On June 29, 2020, President Yoweri Museveni announced that the National Taskforce on #Covid-19 had collected a staggering Shs50 billion worth of cash contributions and pledges to aid the fight against the #Covid-19 pandemic in Uganda.
The National Taskforce on #Covid has a target of collecting Sh170 billion and the last time that a status report was made public, the committee had hit 30 per cent of that goal. The Committee had collected donations worth Sh50 billion, with Sh17 billion in cash and Sh33 billion as donations in-kind.
With the Fund cash not yet established and the money being banked at a funds collection account in Stanbic Bank and a Treasury Account in Bank of Uganda, questions immediately arose on whether the much-needed contributions would not be put to the rightful need.
President Museveni had directed that the money mobilized by the National Taskforce on #Covid should be used to address the crisis triggered by the #Covid-19 pandemic in the medical world and not purchasing consumables like vehicles.
“The funds should be used to respond to the needs generated by the Coronavirus pandemic. Such investments should not be consumables. In addition to buying Motor Vehicles, some of the funds can be used for the construction of durable buildings to be used as service shelters/camps and support facilities at the country’s border points,” Mr Museveni said.
Aware of how money meant to help taxpayers is often spirited away, the Permanent Secretary-Ministry of Finance/Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi wrote a five-page letter to the chairperson of The National Response Fund to #Covid-19 team, Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) directing on how the money should be used.
Muhakanizi directed that all cash donations be banked intact to the collection account under the OPM and all asset donations to government be “received and compiled by the OPM with a bi-monthly copy provided to The National Response Fund to #Covid-19 team and secretary to the Treasury.”
“The OPM shall operate commercial bank collection accounts in any currency as authorized by the Accountant General in accordance with Section 33 of the Public Finance Management Act 2015 (PFMA 2015). The signatories to the commercial bank collection accounts shall be the authorized officers in the OPM.
In his letter, Muhakanizi said the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) shall issue: “Treasury receipts for all received cash and cheque donations on the collection accounts in a commercial bank before transfer to Bank of Uganda.”
Details of the collection accounts will be advised by the Accountant General, he said. “Any funds on the collection accounts shall be swept to the two CERF holding accounts (US Dollar and UGX) opened in Bank of Uganda on 15th and 30th of every month.”
However, despite the president’s directives that the the #Covid-19 donation funds should be invested in visible and durable items that have long term benefits for citizens and the country, instead of short-term consumables, no such investments have been made.
It is not clear whether Muhakanizi’s directives have been followed either. But Eagle Online has independent learnt that the money has since banked but banking of the money has reportedly triggered a fight between the #Covid-19 taskforce and the treasury.
Ironically, health facilities at the centre of the fight against #Covid-19 are operating on meagre budgets, and some have been left to shut down critical operations.
The Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), the only institute mandated to carry out #Covid-19 testing in the country, at some point ran out of testing kits, saying they had no single testing kit left in their store and were only relying on borrowed kits from Makerere University hospital.
Workers in Gulu Hospital also intimated to Dr Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, that medical workers had not received their risk allowances for treating #Covid-19 patients.
The 100 hospital workers including 70 frontline health workers. Each frontline worker earns between Shs40,000 and Shs80,000 per day while on duty.
Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, the chairman of Gulu District, was quoted in the media saying there have been talks with the hospital administration to have the matter resolved without success.
“The hospital received Shs270 million ($72,589) from the Ministry of Health plus the guidelines on how the money should be used and when issues of laying down tools start to come up, it means the budget has been exhausted and it has been a while since they sent money to the hospitals,” Ojara was quoted as saying.
Anti-corruption activists say Parliament and the State House Anti-Corruption Monitoring Unit led by Lt. Col.. Edith Nakalema should pick interest in the matter and get to the bottom of what exactly has happened to the #Covid-19 donations.
However, reports now indicate Internal Security Organisation (ISO) under its economic monitoring department is now probing a possible misuse of #Covid-19 funds. However, it isn’t established whether the investigations include the contributions from the public.