The Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit (BMAU) of the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MoFPED) caused a bit of a stir during the most recent Joint Agriculture Sector Annual Review (JASAR) 2016 when it reported its findings on the performance of programmes under the agriculture sector during the government’s financial year 2015/2016 - the year under review.
One such instance in which the BMAU report caused a stir at the JASAR 2016 was when BMAU presented its findings on the performance of projects for enhancing national food security. The BMAU reported that it had carried out a combined assessment of both ‘donor’ funded projects and government funded ones that are reportedly targeted towards enhancing national food security.
According to the BMAU it found that on average the physical performance of those projects during the year under review was at only 24 percent; a poor performance. Worse still, the BMAU reported that the projects for enhancing food security had a poor physical performance while at the same time the counterpart funds – Government of Uganda (GoU) contributions - for those projects were fully absorbed; as in fully utilised.
Yes, my instant reaction was to not agree with the BMAU assessment that such projects could be rated as having fair performance on grounds that they had absorbed all the money – GoU counterpart funding. Those projects’ performance is simply poor as is reflected in their physical performance, irrespective of whether they have done excellent in their financial performance - using the money!
The challenge of using mathematical averages in order to measure human and social development indicators is clearly manifest in the manner in which the BMAU measures success, I think.
The BMAU, however, further explained that the reason for the poor physical performance of projects targeted towards enhancing food security was because of “delayed declaration of project effectiveness.”
At first I did not understand what “delayed declaration of project effectiveness” meant. I later deduced from the BMAU presentation at the JASAR 2016 that it means the implementation of a project begins as soon as ‘donor’ funds are committed – agreement signed – but before the ‘donor’ funds are remitted to the implementing agency – in this case the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF).
Once that realisation dawned on me, of what “delayed declaration of project effectiveness” meant, I instantly agreed with the validity of BMAU’s questioning:
“Why should a project operate if it has no ‘donor’ funds, but it is consuming the counterpart funds and not delivering the outputs? Why should it be operating?”
Judging from the MAAIF response to the BMAU presentation at the JASAR 2016, they correctly predicted the perception that was likely taking hold in our minds that MAAIF may be taking money and spending it without delivering. One of the Senior Managers of MAAIF at JASAR 2016 indeed was provoked to respond as follows:
“Hon. Minister and members, when our colleagues in Finance (BMAU) come and say: physical performance not good, financial performance very good, that statement has very serious implications. It means that we take the money, spend the money and we don’t do work. In other words the money is stolen.”
The MAAIF Manager educated us for he took the time to explain the dynamics and the realities of what counter funding really means. At the JASAR 2016, He explained that counter funds normally range between five and ten percent. The 95 percent to 90 percent is of the project budgeted funds are covered by ‘donors’.
I could not help but wonder. Why are projects intended for enhancing Uganda’s national food security 90-95 percent ‘donor’ funded? How does the fact that those projects are 90-95 percent ‘donor’ dependent impact on the technical content and implementation of such projects? These and many other similar questions ignited in my mind; questions that are most certainly begging for answers.
Nevertheless, it seemingly means that the physical assessment that BMAU did of ‘donor’ projects targeted towards enhancing national food security was likely based on what MAAIF achieved using only 5-10 percent of the budgeted funds; and moreover BMAU likely assessed the projects as though the projects were fully operational and with access to all the budgeted funds.
My suspicion is somewhat validated by the following clarification that the MAAIF Manager gave at the JASAR 2016:
“It is little money and when you say 98 percent of it has gone people will not know that it is 98 percent of the five percent. We have projects which have been on our shelves for three, two years and they have not become effective (have not fully received the committed donor funds). In fact we are telling Finance (Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development): take back your projects so that we get them off our books. This goes to the lady of the NGOs as well - when you say that 80 percent of these projects are rated non-performing, the question is: Where are the projects? Are they effective? If they are effective, what stage are they at?”
Good questions and clarification from MAAIF, even though ‘little money’ is relative, particularly so if it is in billions of shillings. For that reason, I thoughtfully questioned, why would MAAIF begin implementing projects for which they have not received the external grant funding? I did not have to wait long for an explanation for the MAAIF Manager at the JASAR 2016 clarified:
“He (representative of MoFPED) is not telling you that they lead us in negotiations in these projects. They know that we have to have the basic framework of the project – you recruit the project coordinator, you recruit the project accountant, your recruit the procurement officer, these are paid for by the GoU – that counter fund. And that becomes a condition of effectiveness (release of donor funds). After you have recruited them, you have fixed overheads.”
Any wonder why the poor physical performance of such projects? The highly paid officers, no doubt, of the project are hired; they continue to receive their salaries and to incur administrative costs for years before the actual project activities are implemented. How is this allowed by GoU? How has the Uganda Parliament allowed this? How, how, how?
This article is written by Norah Owaraga, CPAR Uganda Ltd Managing Director (April 2012 to date). Read more about her here http://www.cparuganda.com/index.php/77-news-category/173-managing-director. Please note that Norah’s views are not necessarily those of CPAR Uganda Ltd.
For the information for you the readers here is important learning from the JASAR 2016 which will enable you to appreciate how the Government of Uganda monitors and assesses the performance of its projects. During a presentation by the relevant unit of the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development, we were educated on the Governments criteria for judging success of projects as follows:
If a project scores
- Anything below 50 percent, as in, for example, if a project was given outputs to deliver and it was unable to deliver at least 50 percent of them then that is poor performance.
- 50 – 69 percent – it is fair, it is doing something
- 70-89 it is good
- 90+ it is very good
- 100 percent is when it is rated excellent
We were further educated on what assessment process Government uses in order to arrive at the project performance scores as follows:
- Selected projects and programmes are reviewed – every month another set is chosen so at the end of two to three years the Government will have covered most of the programmes.
- Government looks at both physical and financial performance.
- In physical performance Government uses an integrated scoring system in order to establish relative importance of an output as per the approved budget. For example, if a project reports that it delivered 200 percent of maize seeds, the monitors and evaluators look further for the answer to the question: “Is that what the project was budgeted to do?”
- For financial performance the Government assess the overall programme or project.