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Corruption threatens Shs 950bn Education projects

By Peter Nyanzi

Ordinarily, the police would arrest anyone found with government property at his home and charge him with “possession of government stores.” But in Sembabule District, the police are instead thanking people who were found using hundreds of school desks and chairs at their homes. The citizens told the Police that they only helped to rescue the new furniture, which was left abandoned in the rain by the roadside. The furniture was part of a donor-funded project to support rural primary schools under the Universal Primary Education (UPE). In the same district, seven schools never received the furniture but the police are holding receipts claiming to show the furniture was delivered.

In the same Luganda-speaking Sembabule district which is in central Uganda, head teachers were shocked to receive dozens of cartons of books written in the Lugbara language of West Nile in northwest Uganda.  Under a Shs 3.6 billion project involving Pearson Publishers, Longman Publishers, Fountain Publishers, and Sterling Publishers, 1,490 schools were supposed to receive the books. The project has, however, been so mismanaged that Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) has recommended to the World Bank to declare the award of tender to supply text books for Universal Secondary Education by the four publishing firms a  “a mis-procurement.”

But the corruption in UPE and the book publishers’ scandal cannot be compared with the losses so far unearthed in the US$375 million (Approx. Shs 950 billion) project meant to support the Uganda Post Primary Education and Training Programme (UPPET) over a period of 10 years.  Under phase 1 of the project, 760 secondary schools countrywide were to be beneficiaries of the loan from the International Development Agency of the World Bank in 2009. The money was meant to build schools, buy furniture, and training school management committees

Unfortunately, because of sheer negligence, corruption and abuse of office, many UPE schools got far more furniture than they could keep in the available structures. For example, one school that had only two classrooms was given 224 chairs, 28 tables each seating 8 pupils, 72 desks and 8 tables for teachers. Even if all the furniture was packed in the classrooms floor to roof, half of it would still remain outside. In another bizarre incident, the furniture was simply abandoned by the transporter about 25 km away from the beneficiary school.

From the pile by the roadside, villagers picked the furniture, which was clearly marked as government property, and took it to their homes.  Surprisingly, the contractors were fully paid and the delivery notes on file indicate that the goods were delivered to and “received” by the schools.  For instance, 150 pieces of furniture were recovered in just three days, with hundreds more still in people’s homes.

Worse than murderers

Kinkizi East MP Chris Baryomunsi says those who swindled money intended for educating Uganda’s children “are worse than murderers who deserve the worst possible punishment.”

Baryomunsi, who also sits on the Social Services Committee of Parliament, said corruption involving UPE is the worst form of graft as it puts the future of the country at risk. “Those are criminals who deserve to be treated with the strongest iron hand. Those involved should be arrested and prosecuted immediately with a view of recovering our money,” he says.

This concern is not unfounded. Parents and whole communities are bitter and angry with the government because their children are not going to school. Corruption is negating what UPE was supposed to achieve – making education equitable in order to eliminate disparities and inequalities. As one of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), enabling children to stay in school for as long as possible was seen as the basis for promoting the necessary human resource development.

Since it was introduced in 1997, UPE has faced enormous challenges mostly corruption, which has left massive numbers in schools without facilities, teachers, and teaching/learning materials, which have compromised the quality of education.  Anti-corruption activists and education experts are concerned because if corruption is not checked, it would frustrate government efforts to create a more dynamic and productive work force.  As part of the investigation, which also targets furniture and presidential pledges, Police detectives have uncovered ghost schools, ghost pupils and ghost teachers.

In the Sembabule case, Education ministry officials are faulting the contractor, HL Investments Ltd, for the loss, but the company’s Managing Director, Henry Lubwaama, told the investigators that he has evidence that all the contracts, certificates and delivery notes were duly signed as required – meaning that the company was deemed to have fulfilled its part of the contract. But the detectives found that the contractor was overloaded with too much work, which could allude to influence peddling and possible kickbacks.

1000 cases of fraud

In November 2009, President Yoweri Museveni instituted a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the mismanagement of UPE and USE in the ministry of Education. The Commission uncovered almost 1,000 cases of alleged inflated funds, ghost teachers and schools, incomplete and shoddy construction among others. The commission’s report, which was handed over to the President at the end of September, noted that trillions of shillings could have been lost since 1997 when UPE was introduced in the country. No action has been taken on the report yet, but Baryomunsi says the Social Services Committee will “take appropriate action” when the report is tabled in the House. Also, Police detectives have found “good leads” and concrete evidence.

Phony companies

In the swindled US$375 million (Approx. Shs 950 billion) loan from the International Development Agency of the World Bank , which was got 2009 for Post Primary Education and Training Programme (UPPET) over a period of 10 years, physical facilities including classrooms, libraries, multipurpose science rooms, administration blocks, teachers’ houses, water and sanitation facilities were to be built.

Though the contractors were supposed to be procured under a school-based approach, whereby the school committees and boards of governors are supposed to get their contractors and pay them to build and furnish the schools, Police detectives found that the construction on numerous schools has ground to a halt because of corruption. Already, several top ministry of Education officials have been questioned at the CID headquarters over the matter.

Kamua Engineering International Jensen Ltd is on the spot for forging bid security documents from Barclays Bank. Police detectives have singled out its director, a one Didas Arinaitwe for possible prosecution for fraud and forgery of official documents. He is said to have specialized in fraudulently registering companies and using them to win government tenders and defrauding government and people using these companies. One such company, which has been blacklisted by PPDA, is Zionat Multipurpose International Ltd, which fraudulently secured a contract to construct Kigarama Mixed Secondary School.

