This chapter presents the findings, interpretations of data collected and comparison of the findings with other findings from different but related studies. The data was analyzed and findings presented on the basis of the study objectives and research questions. Further, the findings are discussed in light of the practical experiences of the primary respondents as well as related literature.
CHALLENGES FACED BY ACCOUNTABILITY COMMITTEES
To analyse the challenges that Parliamentary Accountability Committees face in considering the AG’s reports efficiently and effectively, we will analyse four stages: 1) the commencement of the consideration of AG’s reports by the committees; 2) the consideration of reports in the committee, including hearing witnesses and writing reports; 3) the process by which reports are tabled, debated and adopted in the plenary; and 4) the process by which the Government provides Treasury Memoranda on all adopted reports and reports back to Parliament. Each stage of the process faces unique challenges, and each of these unique challenges has an impact on the use of the AG’s reports.
Challenges at the beginning of consideration of AG reports
(a) Backlog of outstanding reports
One of the major challenges in the efficient consideration of AG’s reports by PAC, LGAC, and COSASE is the delay to consider reports as they are presented by the Auditor General. There are a number of reasons for the delay in consideration but the most important one is a huge backlog of outstanding reports. The huge backlog of outstanding reports is brought about by a number of factors, most of which will be considered in subsequent sections of this report.
To illustrate the backlog of reports existing, Parliament has yet to debate and adopt any annual report on Central Government or Local Governments since the reports from the 2004/5 Fiscal Year; they have adopted Special Investigation Reports and two LGAC reports: 2008/9 that covers 36 districts and 2009/10 that covers 41 districts. This means that no Treasury Memoranda have been issued on annual reports since the ones responding to the 2004/5 Fiscal Year reports. At the level of producing reports, PAC has not produced a final report on any Auditor General’s annual report since the 2008/9 Auditor General’s Report. LGAC has not produced a final report on any year since their partial report on the 2008/9 and 2009/10 FYs.
The LGAC under Chairperson Hon. Ekanya presented one report (for 2000-2001) and left four draft reports (for the years 2001/2, 2002/3, 2003/4, and 2004/5). The LGAC under Chairperson Hon. Katuntu presented Ekanya’s draft reports and also left five reports in draft form, including the years 2005/6-2007/8, the Special Audit Report on Lands (KCC), and the Special Audit on Markets for Kawempe Division. The LGAC under Chairperson Hon. Jack Sabiiti did not table Chairperson Hon. Abdu Katuntu’s draft reports, but presented the reports for 36 and 41 districts for the years 2008/9 and 2009/10.
Table 2: AG’s Annual Reports on Central Government (under consideration by PAC)
36 districts considered for the 2008/9 FY Report. This report was tabled on 27 August 2013 but was not presented because the Minister was not around and the report did not appear on the Order Paper again, possibly due to a clerical error.
**41 districts considered for the 2009/10 FY Report. This report was presented and debated on 25 September 2013 but the question for adoption to the House was not put, although the Minister was told that Parliament expected aTreasury Memorandum in response to issues raised.
NA=In this case not available because the Treasury Memorandum has never been issued.
NONE = In this case no information available because reports have not been considered.
Source: Parliamentary Hansards, Committee Reports
COSASE has over 100 statutory corporations to consider and in the 9th Parliament the committee tabled 5 reports. Of the 5 reports, 3 reports were from the AG reports and 2 were petitions from the Uganda Railways tenants association on the transfer of 57.93 acres of land at Nsambya from Uganda Railways Corporation to Uganda land commission and on the eviction of tenants from plots 85 to 95 port bell road luzira which were adopted by the House.
