The Parliamentary Covid-19 Taskforce has asked the Attorney General to institute a forensic audit into all Covid-19 expenditures by the Ministry of Health to ascertain how more than Shs2.3 trillion it appropriated to the ministry was spent.
The call follows several inconsistencies the taskforce discovered between the sum of money Parliament approved for Covid-19 response and the amount spent by the Ministry of Health between 2019 and 2021.
The report that was presented yesterday by the taskforce chair, Mr Abdu Katuntu, indicated that Parliament appropriated a total of Shs22.1b during the Financial Year 2019/2020 to support the establishment of 20 isolation centres in each district and undertake surveillance to slow down the disease transmission.
But the report indicates that there was no evidence of the isolation centres in the places that the taskforce visited.
"While on field visits to various districts, the committee teams established that in most of the districts, not a single isolation centre ever existed," the report reads in part.
It further reads: "Government should submit accountability to Parliament for Shs22.1b appropriated to facilitate establishment of 20 isolation centres per district, indicating the location in each district where such facilities were established."
Mismatch in buying masks
The MPs report also shows discrepancy in the purchase of masks where the Health ministry spent more money than what it was allocated.
The report says a total of 36.7 million masks at a cost of Shs2,400 per mask were procured and distributed to 135 districts and to all candidate classes across the country. The total cost for 36.7 million fabric masks amounts to only Shs88b.
But the report reveals that after the Parliamentary Taskforce reviewed the Health ministry accountability for March 2020 to June, a total of Shs90.9b was spent on procuring 37.9 million masks.
The report says this does not conform to the figure submitted by the Minister of Health in her report dated July 7.
This implies that there were additional masks totalling 1.2 million at a cost of Shs2.9 billion.
"The minister should explain the observed discrepancy arising from her report titled, 'Update to Parliament Taskforce Committee on Covid-19 in Uganda', dated July 7, and another title, 'Accountability for government of Uganda Covid-19 funding to MOH', dated March 2020 to June 2021," the report reads.
Variances in supplementary
The report also says Parliament appropriated Shs94.1b under the supplementary budget. However, the Ministry of Health submission to the taskforce indicates that by end of Financial Year 2019/2020, a total of Shs92.4b had been spent, leaving a balance of Shs1.5b unspent and reportedly sent back to Consolidated Fund.
But the taskforce review of the detailed breakdown of the actual expenditure submitted revealed a total of Shs99b having been spent instead of Shs92.4.
The taskforce noted that this figure is over and above the appropriated amount by Shs4.8b and the source of extra Shs4.8 remains unknown. The Health ministry has been asked to explain the discrepancy.
But the Health ministry says the Shs99b was used as allowances and recruiting 546 staff on contract, procuring medical supplies and and installing intensive care unit (ICU) equipment.
They said other sums were used to procure 11 ambulances, paid accommodation, water, electricity, cleaning and sanitation, fuel and procured ICT equipment.
The taskforce accused the Ministry of Health of multiple accountabilities after it established that most of the items funded by Shs389.1b the Ministry of health received from external funders were also funded by the Government of Uganda budget.
The committee report says the Ministry of Health reported a total of Shs389.1b was received from the external financing between the March 2019 and June, including from the Global Fund, the World Bank's emergency response component, the Islamic Development Bank, and GAVI, among others.
But the Health ministry says these funds were spent on coordination, risk communication, CT innovation, case management, mental health and psychosocial support, ambulances, motorcycles, PPEs, surveillance, and tests kits among others, which items the committee members said were funded by the national budget.
Whereas the Health ministry said they used some of the funds to procure PPEs, the Parliament taskforce reported that the PPE that are primary guards against infections were grossly inadequate in most of the hospitals posing a high risk of exposure to infections of frontline health workers while on duty.
"When the committee reviewed external financing accountabilities submitted by the MOH, it was found that most of the items that were funded were similar in nature and purpose as those funded using Government budget. It is not possible to establish whether there was no duplication therefore multiple accountabilities," The report reads.
The report also revealed that Shs29.6b was collected as cash donation out of which Shs23.9b was earmarked for procurement of 282 pickup vehicles, Shs3.3b towards construction of Blood Bank, Shs2.4b was spent on construction of border post health units at Vurra and Cyanika.
By the time this taskforce was writing the report, a total of 121 vehicles had been imported awaiting clearance of import taxes totalling Shs9b, which the Ministry of health does not have.
Discrepancy in Shs1.7t resurgence plan
The parliamentary Taskforce also noted discrepancies in budget deficits for the Shs1.7 trillion for Covid-19 resurgence plan for July2021 to June2022.
The taskforce noted that the budget estimated to deliver the Covid-19 resurgence plan amounts to Shs1.7 trillion of which Shs445.9b is slated to procure vaccines while Shs808.4b was set aside for logistics.
The committee observes that whereas Ministry of Health indicated they have a deficit of Shs1.3 trillion after Shs461.7b had been released, The Ministry of Finance noted deficit of ShsShs996.6b less by Shs767.1b which it said is already available to Ministry of health.
The committee members have emphasised the procurement of PPE for doctors and procurement of vaccines to be able to vaccinate the targeted number of students.
Shs1trillion stimulus package
Parliament yesterday asked the government to submit full accountability backed by an authentic list of beneficiaries of the fund appropriated to re-capitalisation of Uganda Development Bank totalling Shs558.1b as stimulus package.
Parliament has also asked for the beneficiaries of Shs77.7b money for SACCO support allocated to Uganda Microfinance Support Centre, Emyooga (Shs260b), Youth Fund (Shs130b) and UWEP (Shs29.5B).
"We have to streamline the way we manage things. The intersectional ministries are supposed to plan and work with the local government. This report has come in time to caution and or encourage the central government to work with the local teams. To avoid duplication, they need to have a team to consolidate and priorities what they are going to do.so there is need for them to streamline to avoid duplication of services," Mr Isaac Modoi, Lutseshe County MP.
"Government should act on these glaring gaps very soon because there is no time in this fight against Covid. The discrepancies in the figures shows that some of these numbers might have just been cooked. On the issue of isolation centres, we have recommended that the ministry submit detailed lists so that we can scrutinize these gaps," Mr Karim Masaba, MP for industrial Division, Mbale City, also a taskforce member.
"The Auditor General should institute forensic, and value-for-money audit to ensure those charged with managing the Covid situation account for the money spent," Dickens Kateshumbwa, MP Sheema Municipality, said.
"We found out that there were inconsistencies and discrepancies in expenditure and the ministry of Health should come out and explain this and also guide the country on when we shall get the vaccines. There must also be a thorough audit on all the expenses because we need value for the taxpayers' money. This should not be allowed to just go unchecked," Bernard Odoi, the Eastern Youth MP.
The deputy speaker of parliament, Ms Anita Among said that parliament will discuss the Covid-19 taskforce report on Thursday and asked all MPs to go back to their constituencies and investigate the Emyooga funds.
Govt speaks out
Our efforts to get a comment from the Permanent Secretary MOH, Dr Diana Atwiine, were futile as she did not pick our calls by press time.
MoH spokesperson, Mr Emmanuel Ainebyona, last evening declined to comment on a report he had not read.
Mr Chris Baryomunsi, the State Minister for ICT, however, defended Covid expenditures and told Daily Monitor that if the impending Auditor General's audit establishes that district chief administrative officers did not set up isolation centres, they will be asked to refund the money and be brought to book.
Compiled by Damali Mukhaye, Franklin Draku & Arthur Arnold Wadero