Just as it was in the aftermath of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2007, Ugandans are waking up from the euphoria to smell the familiar reek of claims and accusations of shoddy government work and waste, in the festivities to mark the November 3, hybrid eclipse.
In a case that speaks of questionable funding priorities and failure to deliver on funded projects, communities in and around Owiny Primary School, in Panyango, Nebbi District, where the main event to mark the eclipse was held, speak of undelivered promises of infrastructure. For the delivered promises, many works were only completed half way, which has quickly taken the communities back to the state they were in before the event.
The Ministry of Tourism budgeted to spend Shs80m on site accessibility, which included works on a 15-kilometre road stretch from Pakwach Town to the site. But almost four weeks after the eclipse, the road is now bumpy with potholes. Some of the culverts on the road are filled with sand following a heavy downpour. This is because of water runways that are blocked, since constructors dug to a shallow depth, and yet the road is very narrow. This newspaper understands that the road works were in the form of grading.
Boreholes, roads and the monument
The eclipse budget included Shs20m for the construction of a borehole, and another Shs20m for the repair of three boreholes.
But Gilbert Kerunga, a resident, says: “We walk three kilometres to look for water while others fetch water from River Nile, which is two kilometres away and takes four hours to and from. Some officials within the government circles made profit during eclipse, but they (community members) were left without any benefits as the host communities.”
True, one borehole was drilled, but it was never installed. The four boreholes meant for repairs were never attended to. A borehole in front of the Catholic Church is now broken down. Another one, on the road to Pokwero Primary School, was not rehabilitated. The third one on Wadelai Road, two kilometres from the trading centre, was also not rehabilitated.
The LCI chairperson of Pokwero trading centre, Chadwick Owiny, said: “We are still demanding Shs25m, which was budgeted for rehabilitating of the borehole. There should be open evaluation on whether the money was properly utilised by ministry of Tourism and the district leaders.”
Shs77m was budgeted for the construction of a monument for the eclipse. But within two weeks, it had already developed cracks. Some of the tiles are plucking off; the fence on the monument bares no lock. The construction was done with concrete, tiles and galvanised steel, and measures up to two metres in width and 2.5 metres in length.
Expert artisans say the value of art cannot be expressed in monetary terms, in light of the Shs77m. Julie Namulindwa, the head of the department of Art and Industrial Design at Kyambogo University, says the value of art is intrinsic and thus is priceless. This is true, considering that works of arts, worldwide go for millions of dollars at auctions. An earlier statement from Vivian Lyazi, public relations officer at the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, noted that the monument was constructed “as part of the legacy of this event.”
But concerns surround whether budgeting of that amount for a piece of art, reflected the best forms of frugal government spending, in an austere year when many a donor have closed off funding taps to government and it has stepped back from its promise of increasing teachers’ salaries, citing shortage in funds.
The Anti-Corruption Coalition executive director, Cissy Kagaba, says the monument was a waste of money. “It was an insult to the people of Pakwach. How is it going to help them?” Kagaba said the money should have been spent on providing services that people in the area needed, like access to water, which they so badly needed, with non-functional boreholes.
The budget also included Shs35m spent on renovation of toilets, and, Shs52.7m for the renovation of four classroom blocks. At the school, we confirmed that the ministry constructed two pit-latrines. But the head teacher at Owiny Primary school, John Okot, said one of the two toilets has started sinking. He said the status of toilets at Owiny Primary School remains appalling and the shortage of toilets at the school has left boys and girls sharing toilets. Part of the staff pit latrine at the school is plastered with mud; its doors struggle to stand in their hinges and parts of the roof are starting to fly off. The latrine, however, was not included in the to-do projects.
The classroom walls had developed cracks, with faded paint, before the eclipse. Some walls received a coat of paint, but some of the repaired windows are again broken, since they were fixed in a rush. Paintings was only done to the windows, walls and iron sheets.
Also, the school was given Shs30,000 despite a budget of Shs200,000 for every performing group. There were six entertainment groups.
Although Lyazi noted in a statement that the resources were well spent on good causes, it seems incredible that Shs52.7m and Shs32m could only paint a few walls and raise only two pit latrines.
The Owiny head teacher says he felt limited in trying to follow the construction projects at the school. He said monitoring of contractors has become hard for him as head of administration of the school since he was not given contract specification for monitoring of the ongoing renovation by the ministry of Tourism and the district.
The findings raise questions about government’s commitment to fighting waste of public resources, or even misappropriation of public funds.
In the budget, it was stated that it would spend Shs2.3m on the use of the media centre for interaction with media, yet the Media Centre is still a government office. Lyazi sought to make it clear in a later statement saying, “This is not correct, public media coverage organised at this centre is free and no media personnel were paid in this respect.” Lyazi, however, did not explain where the Shs2.3m was diverted to if indeed it was not used for acquiring services of the government media centre.
The budget also planned for Shs13.4m to go to a social media campaign designed at garnering a million hits for the eclipse. Lyazi, said this project too was not done, but did not state what the Shs13.4m, that had been budgeted for, went.
This newspaper tried, for more than a week, to seek conference with the ministry’s public relations officer regarding the allegations of shoddy work and the cost effectiveness of the Shs500m spending, in vain. Lyazi was repeatedly unavailable.
He estimated to this newspaper in an earlier interview that the event could have generated Shs15b for the economy, from local and foreign tourists, who he estimated at 12,000.
But Kagaba noted that important questions on the government’s sense of priorities arise out of the sheer budgeting process of events to mark the hybrid eclipse. Furthermore, the rush to raise infrastructure in the affected venues was a shame to government, in line with its commitment to service delivery.
“It is an embarrassment to government,” she said. “Things like boreholes are things that any serious government is supposed to have already put in place, not to wait for an eclipse,” she said, adding, “So, it means that if there was no eclipse, there would have been no boreholes.”
About the reported shoddy construction work carried out at the venues, Ms Kagaba said it was a sign of a rotten system where transparency and accountability were no longer a priority. “If they can do that where the President is involved, how about where he is not?” she wondered.
Breakdown of Budget of Hybrid Eclipse event on November 3
1. Media forum on Solar Eclipse Shs2,300,000
2. Launch a Social Media Campaign for the eclipse event Shs13,445,400
3. Television and Radio Campaign Shs21,300,000
4. International Media FAM Trip Shs32,000,000
5. Invitation of National VIP Guests Shs1,500,000
6. Hiring Tents, Tables and Chairs Shs4,350,000
7. Hire of Public Address System Shs5,000,000
8. Event Site Decoration Shs1,500,000
9. Refreshments Shs4,000,000
10. Sanitation Shs4,900,000
11. Venue Branding Shs7,000,000
12. UV Viewing Films Shs3,000,000
13. Bore holes Shs20,000,000
14. Security Shs70,000,000
15. Monument Shs77,000,000
16. Health Centre Shs10,000,000
17. Site Accessibility Shs80,000,000
18. Renovation of classrooms Shs52,704,600
19. Renovation of toilets Shs35,000,000
20. Mobilisation and Sensitisation Shs10,000,000
21. Sanitation Improvement – Pakwach Shs20,000,000
22. Viewing Sites and Bush Clearing Shs5,000,000
23. Rehabilitation of three boreholes Shs20,000,000
24. Entertainment Shs5,000,000
25. Coordination and Mobilisation Shs5,000,000