This blog was also published on the GPSA website
It was an after-dinner conversation at a hotel restaurant in Ntungamo District in Uganda. High level district authorities and their staff, district councilors and civil society leaders – from the Africa Freedom of Information Center (AFIC) and the Uganda Contract Monitoring Coalition (UCMC) – along with us from the World Bank’s Governance Practice and Global Partnership for Social Accountability (GPSA) reflected on our long day of meetings and discussions.
I was inspired by the open, even-spirited exchange about how to solve problems and tackle corruption by working together.
The GPSA’s ‘collaborative social accountability’ model connects civil society’s efforts with the work of government to tackle pressing governance problems, especially in public service delivery. Our common objective is to improve development outcomes.
We had visited two primary schools in the district – Nyamabaare and St. Lawrence – and met ecstatic school kids singing and dancing, teachers excited to show-off their transformed schools and parents proud of their role in the school governance.
The school blocks were built with funding from the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) as part of the Uganda Teacher and School Effectiveness Project (UTSEP).
From mud structures to high quality school buildings
I had not seen rural primary school buildings of that quality in my many years in development. Mud-smeared structures had given way to modern buildings of sturdy bricks, well furnished with state-of-the-art blackboards, built-in storage units for pupils’ personal belongings, book shelves and modern and inclusive sanitary features.
Teachers now have special rooms to meet and prepare their work. Even more impressive, these school buildings now have access ramps and other convenient features for those with mobility challenges.
Helping citizens get engaged
In Uganda, citizens have a legal right to participate in local service delivery processes, which plays a critical role in deepening democracy and promoting good governance.
As leading CSOs, AFIC and its coalition partners have facilitated citizen engagement in the country and contributed to real shifts in citizens’ mindsets from passivity to active – even passionate – participation.
Nyamabaare and St. Lawrence primary schools are great examples. These school communities went beyond monitoring the GPE-funded government school projects to mobilizing their own resources to plug infrastructure gaps – a case of ‘positive deviance’, substantive results that were unexpected.
It all started in December 2014, when AFIC received a US$650,000 grant from the GPSA for a project called "Enhancing value for money in social service contracts in Uganda".
The project would facilitate citizen monitoring of health, education and agriculture service delivery contracts in four selected sub-counties in five districts, namely Mityana, Mubende, Nakaseke, Ntungamo and Nebbi.
AFIC would collaborate with the UCMC and its partners, including Transparency International Uganda (TIU) in employing social accountability approaches to achieve that.
One of the components of this work included monitoring GPE’s support to upgrade school infrastructure in these five districts.
Contract oversight leads to improvements
Accordingly, AFIC and partners, working with the communities, selected 10 candidates from each of the 4 sub-counties of the selected districts and trained them as community monitors. Along with government officials, CSOs and community-based organizations they were trained to use pre-tested contract monitoring tools.
In the first stage, 29 contracts from three of the selected districts - Nebbi, Ntungamo and Nakaseke – were made available for monitoring.
The oversight by AFIC revealed a range of issues, such as mismatch of information across various documents and other gaps that could create opportunities for fraud, collusion and mismanagement of resources by contractors and government officials.
AFIC presented these findings to the authorities in all 5 districts, who found them similar to their own. AFIC also presented recommendations for reforms to the ministries of Education, Health, and Agriculture.
The Ministry of Education and Sports responded positively, paving the way for AFIC to gain access to copies of more contracts.
Indeed, the coordinator of the GPE-funded UTSEP provided the service delivery contracts from the five districts for the construction of 16 primary schools.
While the community monitors were monitoring school construction in all 16 schools, they also used radio and community “barazas” (forums for citizens to interact with government officials) to educate people about the contract monitoring, and how to access and use information.
Beyond oversight, communities gain confidence
School communities were initially reluctant to get involved in contracts’ monitoring and to ask for accountability from government.
But, seeing the actual contract copies and understanding them gave them and school administrators confidence in the monitoring program.
In this context, the school communities and AFIC scored some unique victories thanks to effective organizing of the communities, CSO facilitation, and fundraising:
First, the communities at St. Lawrence and Nyamabaare took possession of the ‘hoarded materials’, remaining materials from the construction including old buildings.
Previously contractors had kept these materials but AFIC’s mediation led the education Ministry to compel them to release them to the school communities.
This was enforced at these two schools – to the absolute delight of the school communities, which went on to use the materials to renovate the old structures and turn them into staff houses and nursery classes.
Second, the contractor at Nyamabaare had fitted lightning conductors (to protect the schools from lightning strikes) at only one of the two school blocks.
A community monitor noticed and reported that to AFIC, which checked the contract and confirmed it required lightning conductors on both blocks. The contractor was compelled to comply.
Third, GPE had funded a 5000-liter water tank at Nyamabaare, yet, being uphill, presented a special challenge transporting water.
To increase supply, the community used the gutters on the GPE-funded roofs to harvest rain water and financed, from their own resources, a 10,000-liter tank.
Fourth, the communities at both schools supplemented hoarded materials with their own funds to buy a barbed wire to fence off the school blocks from theft and their newly planted trees from animals.
These two school communities exuded confidence from what they were able to achieve.
The GPSA has long understood that social accountability and citizen oversight can be a powerful driver to improve development outcomes.
Its support for citizen monitoring of the GPE-funded program in Uganda demonstrates concretely what that can look like when it works.
As GPE embarks on launching its new program to support advocacy and social accountability, it has much to learn from the GPSA – and GPSA’s history of working alongside one of GPE’s largest grant agents, the World Bank, provides a great foundation for understanding where and how this model can be expanded – to achieve greater benefits for communities around the world.
Contributions of Barbara Magezi Ndamira (World Bank), Charity Komujjurizi and AFIC team, Sarah Beardmore and Chantal Rigaud (GPE) to this blog are gratefully acknowledged