The recent directive by President Yoweri Museveni to allocate public works such as building of schools and hospitals is a very risky undertaking, if not outrightly illegal.
In a July 1 letter to the Ministries of Health and that of Education, President Yoweri Museveni directed that all construction projects in those dockets for the current financial year be handled by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) Engineering Brigade.
The President argued that the construction works are urgent and cannot wait for the lengthy procurement processes set up by his own government.
We believe this is not only a dangerous precedent but also one that violates so many laws and principles of good governance.
In the first place, the directive violates the Public Finance Management Act that empowers Parliament to have a say in all matters that affect the economy.
Arising from this is the fact that the directive creates a clash in supervision as well as enforcement of Public accountability measures.
If history is a guide, we’ve seen that when soldiers commit crimes, as could be the case when they steal public funds, they are often tried not in civilian courts but instead in military court martial.
The other critical flaw with the president’s directive is that it sets a dangerous precedent that ignores competition and competence and therefore sends mixed signals to the Ugandan Public as well as international community.
It also comes at a time when the government has just passed the local content law that seeks to, among other things, empower private sector players take up jobs that were previously performed by foreign companies.
What’s the solution?
Our view is that instead of giving lucrative contracts to the army through directives, the UPDF, which is commanded by the President, should be empowered by investing in its own commercial arm the National Enterprise Cooperation, so that it competes for such jobs with the rest of other businesses.
Secondly, the government should amend the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets act to reduce delays in public services.
But on the whole, the business of indulging the military in civilian affairs, needs to be checked to ensure that the army focuses on its core responsibility of defending our country against internal and external aggressors.