The company used a forged bank security number 7551 for Shs 3.5 million and a forged certificate of incorporation dated June 20, 2004.  The same company was sub-contracted by Kamua Engineering International Jensen Ltd to do work in Bundibugyo but the construction stalled.  Investigators were shocked to find that in several companies, Arinaitwe had the sole powers of attorney. Interestingly, while the companies got the money to do the job, suppliers have never been paid and are now seeking redress from the courts of law.  Apparently, Kamua’s companies were using the same photographs of works done and the few pieces equipment it had to win contracts across the country. For instance, it would use the same equipment to bid for contracts at eight schools in Mbarara, Fort Portal and Kiboga District all of which had to be completed in the same period.  Detectives are pointing to kickbacks and influence peddling on the part of ministry officials, otherwise it would not be possible to win these tenders if the right procedures were followed.

For example, it was found that where Arinaitwe’s companies did not apply for the tender, it would be re-advertised. Where the school board clearly recommended another company, ministry officials in Kampala would replace it with another company. This was in contravention of the rules, which stipulated that the schools were supposed to deal directly with the PPDA and not the ministry.  The school-based thinking was based on the widely-held conviction for moving decision-making away from centralized government agencies and making it more responsive to the needs and concerns of the people at the grassroots. However, the officials abused the process with careless abandon, which left the communities confused and angry.

“So many omissions were made deliberately for selfish interest and these amounts to criminal activities,” a police detective said. “The public officials involved definitely have to show cause why they should not be charged with abuse of office.”

The CID recently questioned Isaac Kyaligonza, the head of the procurement and disposal unit in the education ministry, over contracts under the project, which is now way behind schedule. Kyaligonza was also questioned on several consultancy firms, some of which are suspected to belong to ministry officials, which were awarded contracts to train school management teams from 222 schools across the country.

Baryomunsi urged the Police to carry out their investigations quickly so that the cases can be handled expeditiously.  “Those involved should incur the maximum punishment under the law,” he said. “Uganda has no greater enemy than those who mismanage a project intended to secure the country’s future.” Indeed, the framers of the project had the future in mind – as part of the strategic plan to improve the quality and enhance efficiency of post primary education in Uganda. The project provides additional facilities such as improved sanitation, improved water supply, multi-purpose science rooms and libraries, as well as supplies such as science kits and text books.

However, The Independent can reveal that even the procurement of textbooks was abused.  In an investigation by the PPDA, the procurement of text books under the same project was declared “irregular” with the Authority faulting the accounting officer for “interfering with the procurement process.” It was found that the letter of bid acceptance issued to the M/s Pearson/Longman and M/s Fountain/Sterling Publishers required them to sign contracts with individual head teachers of the selected schools yet “the purchaser is was GoU represented by Ministry of Education Sports. This involved more than Shs 3.6 billion, which was disbursed to the selected 1,490 schools “without committing the publishers.” Also, the Solicitor General’s approval of the contract was not sought contrary to PPDA Regulations.  The PPDA therefore recommended that the World Bank should declare the award of tender to supply text books for Universal Secondary Education by M/s Fountain/Sterling Publishers and Pearson Education “a mis-procurement.”

It further recommended that a consultant named Geoffrey Balyejjusa of M/s Meltrac Uganda Ltd be blacklisted “for failure to conduct this procurement professionally.” This project is to be implemented over a 10-year period in three phases: Phase I, 2009 – 2011 (worth $150m); Phase II, 2012-2014 ($125m); and Phase III, 2015 – 2018 (worth $100m).  However, Phase I is now behind schedule thanks to the mismanagement and selfish interest of the officials in charge.  This means the subsequent phases have also been thrown behind schedule – to the utter disadvantage of thousands of students who will be completing their PLE with nowhere to go for their secondary education.  It is not clear how the strict World Bank procurement procedures were breached.  This is because while the contractors were supposed to be selected in accordance with the procedures set out in the World Bank’s international guidelines and the PPDA rules, the investigations show that this was not the case.

On paper, the government of Uganda has been credited for its commitment to human development of her population – thanks to UPE and UPPET.  However, the quality of education is said to be wanting because the resources to make it better are being swindled by officials who take their own children to expensive private schools.

Bad role models

But while worries about the quality of education persist, experts such as Prof. Komlavi Francisco Seddoh say that the more serious concern should be that of the children who see all this blatant corruption going on around them in their formative years.

“No longer are their teachers, or their political leaders, or those who brought learning to the villagers, their heroes,” he said in a recent keynote address. “Now the heroes are the [conmen]- those who develop tricks to cheat and steal money from ordinary people and the government, and get away with it.” The education experts say that in almost every theory of sustainable development, education is hailed as the single most important driver for a better future. There is a fear that UN MDG number 2 – achieve UPE by 2015 – might not be reached because of corruption.  Corruption in the education sector is said to be “the worst form of corruption” and one that deserves the harshest punishment. This is even more urgent given the stagnating levels of aid for education and basic education.

According to World Bank studies, of all the MDGS, educating children—particularly girls—has the greatest impact on eliminating poverty. Uganda has achieved near universal enrollment at the primary level, but is unlikely to meet the MDG of universal completion of primary education.

A need exists for additional facilities including classrooms, science laboratories, libraries and improved water and sanitation, qualified teachers, text books and other learning materials, and supporting management and supervision services. Additionally, less than one-third of the students enrolled are actually completing school. Ministry of Education statistics show that of 10 pupils who started P.1 in 2003, only three sat for PLE in 2009.   Also, surveys have shown that Ugandan children perform worst in basic reading, writing and numeracy skills, which means more resources need to be committed to improving the quality of education.

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