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Billions of COVID-19 response money lost?

Non-medical masks ready for distribution at the Uganda Virus Research Institute. Prices of masks were increased from Shs 1,000 to Shs 2,400 each. COURTESY PHOTO.

Education ministry

The COVID-19 response plan did not work well for the education sector either. The education ministry, through the National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), and Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) developed home study materials – via print, radio, TV and online – to facilitate continuity of learning during the lockdown period.

However, our investigation reveals that the printed learning materials only covered a quarter of the targeted group (Pre-primary to Senior 6), with over 50% of the sub-counties receiving as few as three copies for all their schools. Similarly, learners in private schools and learners with special needs were not taken care of in Phase One of the distribution.

Similarly, there were no written agreements between the Education ministry, local governments and the service providers in the provision of the education materials to learners and the ministry is now in debt of Shs1.3 billion to about 38 radio stations and the teachers who taught the lessons. The New Vision newspaper, too, has not been paid for the printing and distribution of the study materials worth Shs6 billion.

“The ministry still intends to rely on these service providers as the pandemic continues, and as other classes remain closed, but there is a fear that they might refuse due to prolonged non-payment,” the report notes.

This development comes at the country’s COVID-19 cases stands at 28, 186, with 10,005 recoveries and 225 deaths including at least 15 medics as of Dec.16, 2020, according to the Ministry of Health.

This also coincides with a section of health workers claim they are yet to receive their salaries and allowances since July 2020 even as COVID-19 cases continue to swell in health facilities occasioned by the ongoing election campaigns.

CSO voices

Executives in civil society organisations – Uganda Debt Network, Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Transparency International Uganda, SEATINI and Action Aid International Uganda –   that spoke to The Independent said the government should provide adequate accountability of the COVID-19 funds to the citizens by way of continuous updates on progress on implementation akin to updates of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

“We also call upon government to institute investigations into misuse of COVID-19 resources and prosecute those found culpable,” said Patrick Tumwebaze, the executive director at the Uganda Debt Network on Dec.15.

“Specifically, the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA) should undertake a procurement audit on all direct procurement undertaken by the Ministry of Health; and the Auditor General should undertake a forensic audit in relation to all expenditures in response to the pandemic. This will guide entities on utilisation of funds for future emergencies.”

Cissy Kagaba, the executive director at the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda said the citizen are interested in accountability on how COVID-19 funds were spend. “We are also interested in knowing the firms that sold substandard food to government during the lockdown,” she said.

But Dr. Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health said in a 14-page response to the Finance ministry and copied to the Office of the President on Dec.15, that the information provided in the report is inaccurate and that it tarnishes the image of the government, creating an impression that the government has failed to combat COVID-19 pandemic, and misused resources meant for this purposes.

She said the total resources disbursed to Ministry of Health ministry is only Shs174 billion (Shs119 billion from government and Shs55 billion from World Bank) while the rest of the funding stated in the report did not go to the ministry.

“It is also worth noting that the other monies cited are either off-budget expenditure or future commitments. It should not be portrayed that all the entire money was disbursed by the Ministry of Health,” she said.

Dr. Atwine said 10,863 megaphones, 43,450 rechargeable and dry cell batteries were procured and not 108,863 as indicated in audit, and that the monitoring exercise took place when the distribution of the megaphones was ongoing.

She said all districts except 10 districts including Amudat, Bushenyi, Butaleja, Kaabong, Kamwenge, Kalangala, Karenga, Lwengo, Mitooma and Napak, have received megaphones.

“The Ministry of Health did not have funds to distribute the megaphones country wide. Therefore, it relied on using every opportunity that was available; either for the districts to pick them or to take advantage of any available means to deliver them to the respective districts, she said.

In relation to beds, Dr. Atwine said all the 1,000 beds were procured, out of which, 700 beds were fixed in Namboole while 300 re-located to Mulago National Referral Hospital.

She, however, said the 33 type B ambulances have since been received   and another 5 ambulances (3 water boat intensive care ambulances and two type C road intensive care ambulances) are going through the Customs clearing at the Kenya Port of Mombasa.

Overall, the Budget Monitoring and Accountability Unit said the Health ministry has achieved most of the planned interventions in line with the COVID-19 Response Plan.

However, challenges in relation to adequacy, availability and timely deliveries, high and varying unit costs, lack of accountabilities, duplication of efforts, laxity in wearing masks, planning and equitability emerged are already affecting some the gains registered by the sector.

“The need to review the emergency plan in relation to challenges identified and resources available is paramount in consolidating the gains achieved by the health sector,” the report says adding that cabinet, ministries of Finance and health, private sector and other stakeholders reviews the need for additional masks in relation to the population segments, social classes and use of the already distributed masks.

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2 comments

  1. The way we handle major things brings embarrassments to the citizens more especially peasants, we major in minor and put much efforts in minor issues, corruption will never stop unless we have qualitative change where the constitution and the rule of law works.we are suffering at the expense of few elites who our enemies.🙆

  2. With this mega mismanagement of covid-19 disaster, the government must be held to account in totality otherwise this grave act tantamounts to murder of innocent ugandans at the hand and benefit of the few heartless and merciless greedy officials. And with such a scandal, many Ugandans have a lot of mistrust in government warning against the pandemic and others doubt the existence of the pandemic in Uganda, nowonder the spike in the infections and deaths.
    Further, it may not be surprising that the heartless, evil greedy officials will never be brought to book to face the law since they are highly connected instead they will be showered with praises and rewarded with more juicy contracts to reap more at the misery of vulnerable Ugandans!

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