EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The accountability committees of the Parliament of Uganda consider the reports of the Auditor General and make recommendations to improve the Government’s management of public finances. Through their oversight role, they provide an important check on corruption in government and improve the government’s management of public resources to promote development more effectively.

In the Parliament of Uganda, the accountability committees have made important contributions to holding government accountable on a number of high profile cases, including financial mismanagement of Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting and Office of the Prime Minister. The committees have also highlighted other important concerns of financial mismanagement unearthed by the Auditor General’s reports.

While there are other institutions involved in the audit process, this report specifically focuses on Parliament’s role in the accountability cycle. Despite their high level of activity, generous support from Parliament and donors, and experienced and committed Parliamentarians on the committees, however, the accountability committees continue to face challenges in considering reports, getting their reports tabled and adopted, and receiving a response from Government in a timely fashion. The lack of completion of the cycle of accountability work means that their high level of activity does not bear the fruit it should in terms of tasking government to account fully for its management of public expenditure. This report details the findings of research conducted on accountability committees’ consideration of Auditor General’s reports from 2006 -2013 FYs and makes recommendations based on these findings as follows:

Core recommendations

Challenge 1: Excessive backlog of outstanding Auditor General’s reports in PAC, LGAC, and COSASE

Explanation of the challenge: The large volume of outstanding reports to be considered means that committees are considering reports many years after the Fiscal Year for which they apply. If any action is taken on the reports, it is taken well after the period under investigation.

Recommendations:

  • Policy Option 1: Declare a date before which backlog will not be considered, allowing committees to focus on considering recent reports that are still relevant. Any outstanding audit reports should automatically be considered as received and the Government should issue a Treasury Memorandum to Parliament on them.
  • Policy Option 2: Develop consensus on considering current reports first, then considering previous years’ reports through an omnibus report (not year by year) to clear all backlog without sacrificing the prompt consideration of current reports.
  • Policy Option 3: Scaling back the extent to which LGAC hears AG reports on LGs from scratch. Instead LGAC should hear only a small sample of AG’s reports, including ones that contain outstanding issues after the DPACs have finished their consideration. In practice DPACs are not functioning well; this is an area where GAPP and FINMAP are supporting programs to improve the performance of DPACs.  Either developing a separate committee to address Value for Money Audit (VfM) reports, or scaling down the work of PAC in another way, would help reduce the workload of PAC and ensure that VfM Audit reports are considered expeditiously.

Challenge 2: Slow consideration of AG’s reports and production of reports by accountability committees

Explanation of the challenge: The slow consideration of the AG reports by accountability committees leads to significant delays in the production of committee reports and weaknesses the reports produced. One former vice chairperson of PAC indicated that ideally a one-year report can be completed within three months. Public Accounts Committees operating in other Parliaments such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada hold many far few hearings than the Parliament of Uganda does, and write their reports in a much shorter period of time, allowing them to complete reports in a timely fashion. For example, the hearings on the OPM mismanagement involved 30 meetings with 90 witnesses, consuming a significant amount of PAC time, when a much more limited set of witnesses would probably have sufficed. This would allow for the conclusion of annual reports within the constitutionally mandated time frame, and also allow other months to be used for special investigations, VfM reports or other outstanding business.

Recommendations:

  • Policy Option 1: Develop a set of guidelines or a manual for how accountability committees should work, including:
    • focusing on outstanding issues rather than considering every query
    • establishing and enforcing rules that discourage consideration of issues outside the AG’s report
    • dividing the committee into sub-committees to increase the volume of work considered
    • limiting the number of witnesses heard to a small sample of potential witnesses; and
    • promoting the input of technical staff in ways that can simplify the committee’s consideration of complicated financial management issues, such as:
      • the preparation of briefs
      • summarization of AG’s reports
      • production of timed agendas for meetings, and
      • regular technical input into the hearing and report writing process.
    • A recent GAPP report also suggests dividing audit reports into different categories and prioritizing investigations on those reports that were either categorized as “qualified” or for reports where the AG has issued a “disclaimer.” For unqualified reports letters of appreciation could be sent to the institutions expressing satisfaction at their performance. For reports with minor issues, institutions should be asked to respond in writing within a specified time frame.
  • Policy Option 2: Provide training and guidance to technical staff and committee members to increase their expertise on financial management issues, to ease their speedy consideration of reports.
  • Policy Option 3: Establish a fixed time frame in the rules of Parliament that designates how long it should take for accountability committees to conclude their annual reports. This would help committees to set up a schedule for consideration and make sure to reach their deadline, promoting a more efficient method of work. Although such a time frame is already established in the Constitution, including it in the Rules of Procedure would help build ownership and motivation to observe the legally mandated time frame among Parliamentarians.

