By Dr. Kirunji Arthur
Last week, the media was awash with a headline that took many by surprise; “MINISTRY OF HEALTH PS ATWINE ARRESTED FOR MISUSE OF SHS6BN”. To many who know Dr. Diana and her committed and unwavering stand against corruption, this was a big shock. To me as a health worker, I got concerned because this is my line sector and feel it has been making progress despite scattered negativity.
The money in question had been budgeted for payment for construction of Entebbe Paediatric Hospital but works had not been done by the contractor for the first payment to be made yet the financial year was closing and the money was set to go back as unused funds despite need.
At the same time, Yumbe and Kayunga hospitals were on the verge of losing a grant that was given to them by the Arab Bank for reconstruction on condition that government contributes 20% of the total projects costs. The Ministry had not been allocated this money as per the agreement signed by government and the deadline for start of works had passed. This reportedly got on the nerves of the Arabs who had made a decision to take their money to another country they considered serious.
In addition to that, there was the issue of delayed completion of Mulago Hospital, where I work. Since closure of the hospital for renovation in 2015, Ugandans have been suffering with congestion in the available facilities to a point that 2 or more patients share a bed. A ward meant for 50 patients accommodated over 200 patients. This is psychologically stressing for any medical worker, leave alone the patients most of whom are desperate and poor to afford private services elsewhere.
What has government been renovating since 2015 when other almost equally big hospitals like Yumbe and Kayunga which have been constructed in just about a year and are complete. The contractors were frustrated that the delay was related to the song of lack of money every financial year, which to my understanding is poor prioritization.
The contractors had resorted to taking government to court. If they won, government had to pay the whole sum even if work is not done; on top of huge interest.
Was the ministry going to take back unused funds for a critical sector like health or use the money, inject it in similar projects in the same field and replace when time arises for the projects it was meant for.
What the Ministry management did after fruitless efforts to get this money was to divert the funds meant for the Entebbe project, with justification to the finance ministry that they will refund with the money for Kayunga, Yumbe and Mulago when it comes, which finance cleared. And, this money was paid back to the Entebbe project when it came.
This saved government from losing the offer, and the people of Kayunga and Yumbe districts were able to keep the hospitals. Yes, procedures and bureaucracies must be followed but there must be some flexibility in the interest of better services to the people for the greater good.
When Diana was called to PAC to explain this huge “CRIME”, she wasn’t given a minute to explain. I watched the news of her instead being abused disrespectfully by one Hon. Joseph Ssewungu and Odongo Otto followed by a motion for her to report to police CID. Now what was the intention of the meeting if not to get feedback from those being questioned?
The actions of the lawmakers gave a bad impression about their desire to see Uganda progress.
It should never be heard that an important ministry like that of health should be allowed to return unused funds to the public coffers yet the same money can be utilised to address some of the most pressing issues in the sector.
As a doctor, I must confess that we are frustrated with the conditions under which we work that do not correlate with our sacrifices. Yes, what we do is a calling but we pray that our leaders also get a similar calling to commit to better working environments for health care. This involves such improvements as infrastructure from the old Mulago to the new one we are waiting for. From the old Yumbe and Kayunga to the new ones as indicated in the photos.
Dr. Kirunji Arthur Is A Medical Consultant