Uganda has a paradoxical relationship with foreign aid. Whereas many are of the view that it is a barrier to recipient country’s development and sustainable growth, there is evidence that it has helped countries to develop and set them on the path to sustainable economic progress. In fact, it is argued that ending or rapidly reducing extreme poverty and donor dependency often depends on effective use of aid.
Uganda is a major recipient of aid. During the period of 2003 and 2012, the country was ranked 13th largest recipient of aid in the world after the country received above USD16 billion in official development assistance.
Would the country have registered much more impressive economic development if the aid was put to effective use? If citizens followed the money and knew where every penny was allocated to ably demand for accountability, would that make a difference?
According to the Transparency International, Uganda was ranked 151 out of 176 countries in the 2016 Corruption Perception Index. The misuse of public funds, which includes foreign aid, has left many Ugandans distraught. It denies them basic health services, education and other necessities of life. It also cripples government’s ability to provide public infrastructure that is critical for economic development and poverty alleviation.
To make matters worse, corrupt leaders are enjoying impunity due to lukewarm political will to fight corruption and weak legal systems that are largely incapable of investigating corruption deals to secure convictions.
Little wonder, over the decades, the local dailies have been constantly awash with corruption scandals with mismanagement of foreign aid.
In 2011, for example, officials in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) were caught embezzling USD 13 million in foreign aid resulting in withholding of millions of dollars.
In 2006, the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI) suspended cash support to Uganda following misappropriation of USD 4.3 million in health aid (meant to fight malaria, TB and HIV/Aids) by senior government officials. The suspension had a significant negative impact on immunization coverage in the country dropping immunization coverage from 83% in 2008 to 76% in 2009/10. In 2011, the national immunization coverage had dropped further to 52%.
Laws and regulations have been put in place to curb the corruption epidemic to no real success, igniting a wave of citizen engagement to demand for accountability.
Increasingly, Ugandans have taken it upon themselves to make the failed system work through the use of all the tools at their disposal, most popularly, social media and personal blogs. With hashtags like #SaveMulago in 2016, Ugandans expressed their dissatisfaction with the government’s failure to fix a run down radiotherapy machine while also tasking the government to stop sending public officials to international hospitals with tax money.
While not much success has been registered from these efforts, we can only do more to get our voices heard and stop the siphoning public funds, which later translate into poor or lack of public service delivery and increased taxes, by greedy officials.
To make accountability and foreign aid tracking easier and more efficient, web-based tools have been created to track funds provided by donor countries and international bodies. These tools give a detailed analysis to monitor the way in which these projects are managed and how the money donated has been appropriated to achieve the desired objectives.
For instance, the International Aid Transparency Initiative and the OECD Credit Reporting System provide a detailed account of funds released to Uganda by various donors, their intended use, and an update on the progress of projects. These aid tracking tools have been designed to be easily used by anyone seeking information in external funding as they provide concrete figures on the funds disbursed by donors.
In a bid to demand for accountability, this information will go a long way in providing real figures of the money Uganda gets in form of foreign aid. With social media and other avenues of civic engagement, people are given the means to follow the money and use the information to effectively push for accountability.