Challenge 3: Difficulty in getting committee reports tabled, debated and adopted by the plenary

Explanation of challenge: Once completed, reports face significant delays in being tabled in plenary; or are tabled but never debated or debated long after their tabling; or are never debated and adopted.

  • Policy Option 1: Develop an official parliamentary calendar, as is done for other parts of the budget process, which provides for a fixed window of time in which accountability committee reports will be tabled, debated and adopted. This calendar should reflect the six-month time frame established by the Constitution, and also should reflect changes in the budget process mandated by the proposed Public Finance Bill, if it is passed.
  • Policy Option 2: Hold quarterly meetings of the Business Committee to ensure that accountability committee reports receive their due consideration in the plenary. Also ensure that any outstanding accountability committee reports, which have been tabled but not debated, are saved as Parliamentary business to be considered.
  • Policy Option 3: Reorganize the conduct of plenary sessions to allow more time for debate of reports, including accountability committee reports.

Other Recommendations

In addition to the above core recommendations to streamline and support oversight work done by the accountability committees in Parliament, a number of other recommendations could help the work done by the accountability committees achieve its maximum impact.

  • General Institutional Environment of Parliament

Business tracking software and websites/portals would help Parliament ensure that business—like the oversight process—that has to go through multiple stages does not get lost at some point in the process. For the example of the work of the accountability committees, the reports presented by the Chairperson of PAC at the end of the 8th Parliament have never been taken up again by the 9th Parliament. Having a tracker would help the Speaker’s Office, the Committee Chairpersons, and other interested parties to make sure that reports from accountability committees do not get lost between parliamentary sessions and between different stages of the process.

As reports have to go through many stages over an often extended period of time, a tracker is an essential tool in following accountability processes through to their conclusion. Ideally such a business tracker would include both internal versions for Parliament to follow and a public version, so that the public can easily access information on the status of accountability committee reports and other parliamentary business. Public access to the progress of parliamentary business can also support the public to demand action on outstanding accountability reports in cases where they are overdue.

  • Political Will and Support for Accountability Processes

Generating political consensus on the importance of oversight processes among both Government and opposition leaders in Parliament would help highlight the importance of accountability proceedings to ensure that they are followed through to their conclusion. Informants for this study emphasized two themes: 1) that the ruling party and government leadership were often reluctant to give prominence to oversight processes for fear that they would make the government or its leaders look bad; 2) that the opposition was happy to use accountability issues for political capital through the “theatre” of PAC and the plenary, but not particularly concerned to follow through on whether Government responded adequately to the concerns raised in the AG’s and the Committee’s reports. Building political consensus within and across both sides that each will benefit from being seen as on the front lines of the war against corruption can help make sure that accountability processes are backed up by political will to reach their necessary resolution.

  • Improving the Record-keeping and Institutional Memory of the Committees

To support a consistent method of work and smooth transitions in the committee process, establishing a system of record keeping and data management for each committee in the office of the clerk will support a more efficient and institutionalized framework for accountability committees. At present lack of an electronic and well-organized system for keeping minutes and records of committee processes makes report-writing difficult, especially when report writing carries over to new committee leadership. It also should make it easier for committees to take a consistent approach to investigations through providing documentation of how issues were investigated by a previous committee. Establishing a full-fledged secretariat including fixed office space for each accountability committee should also provide for a greater level of continuity in the work of the committees.

  • Adjusting Parliamentary Staff Structure to Meet Committee Demands

As committees seek to discharge their duties in as efficient a way as possible, a number of options are possible to adjust Parliamentary staff structure to meet committee demands. On one level, reducing the workload on overworked clerks to committees may help improve efficiency in report writing and preparing MPs on the accountability committees for issues to be discussed. One area that was frequently named as a gap for either lack of time or lack of capacity was report writing by clerks. On another level, considering creative staffing structures for committee staff could help minimize the disruption caused by unavailability of technical staff to committees that travel extensively like LGAC. Generating material to help MPs focus may require both recruiting and equipping technical staff with very focused skill sets and to consider supporting professional staff for individual MPs or small groups of MPs. Although the MPs may have incentives not to take advantage of the guidance provided by the technical staff, considering a flexible and tailored plan for staffing the accountability committees and the MPs that operate in them could help professionalize their methods of work, reduce wastage of time, and produce higher quality reports. Having at least three clerks for each accountability committee would be optimal, according to the Vice Chairperson of PAC.

This study is made possible by the support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) through the Governance, Accountability, Participation and Performance (GAPP) Program contract. The contents of this study are the sole responsibility of Centre for Policy Analysis and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, DFID and or the Government of Uganda.