Concerns Over North Uganda Development Plans

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Local government so under-resourced that it will find it hard to deliver ambitious development plan for northern areas.

By Alex Otto, Oroma Gladys, Cho Woo Willy - International Justice - ICC
ACR Issue 329, 8 Oct 12

Officials and development experts in northern Uganda are concerned that the latest phase of a government project designed to improve people’s lives may not be achievable as there isn’t the staff or capacity on the ground to make it happen,

The Peace, Recovery and Development Programme, known as PRDP, is intended to deliver a coordinated set of development projects to help the north recover from two decades of insurgent warfare by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA.

The conflict left approximately 100,000 people dead and displaced nearly two million people from their homes. The fighting ended with a peace deal in 2006, and the LRA now operates outside Uganda, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The group’s top leaders are wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague,

PRDP brings interventions by the Ugandan government, foreign donors and non-government organisations together under a single framework to address the post-conflict needs of northern Uganda. Launched in 2007, its first phase suffered a series of delays and effectively started only in 2009. Even then, it was blighted by poor management and corruption at local level.

Phase two, which is scheduled to run until June 2015, is now under way, and has a more ambitious remit than the first. It will seek to boost the region’s economy in the north, improve social services like health and education, and cement the authority of local government. It also includes efforts to maintain peace and promote reconciliation within communities as former LRA combatants return home, at a time when justice mechanisms like the new war crimes division of Uganda’s High Court are beginning to take root.

There are widespread fears, however, that local government, which is tasked with driving development projects within each district, will not be able to cope.

In a 2011 government study on the first phase of PRDP, half of the northern districts surveyed reported that staffing was so inadequate as to severely hamper progress.

As phase two gets under way, district officials and local experts are voicing similar concerns.

Andrew Ogwang Oyang, vice-chairman of Lira district in northern Uganda’s Lango sub-region, told IWPR that the staff member charged with taking PRDP forward there was still doing his old job in addition, and the new responsibility had simply been added to his previous workload.

“That means that the office of the CAO [chief administrative officer] is overloaded with work, so inadequate staff really presents a big challenge to local government in relation to implementation of PRDP,” Oyang said.

At the Lapainat health centre in Koro sub-county, about five kilometres from the northern town of Gulu, staff are optimistic about the benefits that PRDP-2 will bring.

The centre can only provide a limited service since it lacks adequate accommodation for its staff, not to mention a ward for in-patients.

“The whole health staff are not being accommodated which is quite inconveniencing. Some of them come from afar which makes [it difficult for] them to be available on duty every day and on time,” Miriam Akech, who runs the health centre, said. “If more structures are put [up] for the staff [to stay overnight], at least they would be comfortable and able to do their work very well and on time.”

Lapainat serves as a referral unit for smaller units across the sub-county and should be in a position to admit in-patients for extended treatment.

“We see quite a number of patients… who need in-patient [care],” Akech said. “But we have not started to do [that] because we lack the facility.”

PRDP is funded out of Uganda’s central government budget as well as other sources. Development partners and individual donors channel money for specific projects through the government. These projects include the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, NUSAF, and the Northern Uganda Agricultural Livelihoods Recovery Programme. Donors also provide funding through local and international NGOs working on specific issues.

The second phase of PRDP is set to cost 455 million United States dollars over the three years to 2015. About half this amount will go towards building up northern Uganda’s economy, mainly via training and initiatives to increase trade and access to markets. The rest will be spent on basic infrastructure, including repairs to 6,000 kilometres of roads and 8000 new wells to provide clean drinking water. It will also pay for housing for 3,000 teachers, 2,000 health workers and 1,000 police.

Central government releases PRDP funding to each district on a quarterly basis. The district government bears responsibility for implementing individual projects; it is also able to decide which projects are needed and thus prioritise how to spend the money allotted to it.

Patrick Okello Oryema, chairman of Nwoya district in the Acholi sub-region, says his office is just not ready to take on PRDP, because of an “acute staffing gap” and other problems.

“We have only one engineer, and yet we need about four or five qualified engineers,” he said. “This really tends to make work very difficult, because you know an engineer may be needed to go inspect a building somewhere, this same engineer is supposed to inspect the roads, supposed to come develop [the budget], supposed to go to monitor water points. It is very taxing.”

Oryema said the shortage of vehicles available to his staff also presented “very big challenges” for implementing PRDP activities.

Not every district is under the same pressure as Nwoya and Lira. According to the officer responsible for PRDP in Soroti district in the Teso sub-region, Paul Okotoi, his is among the “lucky districts” that have sufficient staff.

Mayanja Gonzaga, assistant commissioner for PRDP in northern Uganda, acknowledges that district-level staffing poses a challenge .

“There are a lot of staffing gaps, but we have tried to encourage working with the relevant ministries to make sure that the best staff are in place,” he said.

While funds are available under PRDP-2 to hire new people, the plan does not make provision for employing public sector personnel beyond the three-year lifespan of the programme, so any recruitment has to be for temporary posts.

Gonzaga said the government had used the NUSAF development scheme to bring in new staff, including engineers.

“We have gone ahead under the NUSAF arrangements to recruit engineering assistants for all the districts to beef up the district engineers to make sure that we supervise the work, to make sure that the quality of the work done is appropriate, and of course to ensure value for money,” he said.

Since many district administrations are so short of staff that they are struggling to do the basic work, there are fears that they will be incapable of monitoring how it is progressing so as to prevent the corruption that has marred the programme in the past.

Benson Okwee of the Uganda Public Affairs Centre, a governance watchdog in Soroti, said local leaders could easily be “tempted” by PRDP money available at district level. He said he was “already getting a lot of complaints and challenges” related to corruption.

According to Okwee, one common form of corruption takes the form of financial kickbacks for local officials when companies are tendering for a project funded under PRDP. He said there needed to be mechanisms in place to prevent such practices.

“I would really ask government to increase their oversight roles, particularly [within] the district council, so that they can check aspects of corruption, [and] aspects of misuse of resources,” said Okwee.

Gonzaga said that for this second phase of PRDP, central government has beefed up its oversight measures, for example by involving the Inspector General of Government, IGG, an independent body focused on eliminating corruption and uncovering abuses of public office. The police’s criminal investigations department will assist by looking into allegations of corruption and mismanagement.

Experts says PRDP-2 needs to be implemented in a more transparent manner, with greater community-level involvement.

The findings from the first phase of PRDP showed that districts lacked the capacity to engage communities and consult properly when planning new projects.

Robert Ayine, a lecturer in geography and development at Gulu University, believes that community involvement must become a priority. This would not only make communities more supportive of PRDP activities, but also enable them to act as watchdogs to ensure their leaders delivered.

“We need to involve the locals at every level… to ensure that we have checks and balances, to ensure that we don’t have these monies being used for different activities or misappropriated,” Ayine said.

Alex Otto, Oroma Gladys and Cho Woo Willy are IWPR reporters based in Gulu. They report for IWPR’s Facing Justice radio programme, broadcast across the region in partnership with the Northern Uganda Media Club. Moses Odokonyero, head of the Northern Uganda Media Club, and IWPR’s Africa Editor Simon Jennings also contributed to this report.