Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health, Dr Diana Atwine acknowledges that the health ministry could have flouted procurement procedures while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, she says this was inevitable for the purpose of saving so many lives that were at stake.
Atwine’s remarks were in response to the Auditor-General’s 2019/2020 financial year report. According to the report, the health ministry did not follow the right procedures of procurements while dispensing funds amounting to 230 billion Shillings that was allocated to it to respond to the pandemic.
The report states that procurements were delivered before being approved by the contracts committee or signing contracts with suppliers. In some cases, procurements were started without the availability of funds, funds were diverted and often unaccounted for. The report also highlights instances where the health ministry delayed issuing appointment or deployment letters to engaged staff, and to pay staff allowances to individuals.
But Dr Atwine says that during the pandemic, she had to make hard decisions to save the lives of Ugandans. She says some of the decisions were important and could not wait for the right procurement procedure to be followed.
One of the procurements made, but still waiting for payment is the COVID-19 vaccines for which the ministry requires 500 billion Shillings for the AstraZeneca vaccine whose use is already ongoing.
“Unlike in other epidemics where Uganda had support from developing partners, this time around it was not possible. The same people who give us money were addressing the same problem at home. We had to depend on our coffers and that was not easy. It’s not like we had this money with us on our accounts but refused to pay. We did not have money,” she said.
Today marks one year since Uganda reported its first COVID-19 case. Dr Atwine says that she had no other alternative but to reallocate money and put it to better use than it was originally intended for. She says she had to get money originally budgeted for fuel and trips abroad to respond to the pandemic.
In light of the ongoing pandemic, Atwine says the Auditor General needs to take into account the circumstances under which some decisions were made.