees are mandated to examine the audited accounts of the auditor general showing the appropriation of the funds granted by Parliament to meet the public expenditure of government.
The fundamental deliverable of this exercise is concerned with economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which government departments use funds to further their objectives. It also seeks to promote and protect taxpayer’s interests and ensure value for money, reduce abuse, improve performance and compliance with laid down procedures.
It is a fair assessment that corruption and mismanagement as an obstacle to good service delivery in Uganda is condoned by the inaction and lethargy of the oversight authority-Parliament. Every year it appropriates funds to these entities to further their goals and objectives. The auditor general audits and reports back the manner in which these funds were used or misused. It is therefore incumbent upon accountability committees of parliament to report back to the house in a period of six months after the OAG lays the audited reports, as provided for in the National Audit Act, 2008.
However, parliament has not always delivered on this obligation in time. The fact that there is backlog on reports of accountability committees that spans over five years is telling reminder. Some reports from accountability committees are tabled in Parliament but take years before they are adopted. This fatally disintegrates the audit cycle.
In the 9th Parliament, no full report on the auditor general’s report on performance of statutory authorities and state enterprises, local governments or government ministries for the last five years was debated or passed as of January 2015.
To improve systems, management and service delivery, government is mandated to implement recommendations of parliament on the performance of these institutions. But without reports from parliament, government is at loss in this endeavor, and work of the auditor general is rendered somewhat inconsequential.
The Ministry of Finance is tasked to implement recommendations of parliament and report on the status of those recommendations in form of a treasury memorandum. However, the last treasury memorandum on reports of the public accounts committee was issued for the FY ending 2005. Finance will claim that its work hinges on that of Parliament, and because the latter has failed to deliver in time on its obligation the former is constrained as well.
One can deduce, and rightly so, that the blatant impunity with which institutions are abusing public funds, ultimately crippling service delivery can to a varying degree be attributed to the inaction of the oversight authorities. This mismanagement is not due to inadequacy of laws. Parliament has enacted several laws such as the PPDA Act, Audit Act, Public Finance and Accountability Act, treasury accounting instructions from Ministry of Finance. But despite all these laws, institutions continue to flout them with ease.
A case in point is the ministry of health where the auditor general reported that 27 billion Shs was mischarged in the financial year 2012, 650 million in 2011, unaccounted for funds worth Ugx 3.6 bn in 2011, Ugx. 2.2 bn in 2012, procurement irregularities worth 283m in 2011, 328 million in 2012, poor asset management in 2010,2011,2012 & 2013, wasteful expenditure of 722 million in 2011. The implications of these recurring anomalies on the ministry’s capacity to deliver services to Ugandans are alarmingly distressing. None of the reports on these findings was considered and passed by Parliament as of February 2015.
Even though these institutions have appeared before parliament to account, they only pay lip service to accountability without practicing it. Parliament on the other hand often grills the officials but does very little to help fix the institutional malaise.
The fundamental question ultimately is whether the work of parliament in ensuring accountability of public funds and their recommendations make a significant difference in improving service delivery. The answer, in my opinion is a resounding no. But it can be.
Parliament has to strengthen the capacity of accountability committees in terms of leadership, technical and financial support, as well as adopting sanctions against failure of committees to deliver on their obligations in time. The house must always expedite the consideration of reports sent by the committees. This will go a long way in ensuring the completion of the accountability cycle. Then government can be compelled to take corrective action and ultimately improve institutions and service delivery. In the same breath, the role of the civil society and media in pushing parliament and government is critical in building effective, efficient, responsible and accountable state institutions.