By Angel Birungi
The Parliament of Uganda approved a supplementary budget of sh284b to fight Covid-19. This was to be used by the ministries of health, security, local government, and disaster preparedness and refugees.
Out of the sh284b, security got sh77.4 b; local government, sh36.1b; disaster preparedness, sh59.4 b; KCCA, sh30.1b.
A total of sh107 was allocated to the Ministry of Health although officials in the ministry argued that this was a drop in the ocean, given that they have always got less money than needed. The need for the supplementary budget was real.
The appeal by the President to philanthropists to give a hand was a welcome move and the people responded in affirmative. From as high as sh1.3b to as low as sh5,000, people responded to the President's call. People and companies brought in vehicles, ambulances, food, sanitisers, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), etc.
More than 30 vehicles have been collected as well as over sh6b from companies, organizations, and individuals. Many tonnes of food have also been collected to assist the people whose sources of income were disrupted by the current lockdown. That was a good gesture from Ugandans in times of need such as this.
However, the public that is donating these items has been shown more of the pictures of officials receiving the items and there is little information or publicity on how the items received are being used and who is receiving them.
Some people have lamented that the Ruhakana Rugunda team (National Taskforce) is very fast when receiving donations, but very slow when taking the donations to the beneficiaries.
While Ugandans welcome the daily updates on the battle against COVID-19, they would also appreciate an update on the accountability. For example, do all health workers have Personal Protective Equipment? How are the health workers being facilitated to stay motivated to do their work? How many hospitals and which ones in particular have so far benefitted from PPE's and food items that are being donated? What has the Ministry of Health so far done with sh107b that was allocated for the fight against the pandemic?
The president, for instance, directed that cash donations be used to purchase brand new four-wheel-drive vehicles to assist medical personnel and patients at various levels. What Ugandans would like to know is have they been purchased and if yes which districts have so far been allocated those vehicles?
It is critical to keep a strong stand against corrupt practices during the response to COVID-19. We already have officials from the Office of the Prime Minister mismanaging food distribution. Their arrest was an eye-opener after having been found in possession of food items meant to be distributed to the vulnerable poor. We also had questionable quality of food that was purchased for distribution to the vulnerable poor. This brought into question the tendering and procurement procedures.
The ministry of ICT, for instance, was given more than sh6b for communication even when UCC had already briefed media houses on how to sensitize the public on COVID-19, and media houses were already doing it. Media giants such as New Vision reportedly got sh250m. The public would like to know which media houses got this money and how much each got and how it was used.
Many Ugandans were disappointed by the parliamentary commission that allocated sh20m to each Member of Parliament as part of the sh10b that parliament allocated itself off the supplementary budget. It looked like the supplementary money was loot where each department of government wanted part of. Nobody quite understood, including Members of Parliament, how that money was supposed to be spent on corona-related activities.
As we wait for the delivery of the money to CAOs following the presidential directives, the Speaker and a number of MPs are still fighting to have their loot kept intact and used as they wished. But we also await accountability once the money reaches the districts. For example, without giving accountabilities, embattled Jinja Resident District Commissioner, Eric Sakwa, has said he has already spent sh54m of the sh55m allocated to his office to fight COVID-19.
As we wait for this accountability it is very crucial to involve civil society organisations in the procurement systems to track the expenditure and give the public and the donor community proper feedback on how their money was used.
The writer works with Transparency International