Prosecute thieves of Covid-19 cash - report

Wednesday December 16 2020
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A man is disinfected at Mulago Hospital in Kampala on December 1. A report has unveiled gross irregularities in utilisation of Covid-19 funds. PHOTO/ DAVID LUBOWA.

By ISMAIL LADU

Utilisation of Covid-19 funds has been marred with gross irregularities, poor planning and dubious contract signings, an independent assessment report by accountability agencies has revealed. 
The report, which was released yesterday titled, Prudent Public Finance Management for Greater Accountable Governance, assessed expenditure and deployment of Covid-19 resources.

It was made by the Uganda Debt Network (UDN), Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Action Aid, and Transparency International Uganda.
The anticorruption agencies noted that several decisions taken before deployment of the Covid-19 resources were not well thought out and justified, items ordered were not delivered on time, and prices of many items were inflated, besides procurement of substandard items. 

For example, the sleeper tents procured for the National Quarantine Centre at Namboole Stadium were blown away by wind and could not be utilised by end of August, despite the rising numbers of Covid-19 infections. 
The procurement of spray pumps was another issue raised in the report.  The contract was awarded to N2M Company Limited at Shs530m in June. 

The pumps were meant to aid disinfection of places, materials of Covid-19 confined places, treatment centres, homes, ambulances, among others. 
These included 80 mist sprayer, 99 power sprayers and 19 transport jet pumps. 
However, by August and September, none of the treatment centres had received the spray pumps except Entebbe Regional Referral Hospital, the report says.
The UDN executive director, Mr Patrick Tumwebaze, questioned whether the money, most of which was borrowed, was used for the intended purpose. 
 
“Overall, the budget for the multi-sectoral Covid-19 response, between the months of March and June, amounted to Shs2.2 trillion. By June 30, a total of Shs767 billion was received and committed towards Covid-19 prevention and response interventions. But with what we are seeing we might not have gotten value for our money and because of that an audit that should result into prosecution must be done,” Mr Tumwebaze said.

The anti-corruption crusaders such as Mr Arthur Oyako of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda and Mr David Kizito of Transparency International Uganda said government has not provided any accountability regarding the utilisation and impact, if any, of the Covid-19 resources to enable citizens follow up and report cases of misuse as and when they arise.

They noted that this is worsened by the understaffed anti-corruption agencies, namely the Inspectorate of Government, who should take up the abuse of Covid-19 funds, but without a substantial head at the helm, the blatant abuse of public resources may go unpunished.  

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Government view 
When contacted yesterday, the Director of Economic Affairs at the Ministry of Finance, Mr Moses Kaggwa, said: “We are currently undertaking an audit and the findings will be shared. The expenditure under the health sector is obviously not Shs2.2 trillion. Expenditure on Covid-19 has focused on three broad areas: health, economic and social protection.”

Measures
At the beginning of the year, government containment measures in response to Covid-19 including lockdowns, quarantines, and restrictions on labour mobility and travel resulted into downturns in most service sector activities. 
The effects adversely affected the economy and the other sectors such as health.  

Government acquired loans, received grants from various sources as well as donations from citizens and well-wishers to address the effects of the pandemic, especially to support the health facilities and also rescue the economy from the brink of collapse. 
Some of the loans and grants to government for Covid-19 response between March-June, total to $888m (about Shs3.2 trillion)
 

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