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We need accountability for COVID funds

It’s time to test the transparency and accountability that this government boasts of and preaches as its principles

COMMENT | MICHEAL ABONEKA | First, Parliament approved a supplementary budget of Shs284 billion to fight COVID-19. This was approved under Addendum 2, of the Supplementary Expenditure Schedule No. 2 for Financial Year 2019/2020 and the Shs284 billion will be used by the Health, Security and Local Government sectors, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees.

Of the Shs284 billion, the security sector was to receive Shs77.4 billion; Shs36.1 billion for Local Governments, Shs59.4 billion for disaster response, and Shs2 billion to KCCA. The balance, which is about Shs109.1 billion, was to the health ministry.

We thank the Parliament for approving this fund to help in the fight against COVID and we hope that the money will be accounted for to the letter and that Parliament will continuously play the oversight role over this money.

Secondly, Jack Ma; the Chinese billionaire philanthropist donated items to Uganda and in that regard, Uganda received: 100,000 masks, 20,089 test kits, 741 PPEs, and 1,111 face shields. Much as these were not showed to the Public, we hope they have been put to their use and that this therefore means reduction in cost of purchase of the above kits.

I hope that this donation was recorded and that the money for some of these kits will be shifted to something else. The Ministry of healthy has  continued to receive money, items, food in donation from well-wishers and we hope that this is well recorded and being used to help Ugandans across the country and that this information of how the donations were spent will be available to the public as well as the Shs109.1 billion approved by Parliament.

Thirdly, a task force handling COVID Fund was established and these have since received lots of money, food and items in donation. We hope that we shall be given weekly an account of the same. It is not enough to announce how much we have received in donations and cash, but where and what has been spent and the evidence of the expenditure of giving of relief. Accountability does not stop to work in emergency situations, it must continue.

Fourthly, the ministry of ICT was granted over Shs3 billion for communication. This was unnecessary. Already, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) had guided all media houses to sensitise consumers on COVID-19 and media houses are already doing this. The country is in a lock down and therefore what is the need for the billboards. Who is going to look at the billboards? This expenditure does not meet the value for money requirement and is unnecessary and I hope the auditor general will pick it up. We need accountability to the letter.

Fifthly, the Ministry for Disaster preparedness was allocated Shs59.4 billion to support in relief items including food. The government has been donating food items to the vulnerable in Kampala and Wakiso. There was a complaint about food being unfit for human consumption; especially the beans and the Minister for disaster preparedness and ICT merely brushed it off. The Minister for ICT went ahead to say that those complaining are distracters and they should “go to hell.” Imagine, a full minister using such words!

This is insensitive and the minister needs to apologise to Ugandans for that because the truth has come out that the food was not fit for human consumption and that the office of the Prime Minister has asked the contractor to sort out the issue. One wonders what would have happened if there was no complaint at all.

There is no excuse not to follow proper procurement guidelines and involve the Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) and the National Drug Authority (NDA) early to ensure the food given to our people is fit for consumption. The Office of the Prime Minister should apologise to Ugandans and in fact, compensate those who had earlier received bad food with good food.  The districts too have received relief items and food and I hope that Ugandans can put the district leaders and officials to task to account for the items donated. The districts need to ensure that these items reach the most vulnerable people in their districts and an account be furnished. The public should be able to access these records.

We hope that the security, KCCA, Local Governments too will be able to account for the billions of shillings allocated to them and that at some point, we shall demand for full accountability. I call upon all Ugandans to have their eyes and ears on the ground to ensure these funds are used appropriately for the benefit of all Ugandans.

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Michael Aboneka is a partner at Thomas & Michael Advocates

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