Human rights defenders yesterday asked MPs of the 11th Parliament to return Shs105.8b they received to buy cars so that it can be used in the fight against Covid-19.
On Tuesday, Parliament disbursed the money to the 529 legislators and an additional 26 ex-officio members to buy cars of their choice.
However, Ms Nana Annet Namata, the executive director of the Union of Human Rights Defenders Uganda, said government has become so insensitive to the needs of the people.
“At a time like this, when Ugandans are crying out that we do not have money to feed [our families], we can’t pay utilities, rent bills are so high, you come out and announce without any shame that [you are giving] Shs200 million to MPs and ministers because they need vehicles. As human rights defenders, we think this is a very big error. There is no intent by government to prioritise Ugandans’ lives,” she said.
Ms Namata said the only way the MPs can identify with the suffering Ugandans is by returning the money and directing that it be used for procurement of vaccines and other essential supplies in the fight against Covid-19.
“We demand that MPs return that money and [it should] be used to help those who are suffering. That is when we shall know that they are our representatives and we elected them to represent us,” she said.
She added: “You cannot continue to misallocate everything and say you are working for people who are dying of hunger.”
The rights group also faulted government and Ministry of Health for getting their priorities wrong as far as the Covid-19 response is concerned.
Last year at the onset of the first lockdown, President Museveni launched a fundraising drive to fight the pandemic. More than 100 double cabin pickup trucks were donated and Shs29b in cash contributed.
Last week, Ministry of Health announced that more than 200 additional pickup trucks had been procured using the money.
Ms Namata criticised the ministry officials for prioritising pickup trucks instead of procuring vaccines, hospital beds, and ambulances.
“The vaccines in the country are donated not purchased as Shs18.5b budgeted for them never reached the National Medical Stores as the front for its procurement. The Health ministry top officials keep peddling lies about western countries that they bought all the vaccines from the source and third world countries aren’t prioritised but just recently Turkey and France donated more vaccines to the country,” Ms Namata said.
She added: “This clearly shows intended delay to procure vaccines by certain top officials of the Health ministry or a bigger racket that spreads beyond the ministry to other related government agencies.”
We were unable to speak to the permanent secretary of the Health ministry, Dr Diana Atwine, the Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, and the ministry’s spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona by press time.