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Audits expose accountability flaws in procurement of face masks by the Health Ministry

Ministry of Finance is also asking the Auditor General to undertake a forensic audit on all expenditures by the Health Ministry in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Ministry of Health has disputed accountability flaws in the procurement and nationwide distribution of non-medical masks meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The flaws are highlighted in a report by the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit in the Ministry of Finance.

According to the report seen by Uganda Radio Network – URN, it discovered several irregularities by contractors that the Ministry of Health hired to provide services and the irregularities are in relation to adequacy, availability and timely deliveries, high and varying unit costs, lack of accountability, duplication of efforts, laxity in wearing masks and others.

In regard to masks, the Accountability Unit has queried the Shillings 4,946 cost for each procured mask saying that it is expensive and also the absence of witnesses to some contract signing.

The Accountability Unit says that the ministry was allocated Shillings 35 billion to procure and distribute to Ugandans aged above 6 years non-medical masks. Following this allocation, the Health Ministry on 9th July, signed contracts worth Shillings 32.5 billion with 16 suppliers to produce 11 million masks but this was later revised to 21.4 million masks at a cost of 57.3 billion.

Now according to the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit in the Ministry of Finance, only 16.1 million masks worth 25.3 billion had been delivered by August. The Accountability unit queries that procuring 21.4 million masks indicates that half of the country’s population is below 7 years something that is not true. The auditors also cite inadequate planning which has left out many Ugandans and also translated into unending supplementary budget requests.

Also queried is the Shillings 6.6 billion that was provided to Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) to empower women groups to make face masks. The auditors say that although this initiative is good, there is need for relevant stakeholders to clarify questions to the mandate of the Health Ministry to provide empowerment funds.

On-spot checks by the Monitoring and Accountability Unit also established low use and uptake of government masks by Ugandans especially in Wakiso, Kampala and Mukono districts since many people prefer using their own masks than those provided by government due to quality issues.

Uganda Radio Network – URN has learnt that the Ministry of Finance has now asked the Auditor General to undertake a forensic audit on all expenditures by the Health Ministry in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Finance Ministry also wants the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) to carry out an audit on all direct procurement undertaken by the Health Ministry in line with the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the query, Emma Ainebyoona, the Health Ministry spokesperson says that following the Cabinet decision to provide masks to all Ugandans above the age of 6 years, the Ministry computed 33 million Ugandans to be eligible.

“The budget requirement of Shillings 81 billion was requested for from the Ministry of Finance. However, only Shillings 33 Bn was released in July 2020. Contrary to the report, suppliers were contracted under a framework arrangement to supply the masks and calls of orders were issued,” reads part of a press release issued by Ainebyoona.

He adds that contrary to the Shillings 4,946 queried by the Ministry of Finance, each mask was procured at Shillings 2,400. He says that to date, Ministry of Health has distributed over 26.4 million masks worth Shillings 63.3 Bn which is far more than the 33 billion provided and that the Ministry of Finance committed to providing the total required amount to fulfill the obligation.

The issue of face masks distributed by the Health Ministry continues to dominate the public domain especially the delays in distribution.

Recently, the Minister of State for Primary Healthcare Dr. Joyce Moriku told Parliament that the low mass production capacity of local manufacturers hampered the nationwide distribution of face masks.

“The total production mass capacity was expected to be 800,000 per day as promised by the Uganda Manufacturers Association. However, this number has not been achieved at all with a significantly low output,” she told MPs during the plenary sitting last month on October 6th.

The Minister also alluded to procurement delays, prolonged consultations by various stakeholders and quality assurance implemented by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) as some of the other bottlenecks to the mask distribution.

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