In addition to the backlog of annual reports, there are also Value for Money audit reports that are outstanding—about 61 such reports have yet to be adopted (only one of these 61 was tabled). For LGAC, the situation is particularly critical since they also have lower local governments accounts reports to consider, many of which have been outstanding for a number of years. COSASE also has a backlog of reports, some of them dating back over 10 years. With such a huge backlog, committees often prioritize clearing backlog rather than considering current AG reports in an expeditious fashion. For example, in the 8th Parliament, the PAC spent a considerable amount of time considering backlog reports from the 7th Parliament before it even began reports tabled in the 8th Parliament. LGAC in the 9th Parliament did not consider the 2006-2008 FY AG’s reports, but has to date completed partial reports on 2008/9 and 2009/10 FYs, a report for municipalities for the 2008/9 FYs (which was debated and adopted on 06/03/2014), and other selected reports as detailed above.
(b) Funding for committee work
The level of funding for accountability committees has an impact on their ability to review and report on the AG’s reports. For the PAC, considerable funding support has come from the FINMAP project since the 8th Parliament, which has allowed them to sit extra days and extra hours, and provide allowances for the members of the committee. Given also that PAC rarely travels, funding levels for PAC would seem to be less of a concern, with the caveat that depending so heavily on donor funding for the committee makes its funding situation more precarious than necessary. Also, the generous support for PAC creates a level of expectations among MPs that they will receive generous allowances for PAC work, threatening the integrity of the committee if such allowances fail to continue in the future.
LGAC has more limited donor interest, and considerably higher costs due to the demands of extensive travel. The Committees prepare work plans, and these work plans are relayed to FINMAP by the Director of Corporate Planning and Strategy, and then FINMAP processes the request for funds. While this funding system usually works relatively well, there can be gaps as in the case of the 2012/13 Fiscal Year, when donor support was suspended. Therefore, excessive dependence on FINMAP support for certain activities can also undermine the efficiency of LGAC work, as LGAC waits for FINMAP to process funds. This is, however, a relatively rare occurrence and has not made a significant impact on their ability to address their workload and clear any outstanding backlog.
(c) Logistics for LGAC
There are a number of other issues that can delay consideration of reports by the accountability committees. One is the question of logistics, particularly important for the LGAC, which carries out its hearings in districts. LGAC frequently faces challenges in arranging travel, because its members normally attend Parliament during the three days of plenary session, and then are supposed to travel to districts for hearings. Officials may often not be available on the days when the Committee is scheduled to travel to the districts. The procedure of conducting hearings at the district level has also implied that LGAC needs to cover at least 111 districts during the consideration of each report, if they are to cover every district. Given that each district hearing is likely to take at least a day, each AG report will require at least 111 days of hearings, not even considering travel days required to reach each district. Given the number of workdays available for LGAC in a year, ever increasing backlog seems inevitable, if the current method of work continues. The workload of LGAC also includes the consideration of reports on lower local governments, which adds a huge number of administrative units to their already considerable workload of 111 districts.
(d) Availability and commitment of MPs
Another obstacle is the availability of committee members, given their other commitments in Parliament, including the sectoral committees on which they sit, their responsibilities in their constituencies, and their other commitments, such as party activities. The large number of members on each committee (30 each for PAC and LGAC) means that achieving the required quorum of 15 MPs can be difficult at times, although committees have frequently carried out hearings without realizing the full quorum of their members.
Obstacles to the efficient consideration of reports in Committees
Efficient consideration of the AG’s annual reports and other reports by PAC and LGAC remains a challenge. The average time between the tabling of the AG’s reports in Parliament and the debate and adoption of these reports by Parliament exceeded the constitutionally mandated limit of six months in all cases where the full process was completed. For example, for the case of the PAC reports, the number of years from the end of the Fiscal Year until adoption of PAC reports ranged from three and a half years for the 1995 and 1996 FYs to seven years for the 1999 and 2002 FYs, for the years on which data were available. Since 2006 no PAC report on the AG’s annual report has been adopted; the 2006-9 FY reports were laid on the table at the end of the 8th Parliament but have never been debated or adopted.
Similar patterns are demonstrated by the LGAC’s reports considering the AG’s reports. For the 2001-2005 FYs, the number of years from the end of the Fiscal Year ranged from a low of four and a half years in 2005 to a high of seven and a half years for the 2001 and 2002 Fiscal Years. Only two years of the AG’s annual reports of Local Governments have been considered by the LGAC and tabled, debated and adopted, and even submission covered only 36 and 41 of Parliament’s 111 districts.
