President Museveni has reportedly raised questions about the honesty of Ministry of Health officials headlining the fight against Covid-19, and threatened during a Cabinet meeting on Monday to arrest the “thieves” .
At the said meeting, Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng tabled a Shs1.2 trillion budget that she said would help bankroll government’s response to the second wave of the pandemic, according to sources that attended the sitting.
Coronavirus struck Uganda in March 2020 and has, according to official statistics released by the Health ministry yesterday, killed 2,012 people in the country.
In the early stages, the Health ministry was praised for their strong leadership and response that tamed the epidemic’s damage in the country.
However, the Auditor General later raised queries about the handling of resources for fighting the pandemic, spotted contracts prepaid before signing and reported about questionable procurements.
On June 25, President Museveni during the fourth televised National Prayer publicly grilled Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary, Dr Diana Atwine, on why the 42,000 hospitals beds that he ordered a year ago were not in place.
Dr Atwine twice failed to directly answer the question and upon President Museveni’s third asking, acknowledged that they had only established 3,000 beds.
In an interview with this newspaper, Dr Atwine said that they had picked two local bed suppliers and delays in installation relate to the difficulty that would-be manufacturers face in importing required materials.
These and other concerns such as oxygen deficit, exorbitant billing for Covid patients by private hospitals, unpaid health workers, slowed vaccination and delayed Covid cash relief disbursement has stoked public anger against the Health ministry.
Thus, one source said when Ms Aceng tabled the Shs1.2 trillion budget, President Museveni, who chaired the sitting, rejected it over concerns about alleged irregularities and inflated figures.
Mr Museveni, who informed ministers that he had consulted oxygen manufactures in and outside the country, reportedly said the Shs496b quoted in Dr Aceng’s budget for installation of oxygen plants was at variance with prevailing premarket prices.
Cabinet heard that with $250,000 (about Shs889.8m), an investor can establish an oxygen plant that produces about 500 cylinders of oxygen per day.
The President, according to Cabinet sources, instructed Prime Minister Robinah Nabbaja to meet steel manufactures to under the costs of oxygen production.
Separately, Finance minister Matia Kasaija, in apparent response to the President’s concerns, told colleagues that he had already written to the Auditor General, asking him to conduct forensic audit into Ministry of Health’s Covid management of finances advanced for pandemic response, and the report is expected in three months.
“Yes, I have asked the Auditor General to go and have a look. Once people begin to speak even if it is hot air, we have to make sure that the population remains confident in the government,” he told this newspaper.
The Auditor General, Mr John Muwanga, last evening said he needed time to crosscheck with the registry and promised to conduct the planned forensic audit into Covid funds. He said his office audited Covid funds last year and sent a report to Parliament.
“I am going to follow-up on the letter from the Finance minister tomorrow, study the terms of reference and then decide how to proceed with the forensic audit,” he added.
Dr Aceng yesterday declined to comment on the matter, a day after this newspaper withheld publication of the story in order to get her account.
The new Information minister, Dr Chris Baryomunisi, did not respond to our repeated telephone calls.
Previous budget plan
In June, Dr Aceng told the media that they would require Shs1.3 trillion to bankroll a response plan to Covid-19 infection and death resurgence.
Of the total budget, logistics, including testing kits, personal protective equipment, among others, would get the largest share of more than Shs800b, coordination Shs12b, surveillance Shs59b, laboratory Shs84.9b, case management Shs93.8b, risk communication Shs68b, community engagement Shs6.5b, continuity of essential services Shs114.1b, strategic information research and innovation Shs70.3b, and vaccination Shs2.6b.
The Finance ministry a week ago announced Shs600b Covid intervention funds to be raised by slashing budgets of ministries, departments and agencies, with Shs373b of the allocation expected to be disbursed this quarter.
According to PS Atwine, the money will be used to recruit critical care staff, buy extra Intensive Care Unit beds, installation of oxygen plants and other logistical requirements.