The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Thomas Tayebwa has cautioned Accounting Officers of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) against acts of securing higher budgets than what the Finance Ministry allocates for projects by promising to give out kickbacks to legislators sitting on relevant committees.
Tayebwa sounded this warning on Friday morning at Hotel Africana in Kampala while opening the 6th Annual Procurement Summit 2022. The summit under the theme; Procurement as a tool for sustainable social economic development ; has been organised by the Institute of Procurement Professionals of Uganda (IPPU).
He said the games played by the Accounting Officers who cry to the Committees of Parliament to allocate more than what has been provided for specific projects in the Budget Framework Paper have made Parliament rebuked and accused of distorting the budget by giving additional resources.
Even some of the perceived and the real corruption in Parliament, especially around the budgeting process are integrated in procurement. Instead of focusing on Parliament saying it distorts your budgets, you better talk to Accounting Officers who come and lobby MPs and say ‘if you give me Shs10b extra for this project, I will return Shs1b’.This is especially on the development components” Tayebwa said.
He added that these kinds of schemes are successfully done with the support of the procurement professionals who authorize the projects that are exaggerated with an intention of stealing public funds hence affecting the quality of the works and the blame goes to Parliament which approved the budget.
“Then where is it going to come from? Is he (Accounting Officer) going to sell his cows? It is going to come from the contractor. It is going to be managed through the procurement process. They are going to get a contractor who is ready to give that kickback. There are contractors who can’t give, ” he added.
Because of this, the Deputy Speaker said, Parliament is perceived as corrupt even though the forgeries have been orchestrated by the Accounting Officers.
Tayebwa, who is also the Member of Parliament for Ruhinda North, urged the procurement professionals to redeem their profession from the public perception that they indulge in corruption tendencies while going about their duties.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Speaker raised a red flag on the continuous loss of public funds that procuring entities pay in fines to contractors for works not done due to failure to handover project sites in time.
He said this comes as a result of not involving procurement professionals in the critical stages of planning and designing of the projects so that by the time a contractor is procured, all the huddles that include land acquisition have been dealt with. Such delays to handover the projects to contractors have led to low absorption of funds which has remained a challenge to government especially if the projects are funded through loans.
“We are losing a lot of money through claims by contractors for work not done. You initiate a procurement process when you know you do not have a right of way and sign a contract. The contractor mobilizes for a year but you can’t even give him a kilometer of a road to start on. This contractor claims billions of Shillings. I hope we can integrate it into our planning so that maybe before a project of a certain threshold as you start the procurement, you are assured that indeed project affected persons are compensated and you are assured that you have acquired right of way especially on water, electricity and road projects” the Deputy Speaker guided.
He also warned MDAs against seeking for supplementary budgets towards the end of the financial year because after Parliament appropriates the money, it is not absorbed due to the long procurement process, hence the treasury sweeping it back to the Consolidated Fund.
Ramathan Ggoobi, the Permanent Secretary for Minister of Finance and also Secretary to the Treasury urged the procurement entities to promote the local contractors by ensuring transparency in reserving 30 percent of the civil works to the local contractors as per the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) regulations.
He said that much as the highest percentages of procured works and services in big government projects go to foreign companies, the 30 percent reservation should be transparently awarded to local entities so that they build their own capacity.
“The ball is in your hands as procurement entities to ensure that the 30 percent reservation for local companies is realized. I would like the procurement entities to take the lead in supporting the small and medium enterprises because this can help in our social economic transformation as a country” he said.
Ggoobi also emphasized the need of sensitizing the private sector about the need to embrace the automated procurement system that is currently being piloted by the government because it helps to curb corruption by reducing human contact during procurement. He said that this financial year, the system which has so far been piloted in 26 procuring entities, will be rolled out to 50 more agencies of government.
The Deputy Speaker agreed with the PS/ST saying that the country will benefit a lot if the private sector is supported to build its capacity so that they are able to compete favourably in the procurement market.
Tayebwa however, urged the private sector businesses to integrate professional procurement in their businesses in order to promote quality services through competition by advertising their services to attract good prices.
PPDA Executive Director Benson Turamye said that there are plans to amend the PPDA Act to provide for sustainable procurement so that all projects being implemented by the government comply with the environmental and social development stands.
Also, in offing is the Institute of Procurement and Supplies Chain Management Bill, 2022 which Pelly Mugasi the IPPU Council Chairperson said has been forwarded to the First Parliamentary Council for final drafting.
She said that IPPU with a membership of over 1600 procurement professionals does not have a legal framework and all their hopes are in the upcoming Bill.
The Deputy Speaker pledged Parliament support in processing the Bills that are aimed at improving the procurement processes because it is one way of saving the government from losing a lot of money.
“This law which you proposed, we shall ensure that if we find any gaps that do not give you enough room for cleaning up your profession, we will fill those gaps. I can assure you that we are going to wait for that law and I will push the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance to make sure it comes to the floor so that the sector can help to regulate itself” he stated.
Parliament is also reconsidering the Local Content Bill that was returned by the President and the Deputy Speaker said that gaps there will be soon filled to make it complete. The Bill is being privately sponsored by Kassanda North MP Patrick Nsamba with hope to protect the interests of the local companies in the critical procurement of services especially as the country braces for Oil and Gas production.