According to one former PAC Chairperson, “Parliament takes too much time to consider work and does not meet its deadlines.” Another informant also indicated that PAC and LGAC spend excessive time on hearings and report writing, leading to unnecessarily slow consideration of the AG’s reports.
(a) Methods of work
Respondents identified a number of challenges to the efficient consideration of reports by Committees. One of the crucial factors identified in terms of delays in consideration of AG’s reports was the method of work of the committees. In the case of PAC, a number of respondents pointed out that PAC spent excessive time on discussing each query raised in the AG’s report, even ones that had already been resolved by the AG. Respondents also indicated that MPs tended to raise policy issues such as levels of funding, incomplete staffing, and similar issues that were outside the scope of misuse or misappropriation of resources. To generate more focus on relevant concerns raised in the AG’s reports, respondents suggested a focus on outstanding queries or queries where significant amounts of funds were lost, in order not to unnecessarily repeat work done by the AG without adding value. Another respondent suggested that committees should only talk to a selected range of accounting officers to cover all the major issues and make recommendations that apply across all the ministries or districts.
In the 9th Parliament, PAC has sat for extended hours, with the Committee often sitting between 6-10 hours per day, five days per week. But the speed of consideration of reports clearly presents one of the central problems. A senior technical staff member indicated that the workload for the committees was extremely high and that they needed to prioritize outstanding issues in the AG’s reports to ensure that they did not fall behind. According to one official in the Ministry of Finance, Parliament should not re-do the work of the AG. Instead, PAC should ask the accounting officers what steps they have taken to address the recommendations of the AG, make recommendations, and charge government to take certain actions.
(b) Policies and procedures for hearings and report writing
Another senior technical staff member suggested a number of gaps in the way accountability meetings are organized. He noted that agenda and structure for meetings are inadequate, meaning that timing and organizing meetings is difficult. The technical staff member also noted that there are no briefs prepared; such briefs could be helpful in determining a short list of outstanding items to be discussed and how they would be discussed. Finally, there is no established procedure for report writing, meaning that in many cases the accountability committee reports just mirror the AG’s reports, rather than summarizing the report and focusing on outstanding questions. Establishing a procedure for generating more focused reports would help limit the length of reports, make them more user-friendly, and set a clear and manageable agenda for debate in the plenary.
(c ) Media visibility leads to increased politicization and derailment of committee work
Respondents identified a number of other concerns regarding the speed of consideration of reports for the case of PAC. First, the fact that the Committee is open to the media and frequently receives extensive media coverage means that MPs often use the Committee to make political points on issues not relevant to the AG’s reports. As one informant noted, “Parliament’s business is mainly politics,” arguing that MPs in LGAC addressed issues related to the Market Vendors’ Initiative because of its political capital and abandoned the regular work of the committee in the meantime. Given the potential large size of the committee, with up to 30 members present, plus other members allowed to attend, this can significantly derail the proceedings of committees. The potential (especially of PAC) for political theatre means that the MPs will raise questions to generate political capital in the media and then leave before the response. At times the political theatre has been useful, and has helped draw public attention to mismanagement, as in the case of OPM or CHOGM, but one respondent indicated that “We have succeeded in making the committees visible but not in clearing the backlog.”
(d) Limited preparation of committees on how to approach work
Second, a number of respondents indicated that MPs are frequently unprepared for committee meetings, and the committee often proceeds without a clear strategy for how to address issues raised in the AG’s report. The committee chairpersons and the MPs seldom use the technocrats from the Committee, from the clerk’s office, and from the AG’s team to prepare and organize the Committee’s approach to the AG’s reports. This limited preparation and focus can lead to slow consideration of the AG’s report, with the committee members lacking consensus on how to consider the reports. Lack of consensus may also have a significant impact on the report writing process, delaying it as MPs wrestle with each other over conflicting opinions.
