The media has been awash with reports that members of parliament had allocated themselves Shs 10 billion, a pinch they got off a supplementary budget request that left all of them at least Shs 20m richer while their constituents were pondering where their next meal would come from.
The MPs, led by their speaker, argued ferociously that the money was meant to support their efforts in making a contribution in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
We understand why the anger has been directed towards the MPs, after all they are the ones who hold the purse strings of the country’s treasury. And instead of regulating what was going out, they had joined in the bonanza and were caught with their hands in the till.
A section of legislators challenged the decision to award themselves Shs 20m each and the High court ruled in favour of those MPs, a day after the president had also condemned the act, and had even suggested ways through which the said money would be recovered.
“Give it to the district task force, return it to the treasury, and for those that have already spent the money, provide clear accountabilities for the monies,” President Yoweri Museveni said.
It is my considered view that this was a wrong precedent to set because measures are already in place regarding such irregular payments. Why weren’t those prescribed measures followed? The figures approved by parliament are not clear; it is anything from Shs 284 billion to slightly under Shs 2 trillion.
It has been an open season for all those at the right place in the right time, and it was only a matter of time before others took an interest in self-enrichment.
In the month of March alone, the government introduced three separate supplementary budget requests, the first was on March 3, in which a request for Shs 662.3 billion was made, the second was on March 19 in which a request for Shs 749.8 billion was made and the last was on March 31 where Shs 284 billion was taken.
It is the last request that had the Covid-19 monies. Dwelling so much on the Shs 10 billion as has been the case especially on social media, is missing the bigger picture.
What has been happening over the last several weeks has seen everybody rushing to do the work of the ministry of Health who have been fortunate enough to be led by an honest doctor whose primary preoccupation has been to save lives.
During the money bonanza, the ministry of Health received Shs 104.1 billion. Of this, the ministry is paying Shs 3.2 billion for quarantine centres, Shs 5.36 billion for feeding those in the quarantine centres, and transport Shs 5 billion, among other charges. Security received Shs 77.5 billion, while Local Government received Shs 36.2 billion, of which the resident district commissioners took Shs 7.5 billion for fuel.
To justify this money, the Local Government ministry asked for 20 isolation centres per district, and yet the ministry of Health already has these centres catered for in their budget. At least Sh 1.3 billion was set aside for surveillance, a function that the Security ministry and the Health ministry had already been facilitated with, Shs 2 billion for coordination by district health officers and another Shs 50 million per district for operations.
The ministry of Refugees and Disaster Preparedness asked for and received Shs 59.4 billion for food relief items. The food is trickling in. KCCA received Shs 2 billion (initially they had asked for Shs 30.18 billion) to, among other things, enforce directives, oversee coordination, preparedness, response and case management.
A request for money for water and sanitation was also included in this budget, even though this is a function already being provided by National Water and Sewerage Corporation in the Kampala area.
What this situation has shown us all is that while the Health ministry was busy worrying hard to keep numbers down, others were preoccupied with how to cash in as fast as possible.
Accordingly, we call upon the auditor general to be proactive and investigate every transaction involving these monies and ensure that a thorough value-for-money audit is done. We request the auditor general to keep his antenna alert.
The author is the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda.