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‘Contract monitoring coalition’ kicks off with World Bank support

After a year-long incubation process supported by the World Bank Institute, 19 Ugandan civil society organisations this week formally established a ‘contract monitoring coalition’ that aims to involve local communities in the oversight of government-funded projects—including those related to oil—awarded to private sector contractors.

“There have in the past been incidents of alleged collusion between contract parties,” Gilbert Sendugwa, who chaired the coalition in its formative stages, told Oil in Uganda. “Our coming on board is going to minimise that possibility and also improve the flow of information.  The coalition will provide a mechanism to bring communities on board, so that they understand the contract, they supervise it and, when the contractors leave, the communities know about the project and are able to sustain it.”

Mr. Sendugwa, who is also Coordinator of the pan-African Africa Freedom of Information Centre, went on to explain that community monitors would be trained to play an oversight role.  For example, he said, the government is funding the construction of 200 schools across the country, and community monitors could play a crucial role in ensuring that the selected contractors complete the work on time and to the agreed quality.

The coalition, Mr. Sendugwa stressed, is committed to a “multi-stakeholder approach,” and will wherever possible work collaboratively with the government and contractors.  Disputes often arise between government inspectors and contractors, he said, and third party monitors could help to resolve these. “A contract that performs is good for the client—in this case, the government—and is good for the contractor. Therefore the involvement of civil society can be very useful for the government and very useful for the private sector.”

Oil dimension

The 19 coalition members are grouped, according to their particular interest, into six, thematic “clusters”—agriculture; health; education; transport; water and environment, and energy and extractives, including oil and gas.

Mr. Sendwugwa acknowledged that there is a special difficulty with contract monitoring in the oil and gas sector because the key contracts between government and the oil companies are not in the public domain.

“We had hoped by this time to have a framework agreement with the Ministry of Energy and the oil companies,” he said.  “We have had a meeting with the Ministry of Energy, and are hoping to meet with the senior leadership [in the ministry] to see how we can work together on this, but they seem to be moving cautiously.”

The chairpersonship of the coalition’s steering committee has now passed to Bashir Twesigye, a former researcher with the Advocates Coalition on Development and Environment (ACODE), who stresses that “there is plenty of work that can be done” in monitoring oil companies even while the Production Sharing Agreements remain secret. “Environmental Impact Assessments are also contractual documents, which are binding on companies, and in the absence of the Production Sharing Agreements we can work on those,” he said.  The coalition, he added, “also serves as an advocacy organisation and we shall be pressing for publication of the contracts.”

In addition, he pointed out, the exploitation of Uganda’s petroleum resources will involve many large infrastructure projects that will be watched by coalition members in other “clusters.”

A case in point is the Uganda Roads Sector Support Initiative (URSSI), which is a coalition member devoted, its website says, to “promoting and advocating for a better road network.” The road-building projects under way in oil-rich Bunyoro are very much on the organisation’s radar, according to its Executive Director, Sam Mutabazi.

The coalition’s priority for the first year, Mr. Twesigye said, will be to develop training programmes and “tools” for community monitors.

“We want to build our foundation on the clusters—we want the clusters to really work,” he added.

At the same time, however, he emphasised that the coalition would go beyond developing capacity of the member organisations, and seek to develop capacity in communities.  “We want to involve the communities because at the end of the day that is the sustainable way of doing things, to empower the communities to do the monitoring.”

World Bank backing

This initiative has been nurtured over the last year by the World Bank Institute, an arm of the World Bank that describes itself as “a global connector of knowledge, learning and innovation for poverty reduction.”

In 2010, the Institute launched a Governance in Extractive Industries (GOXI) project whose flagship is a website intended, in its own words, to serve as “a space to share, learn and connect for action towards greater accountability and, in turn, better development outcomes of extractive industries in Africa.”

Last June, GOXI staff convened an initial meeting of Ugandan civil society organisations interested in monitoring procurement and delivery of government contracts. Similar coalitions have been established in several other African countries.

Over the last year, Uganda’s fledgling coalition has developed organisational rules and procedures, practical monitoring “tools” for, especially, school classroom construction, and an action plan—a prominent feature of which is fundraising for future activities.

GOXI staff were back in Kampala this month for the formal launch of the coalition, and they followed this up with a documentation and communication training workshop for member organisations.

“We learnt new methods of how we can reach out to the people that we are targeting, how we can package the information and use audio and visual systems to create impact,” said URSSI Executive Director, Sam Mutabazi.  He added that his organisation would “definitely have to” get to grips with social media.

Kathrin Frauscher, a World Bank Institute staffer on the GOXI programme, told Oil in Uganda that the Institute had provided “very small” seed funding for the coalition during its start-up phase.  She did not have exact figures to hand, but said that the Institute’s total expenditure on the Ugandan project to date did not exceed a few tens of thousands of US$ dollars.

Report by NY