(e) LGAC holding districts presents logistical challenges
In the case of LGAC, the committee’s practice of travelling to hold hearings in the districts reflected in the AG’s report means that the logistics of arranging such trips becomes complicated and delays consideration, as discussed above. While the media element of the LGAC may not be as important as that of PAC, the LGAC may also have difficulties mobilizing members for trips due to their wide range of other commitments and the limited rewards of travelling for LGAC work. LGAC work also takes time away from MPs as they seek to meet their obligations in Kampala and in their constituencies, making it less likely for MPs to participate in committee work.
(f) Written procedures to guide operation of committees
As a number of informants noted, the written procedures to guide the committees on exactly how they should operate do not exist. Given the unfamiliarity of most MPs with auditing and accounting issues, the fairly short terms of committee members, and the complicated technical nature of many of the contentious issues brought before PAC and LGAC, such lack of written procedure is critical in undermining the efficient and smooth functioning of the accountability committees.
(g) Availability and competence of support staff to provide relevant technical support
A number of respondents mentioned the availability of support staff to provide timely and relevant support to the committees as a challenge. Although PAC is fairly well resourced in terms of dedicated staff, respondents indicated that clerks are frequently torn between administrative duties and report writing. Given the length of time for which PAC sits each day, and the frequency with which it sits, clerks can face challenges in completing reports, although this may be alleviated by the recent assignment of an additional clerk to PAC. The tendency for clerks to be overwhelmed with work means that even if that clerk is only assigned to one committee, they can still fail to deliver on their responsibilities in a timely fashion. According to some respondents, clerks to accountability committees should have an accounting background in order to be able to manage the issues addressed in the committee more competently. While they have the support of research officers and other technical staff with relevant technical capabilities, some committee members felt that because of the key role of the clerks, their particular technical skills should match the needs of the committees.
Although technical staff are also attached to committees, staff with legal or other technical experience frequently work on several committees. This can mean that committees with very intense workloads that sit for long periods on a regular basis lack the staff to address issues raised in the committee adequately. For example, one former chairperson of LGAC raised the issue that legal technical staff were unable to travel with the LGAC team due to the fact that they were shared, leaving the committee with a lack of legal support during their hearings on the road.
(h) Lack of definition of roles and responsibilities of technical staff
In addition to availability, technical staff may lack definition of roles and responsibilities in terms of the committee work for which they are accountable. Support also comes from other technical bodies like the Parliamentary Liaison office of the Auditor General, yet despite their mandate to prepare briefs to guide the oversight committees and provide de-briefing of these committees, many respondents indicate that MPs are frequently unprepared or unaware of key issues. The lack of qualified technical staff assigned to individual MPs also limits initiatives to help MPs debate and discuss from a more informed perspective.
(i) Capacity of committee members to handle accountability issues
Respondents also questioned the capacity of MPs to address accountability issues, citing chairpersons or vice chairpersons who were allocated to committees by political parties based on loyalty, regional balance or other criteria, but who were often lacking the education, skills or experience to address the level of technical issues required of them during hearings. One respondent and former chairperson of PAC argued that committee chairpersons should be elected based on their competence to handle issues raised. According to this informant, the committees should be headed by people with professional experience in accountancy.
(j) Morale in committee on the impact of their reports
Another concern raised was low morale, with respondents arguing that MPs lost the incentive to do committee work because the government took no action on the reports produced by the accountability committees. It is difficult to evaluate how much impact of the limited follow up by the government on the issues raised discourages MPs on the committees from doing their work.
(k) The Importance of good leadership
Good leadership can make a difference in terms of the progress of the committee. A good leader, supported by an effective clerk, can motivate his team, keep them focused, and generate support from the donor community for additional work. Without clear direction, however, influential members of the committee can hold the committee hostage by raising irrelevant issues, engaging in conflicts with other members of the committee, and failing to ensure that work is delivered on a reasonable schedule.
