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ANALYSIS: Corruption growing in local governments

Auditor General names most corrupt districts as billions are swindled

Corruption among officials and contractors of district level local governments is a big and growing problem, according to the latest report from the Auditor General’s office.

But what is even more worrisome is that knowledgeable people seem to agree that it is the law, not the people, who are largely causing the problems.

According Jonas Mbabazi, who researches local government performance at the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets (PPDA) law is too elaborate and leads to lengthy procurement process, which affects the implementation process and also leads to failure to use budget money.

He also says that money from the central government tends to delay – sometimes arriving just weeks to the end of the Financial Year. This leads officials to hurry to spend it and end up breaching the law or squandering it.

And the AG report notes a few of the most corrupt cases.

Zombo District is one of them.  The tiny district on the border with the DR Congo in the West Nile region is your quintessential dysfunctional local government. Its roads are unpaved, schools are crumbling and hospitals are in a sicker state. Part of the problem is that Zombo district is among the least funded by the central government and has almost zero locally generated resources annually because it is a tiny rural district with limited taxable resources. It had an approved budget of Shs 15 billion in the 2016/17 FY.

This money is woefully little for Zombo to offer services listed under the law as decentralised by the central government to the local government at district level; including establishment and maintenance of education, health, water, and roads.

Zombo’s quarter a million people, already contending with poor services, must however compete with thousands more who come in from nearby DR Congo for the same services. This makes the services even more acutely inadequate.

Despite the pressure from the public that wants services, Zombo’s administrators are not ashamed to steal and squander even the little available resources.

In one case, about Shs20 million for construction of an Outpatients Department block at a major health facility; Alangi Health Centre III, was squandered.

The contractor, Bosan Investment Uganda Ltd, was supposed to finish the job at Shs20 million in three months as per agreement dated May 18, 2016. But five months after signing the contract, according to the Auditor General’s report, Shs19 million had been paid to the contractor but the structure was still at foundation level and the contractor had abandoned the site. To date patients continue using a make shift structure.

“There is no general ward and so cases that require admission are referred to Kango HCIII and Zeu HCIII,” the AG noted, “Patient mattresses were left lying on the compound. The health centre was unattended to by the time of inspection.”

When asked, the Accounting Officer explained that the contractor wounded up operations before fulfilling its obligation.

All this happened in a district that has no hospital and patients with major ailments must travel over 70kms to neighbouring Arua town. The highest level medical facility in Zombo is Nyapea Hospital, a level IV health center that serves the whole Zombo district. Even if it is designed to offer only primary health care non-specialty services, it is a de facto referral unit. That is why Zombo has been demanding that the central government builds a hospital in the district and President Yoweri Museveni has over the years promised one. So far none has been built.

Even if many patients go to Nyapea Hospital, it really is far away for many more and they resort to the lower Health Centre IIIs such as Alangi Health Centre from which Shs20 million was squandered.

And Zombo is not alone. In total, the auditor general’s report said up to Shs27 billion was lost in such poor procurement practices in the 111 districts. That is about Shs240 million lost in each district which is enough money to build 20 OPD units of the type Alangi Health Centre needed in each district.

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