By Najibu Mulema
Almost in every district in Uganda, infrastructural facilities are deteriorating yet billions of cash are at the districts’ bank accounts not touched.
Basing on the Auditor General’s report on local governments for financial year ended June 2015, 14 municipalities have failed to absorb billions of shillings meant for key infrastructure development projects.
According to monitor newspaper,.othe unspent cash in question is part of the $160m (Shs549.3b) World Bank-funded projects under the Utilised Capacity Building Infrastructure Development facility to 14 municipalities across the country.
Although the AG, Mr John Muwanga, in his report to Parliament only named nine districts out of 14, the problem that lays at the door of staffing gaps, lack of capacity and poor monitoring of government programmes, according to sources in the ministry of Finance, is widespread.
For instance, the AG scrutiny of the nine districts’ spending records revealed that the unspent funds amounting to more than Shs64.4 billion were in two categories – capacity building and infrastructure development projects.
Some of the municipalities with unused funds include Jinja (Shs4.7b), Gulu (Shs21.2b), Fort Portal (Shs7.1b)), Arua (Shs4.7b)), Kampala (Shs2.6b), Masaka (Shs5.0b), Soroti (Shs3.2b), Mbale (Shs4.5b) and Mbarara (Shs11.6b).
Asked why the 14 municipalities were stuck with World Bank money, the Finance ministry spokesperson, Mr Jim Mugunga, attempted to shield the Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Keith Muhakanizi and his team and instead blamed the poor performing municipalities for “biting more than they could chew”.
“The Secretary to Treasury has advised government agencies, including municipalities against securing loan approvals without sufficient related project preparatory work. A lot of the so called absorption challenges are related to personnel and capacity issues as opposed to [red tape] associated procurement laws,” Mr Mugunga explained.
The AG notes in his report that the reason the districts gave for the low absorption was “the failure to procure key retooling equipment for surveying, engineering and environment, among others, partly due to lack of technical capacity to procure such specialised equipment.”
In addition, he notes, the delay to utilise the infrastructure development funds was attributed to failure to attract responsive bidders for the jobs.
Failure to utilise World Bank funds, the AG further noted, reflects lack of effective implementation of projects, disadvantaging the community who are intended to benefit from the programme.
Last month, the World Bank suspended loans to Uganda citing poor absorption rates of the loans.
Previously, the AG and MPs on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committees of the 8th and 9th Parliaments had raised similar concerns.
Government officials, including the President, are currently trying to engage the World Bank to see that the suspension on new lending is lifted.
The freeze affected key projects in agriculture, health and infrastructure.
It is estimated that about 80 per cent of the funds remain unutilised by the Uganda government, bringing into question their capacity. The $1.5b (Shs5 trillion) that the World Bank has decided to suspend would have been to finance several projects.
Parliament Commissioner and member on the parliamentary Committee on the Budget, Mr Peter Ogwang and other legislators said that the failure to absorb the loan by the municipalities and all other loans by the relevant spending agencies is disappointing and detrimental to Uganda’s economic growth.
Mr Ogwang has proposed that those who fail to spend be punished.