(l) Political and financial pressure on committee members and staff
Political and financial pressure from those under investigation by the committees also can cause delays and loss of integrity of the committees, especially in the case of sensitive reports like CHOGM or OPM. According to one respondent, this can come in several forms. Since membership of the committee is proportional to the strength of the party in Parliament, the ruling party can use its numerical advantage to place pressure on the committee to backtrack on issues that put the party or its senior leadership in a negative light.
In other instances, according to this informant, money and intimidation can be used by powerful individuals seeking to change the outcomes of committee work. While the use of bribery and intimidation is extremely difficult to prove, it can delay and undermine the work of the committee and put the integrity of its reports into question. Corruption can also make chairpersons reluctant to include controversial recommendations for fear that they will not be passed because MPs will have been compromised to oppose them, as in the case of the LGAC delaying its consideration of the Report on KCC markets due to allegations of bribery.
(m) Financial incentives not to complete reports efficiently?
A final concern in the financial motivations for the accountability committees is the problem of “moral hazard.” By paying MPs to sit additional times to address backlog, the incentive to clear reports expeditiously may be undermined by the desire to drag reports out as long as possible in order to get paid more money for extra sittings of the committee to address backlog. According to one informant, they have been paying MPs for the past six years to clear backlog in PAC, LGAC and COSASE. After these six years the backlog is no closer to being cleared. One approach to eliminating the potential moral hazard problem might beto incentivize the completion of reports by MPs, paying them for completing work rather than for number of days they sit. This is a politically unlikely solution, however, and the ability of the bureaucracy to compel MPs to deliver completed reports is very limited.
Delays in consideration of completed reports by the plenary
In many cases, there are significant delays in the tabling, debate and adoption of completed reports by the plenary. In previous parliaments, the time between tabling and adoption range from one day for the PAC reports on the 1995 and 2001 Fiscal Years to 373 days for the PAC reports on the 2002 Fiscal Years. In extreme cases, therefore, the slow process of consideration of PAC reports in the House can delay a report for over a year. Similar data on the LGAC reports show that days between tabling and adoption range from a low of one day for the 2002 FY reports to 364 days for the 2004 and 2005 FY reports. There are also considerable delays in the tabling of completed reports, but data on this are more difficult to come by due to limited recordkeeping of the date when concluded reports are handed over to the Clerk and Speaker.
(a) Infrequent Business Committee Meetings
One of the reasons identified by respondents for delays in the tabling of accountability committee reports is the infrequent meetings of the Business Committee. Several respondents indicated that the Business Committee only meets infrequently, leaving little opportunity for committee chairpersons to lobby for the inclusion of their reports in the business to follow and the order paper. While the Business Committee meets at the beginning of each session to set the agenda for the year, more frequent meetings might be helpful to adjust the agenda to accommodate completed accountability committee reports and other relevant business. In cases where the Business Committee seldom meets, the leadership of the committee chairpersons is particularly important to advocate for reports to appear when the agenda of business is crowded.
(b) No fixed schedule for considering accountability committee reports
The lack of a guaranteed scheduled time to consider accountability committee reports on the Parliamentary calendar also contributes to low priority for the accountability committee reports, especially compared to other parts of the budgeting process. Time being dedicated to Matters of National Importance and Ask the Prime Minister in the plenary, as demonstrated by the research of Kasfir and Twebaze (2013), also reduces the time available for discussion of accountability committee reports.
(c) Reports not carried over from one Parliament to another
Another reason for the lapsing of some concluded reports in the plenary is that some business is not carried over from one Parliament to another. In the 8th Parliament, several annual reports were tabled by the Chairperson of PAC on the last day of Parliament. There was no resolution of Parliament to carry these reports over into the 9th Parliament, and to date Parliament has not considered these tabled reports, meaning that reports from the 2006-2009 Fiscal Year reports of PAC have not been debated or adopted by Parliament. Part of the explanation for business not carrying over is limited record keeping on reports in progress, leading to lack of institutional memory on which accountability reports need to be concluded.
