Par­lia­men­tary over­sight in ac­count­abil­ity af­fects ser­vice de­liv­ery in pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions

By: REA­GAN WA­MA­JJI

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.images(1)

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.