14 August, 2008
In my recent visit to the Katine project I raised the issue of whether administrative processes in AMREF’s Uganda Country Office might present a significant project risk, increasing the likelihood that the KCPP might not achieve its stated goals by the end of 2010. In particular I was concerned with the efficiency and effectiveness of their procedures for procurement, the approval of quarterly workplans, and some other related management practices. Compared to many other development organisations I have worked with in the past, these procedures seemed to be unusually centralised. My concern here was not with AMREF’s internal management as an end in itself, but with its effects on development activities in Katine: the ability of AMREF field staff in Katine to implement planned activities on schedule, with some efficiency, effectiveness and (cumulatively) with some credibility.
In discussions in Kampala it became clear that many of the requirements for these processes (but not all) were set further up the organisational hierarchy, outside of Uganda. There are some upcoming opportunities for proposing changes (an Auditors review, and a Board meeting), but changes may not happen simply through lobbying done on behalf of one project, or even one country programme. Nevertheless, they would be worth proposing. Of particular concern to me was the Katine Project Manager’s very limited authority to buy goods and services locally (UGX 100,000 maximum), in surprising contrast to the Ugandan government’s emphasis on local procurement (the Katine Sub-country chief can spend up to UGX 30 million).
In parallel to discussions about possible changes in these requirements I also suggested the use of some management process indicators, with some demanding targets. Ideally information about monthly performance on these process indicators would be made known to all AMREF staff, and be included in the subsequent six months progress reports that are sent to the donors and made available to the Project Steering Committee in Soroti. This would provide a more distributed form of accountability, in contrast to the current progress reporting that focuses on the implementation of activities in Katine by AMREF field staff. Of course the country office could fairly say that they are already accountable, as representatives of the whole country programme. But this is not so true for the specific contributions they make to the KCPP and other projects in their country programme, through procurement and workplan approvals. If these supporting activities were given the same amount of monitoring attention as project activities on the ground then improvements in performance might make it easier to justify the share of KCPP money spent on country office salaries, to not only the donors, but more importantly to the stakeholders in Soroti.
Whether there will be any progress either through devolution, and/or more intensive monitoring, remains to be seen. Ideally, when I next return to Uganda it will be the country office staff who first alert me to any internal bottlenecks and delays. I will not have to discover them by working back from implementation delays as seen in Katine.