News and Views
Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho Salim Saleh “Graft, donor tactics hinder development plan”
The long-term aspirations of the Government of Uganda (GOU) to steer the country towards the “developed nation” status have been elucidated through the National Development Plan (NDP).
The NDP defines specific goals and measurable outcomes that must be observable in order to assess the degree of progress towards the said long-term aspirations.
This degree of progress is realised through annual budgets. These are the “heart-beat” of the continuous journey by which the GOU must lead the Nation towards total self-reliance.
The Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MOFPED) shoulders the responsibility of streamlining how income and expenditure, in a given year, must be allocated and disbursed according to established norms, controls and procedures.
The NDP, as a “working framework”, defines the objectives and principles for service delivery which guide and inform the budget-making process, annually. All funds, whether revenue collected locally or donor aid obtained from foreign agencies and governments, must be utilized according the NDP.
Donor agencies have not “mainstreamed” all their “funding agenda” to all recipients of their aid in Uganda to bring it “up to speed” with the NDP. This undermines the efficacy of the NDP and slows down the realisation of its intended outcomes.
The journey to “full, National self-actualization” is, also, presently hampered by systemic weaknesses in Government which are exacerbated by the “arm-twisting” exactions placed upon the GOU by donors.
The systemic weaknesses are directly related to the management of cash flow inherently demanded by the processes of disbursement of monies towards expenditure associated with service delivery. The weaknesses are compounded by a failure to adhere to current procedures for accountability.
A culture of connivance and deliberate subversion through which networks of cunning officers collude to commit fraud has grown to festering magnitude as a result. Institutions, such as the MOFPED and the Bank of Uganda (BOU), directly vested with the stewardship of the people of Uganda’s resources have been weighed by experience and found to be wanting. In fact some of the most colossal conspiracies to commit fraud have been originated, or facilitated, by officers in these institutions. Owing to this state of affairs and the matters subsequently discussed, the NDP is a framework in grim danger.
The donor aid context of fraud in government
The scandalously unacceptable haemorrhage through which a few unscrupulous individuals spirited off with funds, illicitly obtained from Government coffers, has heightened the level of public scrutiny of affairs in Uganda both locally and internationally. It has been mentioned that both the political will and system-wide alertness necessary to prevent such acts are absent in Uganda.
The arguments fronted to support this point of view are passionate but the overarching dynamics by reason of which such losses are facilitated, and transpire undetected, right under the noses of institutions charged with stopping them, have remained largely ignored.
A swindle of the magnitude seen in the Pension Sector of the Ministry of Public Service or the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) is not merely an outcome of failed financial controls. As seen in the OPM saga involving the former Principal Accountant, this form of loss is merely at the tail-end of a set of processes, a number of which are outside the direct influence and control of the Government of Uganda, as will be explained shortly.
The afore-mentioned losses have led the donor community, and a number of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) they support, to assume a stance of “higher morality” and engage actions they calculate will bring the GOU “back to order”.
The donors believe that withdrawing aid from Uganda will create a minimum amount of pressure necessary to precipitate socio-economic, and perhaps political, changes that will bring about the “climate” they deem fit to receive any future aid they might consider giving to the GOU. It will be explained shortly what “climate” usually means when donors use it in reference to aid.
The NGOs, many of which are funded by donor aid, have chorused their revulsion at the sheer impunity with which resources have been stolen from National coffers. They have sought to express this through acts of symbolic mourning.
This has been deemed as an important catalytic trigger to drive the quest for an awakening of a collective effort to draw the GOU back to accountability. However, a lingering question still remains: are NGOs usually as well-meaning as they present themselves in the public eye?
In order to aptly contextualize the scandal financial fraud has become in relation to the GOU, one must ably interpret the inherently enabling “cogs and wheels”, directly tied to foreign aid, which inevitably lead to such losses.
The GOU has grown from being reliant on foreign aid for up to 60 percent of its budgetary needs to needing only about 21 percent of donor input to offer services to its citizens. Such growth cannot have taken place without a conscientious development of local capacity to meet National development needs. To that extent, consequently, bad as many would claim it is, fraud has not executed a mortal blow to the ability of the GOU to marshal local efforts to bring the country closer to a fully-self-financed destiny.
“What then leads to massive fraud?” it is asked. The response to this inquiry is multilateral and must be given as such.
The impact of donor aid on development
As high-lighted earlier, the GOU has, so far, reached substantive and praise-worthy levels of self-sufficiency in building the capacity to rise as much of the funds, required for operating the annual budget, as possible, without the need for foreign aid. Nonetheless, the need to obtain foreign aid in order to sustainably march towards the aspirations of the NDP remains.
To the extent that the GOU is dependent on foreign aid, the Nation remains vulnerable to various “terms and conditions” the donors set, during Donor Conferences, for the receipt and usage of the aid money. The MOFPED, as result, is not at liberty to expend “aid money” as the local needs and circumstances dictate. Rather, MOFPED must adhere to strict donor demands on how “their money” should be spent.
Regrettably, these demands, a number of which remain “out of touch” with the local situation, create circumstances that could lead to fraud by unscrupulous, renegade officers in Government.
Donor aid demands threaten national sovereignty
The Paris Declaration (2005), on Aid Effectiveness, outlines five, fundamental principles for making donor aid more efficacious. These are; alignment (meaning that donors offer aid in accordance to locally-generated plans for development); harmonization (meaning that donors share information and “synchronize” modus operandi in order to avoid duplication in development work); ownership (meaning that aid-receiving nations form and steer their own agenda towards poverty reduction, institution strengthening and tackling corruption); Results (meaning that both aid-receiving Nations and donors shift focus to measurable outcomes from development activities); and Mutual Accountability (meaning that donors are required, as much as aid-receiving Nations to openly declare their agenda).
