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Corruption of Covid-19 Taskforce Funds in Teso

TESO – On June 18th, 2021, H.E President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni announced a second lock-down for 42 days to curtail the surge of Covid-19 infections in the communities.

In his televised address, Museveni directed the District Covid-19 Taskforce to institute village and sub-county Covid-19 task forces for easy identification of patients infected with the virus.

“Every village has community health workers popularly known as (VHTs), who are in touch with families and keep records on the health status of the villages. They know how many people are in the village, how many are pregnant, how many have children,” he said.

In order to facilitate Covid-19 activities, the Ministry of Local Government disbursed Shs 260 million to the District Covid-19 Task Forces nationwide for the quarter of July, August and September.

In a statement issued by the Minister of Local Government, Raphael Magezi to the National Covid-19 Task force, the districts across the country received the money on July, 7th and 8th, 2021 respectively.

According to the guidelines, each village is meant to receive Shs 400,000 out of which the Village Health Team (VHTs) are allocated Shs 300,000 and the Local Council One Chairpersons will get Shs 100,000 per village.

This is to support the implementation of the Community Engagement Strategy (CES), geared towards reducing transmission and stopping the spread of the Covid-19 virus among the communities.

While the remaining amount of money will be used to facilitate the district task force activities, which among others include; fuel, repair works and surveillance.

However, our investigations desk found out that some VHTs and LCs in other parts of the country have not received the money because they have been sidelined by the district Covid-19 Task forces, while others have received less than what they were meant to get.

The case in point is Bukedea district, where the District Health Educator, Ben Ekou, swindled more than Shs 60 million meant to facilitate the LCI Chairpersons and Village Health Teams (VHTs).

Evidence obtained by theCooperator for the Local Council one Chairpersons and Village Health Team (VHTs) indicate that Ekou asked VHTs to sign a payment voucher reading Shs 150,000 but only gave them Shs 97,000 or less.

This resulted in uproar and the subsequent arrest of Ben Ekou, who was in charge of payments. He was arraigned in court on August, 30th, 2021.

The affected VHTs majorly hail from among others the sub-counties of Kachumbala, Kongongu, Komuge and Aligoi under Kachumbala county.

One of the victims, David Omoding, a VHT at Kachoma village in Malera sub-county told theCooperator that despite several meetings with Ekou for payments he has not received even a single cent.

According to him, the district officials in charge of the payment started mobilizing them for payment in July but they have been waiting for the money in vain.

“Last week, we were told to convene at the sub-county headquarters but nobody came to pay us,” Omoding said.

Meanwhile, in Serere district, a section of the Local Council ones and Village Health Teams are ignorant of the Covid-19 funds sent to the district to facilitate them in Covid-19 activities in their villages.

Moses Olepus, the LCI Chairperson, Serere Center Cell in Serere Town Council told theCooperator that he is not aware that the government sent money to the district task force to facilitate the LCs and VHTs.

“We are not officially informed by the district leadership about the money you are talking about. I am getting this information as rumours from people and how much we are supposed to get has not been revealed but the concerned authorities are quiet about it,” said Olepus.

Enock Emwamu, the VHT Parish Coordinator, Atiira parish in Atiira sub-county, said that they were informed by their LCIII Chairperson and other district leaders in a meeting about the money meant for the VHTs and LCs to facilitate Covid-19 activities in the area.

“During the meeting, he informed us that each village is allocated Shs 400,000 where the Shs 300,000 goes to the VHTs and Shs 100,000 is for the LCs,” he said.

But since that meeting up to now, according to Emwamu they have not gotten any information about the money and the leaders who informed them about the money are also quiet about it.

Emwamu told theCooperator that the LCs and VHTs have been left in suspense because they didn’t specify when the money is supposed to be paid, adding that they have a plan of going to the office of the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Martine Mugambi to inquire about the money because in other districts, the villages have already received the money.

In a harsh tone, he said since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, the government has ignored the VHTs, yet they are doing a great job in the villages.

Tom Okiror, another VHT Coordinator said that he has not received any support from the government in fighting the pandemic since the start in March 2020, but he has been volunteering in following up cases and reporting to the health personnel without any facilitation.

According to Okiror, the Shs 100,000 allocated for villages for a period of three months is completely not enough so the government should rethink and allocate more money for the villages.

However, the Serere Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Martine Mugambi who doubles as the Chairperson of the district Covid-19 taskforce, acknowledged that the district received Shs 260 million to support Covid-19 activities in the district for one quarter covering July, August and September.

He attributed that delay in payment of the money to some technicalities in the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) and changes in the various sub-county bank accounts.

“We are currently experiencing challenges with the district IFMS but it’s being handled in Kampala, according to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO),” the RDC Martine Mugambi said.

He denied reports that the money had been swindled by the district officials, explaining that the funds came with clear guidelines from the ministry on how it’s supposed to be spent.

Mugambi, called for calm among the LCs and VHTs saying that that before the end of this month, the money should be ready in the sub-county accounts because the processes have reached an advanced level and the sub-counties should get them and give it to the respective villages.

In Katakwi district, the disbursement of the funds to the LCs and VHTs is underway with a warning to the people in charge of the process against acts of corruption.

John Stephen Ekoom, the Katakwi Resident District Commissioner (RDC) who also doubles as the Chairperson of the District Covid-19 Taskforce cautioned that this money is not for the sub-county and village leaders to eat but to facilitate them to do Covid-19 activities in their areas.

He said that anybody who diverts this money to do other things contrary to the purpose it’s meant for will be dealt with in accordance to the law.

“We have had scenarios where district officials misappropriate public funds and they walk away free, and I want to assure the public that anybody who tries to do that in my era shall be arrested and arraigned in court,” said Ekoom.

David Asubu, the Program Officer, Action Aid Uganda for Kumi and Bukedea districts blamed continued corruption tendencies in Ugandan on the  government’s failure to close legal loopholes.

“The government has failed to hold the high-ranking officials accountable for theft of public funds, despite its stated commitment to eradicating corruption.”

Asubu explained that lack of a political will has crippled Uganda’s anti-corruption institutions, undermining their efforts through political interference, under funding, harassment and threats.

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