In other cases the handover process from one committee chairperson to another leaves reports that are either in draft or have been tabled in limbo, as the new chairpersons may either lack information on the work completed or be more interested in producing their own work, rather than following up on a previous chairperson’s work. The new chairpersons may have few political incentives to follow up on outstanding reports since they are more likely to make their reputation for the work they begin and complete themselves.
(d) Political Sensitivity of reports
In the 9th Parliament, some reports have also suffered due to their political sensitivity. The OPM report was ready for presentation by May 2013 but was not actually presented to the plenary until February 2014. Although the political sensitivity of OPM, CHOGM and Temangalo reports may be the exception rather than the rule, political dynamics may play a significant role in delaying reports, especially Special Investigation Reports on politically sensitive topics.
At a broader level the accountability committee reports may also be unappealing to Government, for several reasons. First, they are products of the opposition, as the opposition chairs all the accountability committees. This makes it less likely that government will want to give prominence to the efforts of their political opponents. Second, the contents of the reports may cast the government in an unfavourable light to the extent that they expose financial mismanagement or corruption. Third, the Leader of Government Business in the House may not consider them a priority since Government does not consider them as Government business in the same way as it considers the budget, government-sponsored bills and other government business before the House. According to some informants, the low priority placed on accountability committee reports by Government for political reasons also therefore delays their tabling and consideration in the plenary.
Delays In The Issuing and Addressing Of Treasury Memoranda
Another potential source of delays in the finalization of accountability committee reports is in the issuing of Treasury Memoranda on the Accountability Committee reports as well as re-consideration of the memoranda when returned to Parliament. According to data from Kasfir and Twebaze on the LGAC, the months between the adoption of reports and the issuing of treasury memoranda range from a low of 11 months in the 2004 and 2005 FY to a high of 23 months in the 2001 FY. Data from our research show that the delay can in some cases be as great as five years, although is usually considerably less. On the other hand, data shows that the final stages of the accountability cycle are unclear.
(a) Infrequent reports coming from Parliament
Officials from the Treasury indicate that their major challenge is the lack of reports coming from Parliament, indicating that the last set of completed recommendations for an annual report of the AG was for the 2004/5Fiscal Year. According to Treasury officials, memoranda should be ready in not more than three months, even if they sometimes fail to complete their memoranda within this time frame. The Treasury officials interviewed indicated that they do not place pressure on Parliament to issue recommendations, since their work is independent of each other.
There can also, however, be significant delays in the issuing of Treasury Memoranda, as the tables below show.
We see from the tables that while the Treasury has in some cases issued Memoranda as quickly as 11 months after the receipt of the adopted reports, in other cases (the 2001 LGAC report, for example) there has been a delay of 2-3 years from when the reports were adopted to the receipt of the Treasury Memoranda by the House. This is a significant delay in the oversight process and limits the effectiveness of the reports and public interest in what happens to accountability proceedings.
- b) Unclear procedure when Treasury Memoranda are returned to the house
At the very final stage of the accountability process, when the Treasury Memoranda are returned to the House, there has been only two Treasury Memoranda presented in the House (Treasury Memorandum for the year ended 30th June 2000 and Treasury Memorandum for the year ended 30th June 2001 for PAC) on 1st April 2008, and were referred to the committee to study and help the House debate. There has yet to be an instance, according to our data, of when the returned Memoranda are debated by the House, as is generally agreed should be the case. This means that the Government’s response to the recommendations is never evaluated and debated, thus allowing the Government to ignore potentially unpleasant recommendations.
The major obstacle is the adoption of reports of PAC and LGAC, but the final stages of the accountability process—whether the Treasury memoranda are issued, whether the Treasury memoranda are audited by the AG, whether PAC follows up on this audit of the Treasury memoranda, and whether the plenary finds time to consider what the AG and PAC/LGAC have discovered regarding the response—still seems to be missing. This is particularly important because whether the recommendations are acted upon determines whether the work of the committees on the AG’s report is bearing fruit in terms of improving the financial management of public expenditure, reducing corruption and improving accountability.