Uganda’s experiences with donors have been mixed. The criteria laid out by the Paris Declaration have, sadly, not been followed. Donor aid to Uganda has been characterised by stringent “conditionalities” (on how it must be spent even if that is not “in line” with local NDP intentions), lack of transparency (about the extent to which donors are releasing money to the country via NGOs thus creating widespread duplication of project activities and programmes), absence of predictability (expressed by the capricious nature in which this money may or may not be availed at the promised time) and the continued failure to declare donor agenda and aims behind the incentivisation of various activities in the economy especially those related to NGOs they sponsor.
The sum total of these conditionalities undermines the capability of the GOU to use donor aid as it deems fit in consonance with the NDP aspirations. It creates the “climate”, referred to at the start, which donors, ironically, seem to desire.
One example of such conditionalities is the appointment of technical advisors. Donors have continually insisted on “stationing” so-called technical advisors at ministries. These advisors hold jobs whose terms of reference are drawn by donors yet they seek to oversee the running of GOU projects. The advisors ensure that “donor money” cannot be used in any way other than specified by the donors irrespective of any inherent limitations in such practices. The ability of the GOU to steer the country towards self-determination, thus far, remains severely hampered.
The advisors, on the other hand, remain resolutely keen on pursuing the donor agenda and are easily hood-winked by devious government officers willing to exploit any “pull and shove”, between the GOU and donors, for personal gain through acts of fraud. Further, donors have habitually “pegged” receipt of aid to particular socio-cultural and, or, economic changes that the GOU must put in place.
Presently, donors are insisting that the GOU must “force-feed” alien sexual norms and practices of homosexuality to its people as an acceptable and normal way of life before aid can be given.
Many NGOs have worthwhile causes but a number of them have increasingly become “pigeon stools” for the advancement of donor agenda. As such, NGO work can no longer be appraised with the prima facie innocence it once was.
NGOs have, in the recent past, become outposts for security, political and socio-cultural interests of the donors who fund them. Again, in light of the bill on Homosexuality, it is clear, NGOs are being “used and influenced” by donor aid and forces to “wring” the GOU’s arms on the matter. In some cases, NGOs have undertaken activities that take on a security dimension and could threaten the peace and stability of the Nation.
The arms of government have not been spared in this quest for control by donors. As a result of the fall-out from various insinuations and provocations, the Judiciary, the Executive and the Parliament have been drawn into a “tug of war” as elements of their membership have been compromised in various degrees by donors with the ultimate goal of undermining the ability of the GOU to retain its legitimate jurisdiction over the Nation.
The GOU appreciates the prevailing, but temporary, need for donor funds in the quest for National Development. It must be noted that many of the conditions set by donors have limited the freedom with which the GOU may use donor aid towards National Development. The GOU notes, as explained by John Perkins in his book “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”, that donors are not altogether an altruistic entity. Donors have agendas and goals to steer nations in their desired direction. Their recent decision to stop any aid to Uganda ought not to cause a moment for shedding of many tears.
It is, instead, an opportunity for the Nation to re-evaluate how donor relations must be conducted henceforth. It is an unpreventable, lamentable predicament that the GOU must accept donor funding but grapple with a consideration of the minimum possible outcomes in maintaining its sovereignty as a Nation and not forsake protecting the social, cultural and economic future of the people of Uganda.
Re-examination of donors
The assumption of a “higher moral stance” by donors and NGOs ought, therefore, to be examined in light of the broader jostling for control and the imposition of alien agenda on the people of Uganda. Donors are fallible and a litany of mistakes still follows their interventions in societies the world over.
Some of the much-vaunted donor solutions to Uganda’s Financial Management, such as the Internal Financial Management System (IFMS), have, as shown in the OPM Fraud case, fatally failed. This, again, is evidence that donors cannot offer the fitting solutions, we need, to local problems whilst pursuing their ulterior, undeclared agenda.
The GOU acknowledges that stronger vetting and control of human resource systems are a work in progress as a main internal deterrent mechanism to the continual assent of dishonest individuals to positions of responsibility where they can swindle national resources. In the short-term, a synergistic collaboration between the GOU, donors and NGOs is the sole meaningful solution to the scourge corruption has become.
Unilateral, high-minded moral “stances” by donors or NGOs will not benefit the people of Uganda whose interests shall, at all times, remain the most important consideration in this collaboration.
NGO performance review
Donors must seek to bring all their funding towards supporting the NDP. NGOs ought to deliberately seek to work together with National agencies to avoid duplication of development work by running “independent” programmes and activities without any form of accountability to the Ugandan people for the results.
To this end, a NGO-NDP synchronisation policy ought to be put in place.
In the medium-term, to stem the increased fraudulent practices in government, the GOU should undertake a massive human resource appraisal and performance review exercise to “weed out” all “non-performing” and “black-listed” individuals who are, as proved by various unfortunate cases, likely to swindle national resources.
Over the long-term, the reliance on foreign aid should be totally eliminated. This will foster absolute self-determination and bring about the realisation of NDP goals more quickly. Therefore, efforts to collect local revenue must be consistently harnessed and the value of a vibrant export industry given the prominence it deserves.
Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho Salim Saleh