Report shows disparity in COVID cash transparency

Uganda performed relatively well in comparison to 120 countries that were assessed in providing information related to COVID-19 resources, a new report shows.

However, reporting on the execution of key COVID-19 expenditures was found wanting, with the Government providing only minimal information to the public.

This is according to a study by Uganda Debt Network (UDN), in collaboration with the International Budget Partnership, a global body that advocates for transparent, inclusive and accountable government budget processes.

“Information on all supplementary budgets passed, as well as the amounts, were readily available on public websites.

However, information on the detailed breakdown of these budgets was not made public. Some corruption scandals were reported by the media on the arrest of top government officials regarding the inflation of COVID-19 relief food prices.

However, no official public document was availed on the websites on this and related matters,” the report read.

The research was conducted between March 2020 and September 2021.

The study focused on three key pillars; public access to relevant information, adequate oversight arrangements and opportunities for citizen engagement.

Overall, the report found that most governments globally are falling short of managing their fiscal policy responses to the COVID-19 crisis in a transparent and accountable manner.

The Government provided about sh5 trillion to finance COVID-19-related expenditure since the onset of the pandemic.

Out of this, sh314b was provided in the Financial Year 2019/2020. Sh2.7 trillion was provided for Financial Year 2020/2021 and about sh932.5b was provided for the Financial Year 2021/2022, according to data from Parliament.

Parliament’s national task force committee in August revealed similar findings on the COVID-19 funds.

The committee was, among others, required to assess the operation, administration and management of funds and other resources appropriated for the pandemic.

“[We] found that there was little evidence on the ground to show that more than sh5 trillion had been spent to address deficiency in the health system to effectively manage the COVID-19 pandemic,” Abdu Katuntu (MP Bugweri Country), the head of the taskforce, told Parliament.

REACTIONS TO THE REPORT

Naomi Ayot, a policy analyst, said Uganda had limited accountability standards as far as managing COVID-19 resources.

“At least we are at limited and not minimal. Out of the 120 countries, no countries had substantive procedures on transparency and accountability.

“Four countries had adequate performance and where Uganda lies is the limited accountability processes as far as managing the COVID19 resources,” she said.

Participating countries were ranked on a scale of 0 to 1. Participation of Ugandans in COVID-19 processes, the role of the audit office and reporting on execution was minimal.

Ayot said to improve transparency, going forward; “We need to work more on our accountability and move away from the bulk way of presenting information.

“Break things down so that you create that credibility and trust in the country. We also need to make sure that there is inclusivity in how these resources are managed, mobilised and at the implementation level,” she said.

Julius Kapwepwe, the director of programmes at UDN, said the government should let Parliament play its oversight role to improve transparency and accountability of public funds.

“Our findings indicate that the stimulus package still has a lot of potholes.

We need to work with Parliament because it does the appropriation of funds.

“We should not only look at the big corporations, look at the micro, small and medium enterprises, where the majority of Ugandans who are highly vulnerable belong, especially the women,” he said.

In July this year, the International Monetary Fund approved a $1b (sh3.6 trillion) loan to Uganda, which the lender will release in a three-year period at zero interest.

The global lender called for reforms to increase domestic revenues, foster public sector efficiency and strengthen governance, while preparing the ground for sound management of oil revenues.

WHAT MINISTER SAYS

Finance minister Matia Kasaija said: “I urge all accounting officers of government to utilise all public funds at their disposal efficiently and transparently to drive growth and also provide services to the people of Uganda.

“I will not hesitate to institute disciplinary measures on any accounting officer who fails to provide accountability or execute timely government projects and programmes,” he added.

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