MPs order audit into Health ministry’s building projects

Thursday November 7 2019

Questioned. The Permanent Secretary in the

Questioned. The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Diana Atwine, and other officials appear before Parliament yesterday. PHOTO BY ALEX ESAGALA 

By Moses Kyeyune

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament has instructed the Auditor General to undertake a forensic technical audit to ascertain the value for money on major infrastructure works in the Ministry of Health.

The audit will focus on projects undertaken by the ministry between 2015 and 2018, according to a directive by committee vice chairperson Okin PP Ojara (Chua West County MP – Ind).

This comes after MPs discovered unexplained variances into budget expenditures for the financial years 2016/17 and 2017/18, relating to the construction of maternity wards. In one instance, the ministry, according to information availed to the committee, constructed 214 (20-bed) facilities valued at Shs500m each, and another 27 (eight-bed) facilities in the same year at Shs1.4b each.

The disparity in costing raised eyebrows. The ministry officials led by the Permanent Secretary, Dr Diana Atwine, yesterday appeared before PAC for the third time to present evidence for the expenditure but did not convince the MPs.
“We are going to interest our auditors to look into the specifications of these facilities to ascertain value for money,” Mr Ojara said.

The committee is investigating circumstances under which the ministry registered a qualified opinion of the Auditor General for the two financial years. Adjumani District Woman MP Jesca Ababiku (NRM) asked Dr Atwiine to explain why a 20-bed facility would cost only Shs500m yet an eight-bed facility cost Shs1.4b.

“When the project started, there was a fixed budget imposed by the Cabinet and this was a hybrid procurement in which the ministry was not directly involved,” Dr Atwine explained.
She added that the ministry’s role was to supervise project implementation, which saw selected health centre IIs upgraded to health centre IIIs.

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One of the lingering questions is why all projects are tagged at Shs500m despite onsite disparities in the cost of construction materials. The MPs were also irked on learning that most of the technical staff that supervised the construction have since left the ministry. They include Mr Francis Wakabi, Eng John Tumwesigye and Dr Peter Nsubuga.

The committee also wants Dr Atwine to explain the Shs3.12b mischarge incurred in 2016.
A mischarge, according to the Public Finance Management Act, is a crime which attracts sacking of the accountant officer once proved culpable.

The Auditor General noted in his report that ‘the practice portrays a breakdown of controls in the budget implementation process and implies that the financial statements are misrepresented to the extent of the mischarge.”

mkyeyune@ug.nationmedia.com

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