Some Cabinet ministers have listed demands for their new dockets that will require government to dig deeper in its coffers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sources close to the ministers told Daily Monitor at the weekend that some of them want a complete overhaul of office furniture, while others have asked for new vehicles, among others.
For instance, Lands minister Judith Nabakooba is said to have rejected a vehicle (a V8 Land Cruiser) bought barely two years ago.
She reportedly asked for a new one, due to unclear reasons. A V8 Land Cruiser costs about Shs300m on average.
Aside from a new vehicle, Ms Nabakooba, according to a source within the ministry, also asked for a total revamp of her new office, that is to change all the office furniture and fittings, carpets as well as crockery, among others.
The Lands ministry Permanent Secretary, Ms Dorcus Okalany, confirmed the requisition of the minister to have an office overhaul.
“Yes, she requested, but is it bad?” Ms Okalany said when contacted, adding that: “We are refurbishing the ministry because everything is old if you go to all offices, so it’s a normal thing. It’s not bad.”
However, when asked if what the minister had requested for was included in the earlier budget, Ms Okalany quickly referred us to the ministry’s Undersecretary, noting that she was indisposed at the moment and was, therefore, not in position to give further comments.
We were unable to reach Ms Nabakooba for a comment as our calls to her known cell number went unanswered by press time.
The State Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Ms Agnes Nandutu, is also said to have asked for a new official vehicle.
She, according to a source within the ministry, also asked for a lead car citing, Ms Barbara Nekesa Oundo, who deputised Ms Janet Museveni in the Karamoja Affairs portfolio in 2011, saying she always had a lead car each time she went to Karamoja.
When contacted, Ms Nandutu admitted to having asked for a lead car, saying Karamoja is an insecure region and it is only prudent that she’s given the necessary protection while executing her duties there.
“Of course I am in an insecure place. The division commander at the district gives me a lead car and I do not come with it from Kampala. How do you expect me to work without protection where guns are at large?” Ms Nandutu said in a phone interview at the weekend.
Ms Nandutu was camped out in the Karamoja region for nearly the whole of last week, discharging her duties, part of which was overseeing the ongoing disarmament exercise conducted by the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF).
This comes barely a week after government dished out Shs200m to each of the 529 Members of Parliament and 26 ex-officios of the 11th Parliament, to purchase new vehicles of their choice to facilitate their movement as they carry on with their legislative work.
The move has, however, been criticised as many described it as ‘insensitive’ while stakeholders have accused government of having misplaced priorities.
Many of these say the money should have been used to buy more vaccines so as to boost the fight against Covid-19 in the country.
Uganda has to-date not bought a single jab from its own resources, 16 months after registering the first Covid-19 case.
When we sought to know whether there are guidelines that ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) have to follow while procuring public assets, Mr Benson Turyame, the executive director of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PDAA), said each agency has procurement plans every new financial year which are approved by the respective accounting officers, basing on their priorities.
“The procurement plan has to rhyme with the budget that was approved, if it does not then we question. And for purposes of monitoring, the procurement plan is usually shared with PPDA and the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury in the Ministry of Finance,” Mr Turyame said.
He added that it is not necessarily the mandate of the PPDA to track or regulate the spending of the various government entities.
“What we question is if they have old assets that they have not disposed of, for instance if they have vehicles parked in the yard and are rotting away, that is what we come in to question. Even as we do our audit, we verify all that, as required by the law,” he said.
Mr Turyame said the assets have different disposal periods, as per the government standards. For instance, vehicles are usually disposed of after every five years, while computers and furniture are usually procured after two years.
“At times their hands are tied because of perhaps having a tight budget whilst other pressing priorities, so they may not dispose of certain assets after the stipulated period of time,” he said.
On procuring assets before the stipulated period of disposal, Mr Turyame said the entities are free to do so every new financial year, depending on management decision, as long as the procurement plan was approved.
“If at all it’s not in the procurement plan, that’s a serious query and if we get to know early enough, we stop it. However, there is a provision for amendments, if needs change along the year, they can amend but it also has to go through processes of approval and they have to inform us. It’s possible to reallocate the budget and that is approved by the Ministry of Finance,” he further explained.
The requests, however, coincide with a recent decision by the government to cut the budgets for MDAs by up to 40 per cent due to worsening effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy, following a projected revenue underperformance of Shs2 trillion.
According to a July 2 circular from the Finance ministry to all accounting officers, the budget cuts were to allow the government generate emergency financing totalling to Shs600 billion for the Covid-19 response.
While addressing the media recently, the acting Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Patrick Ocailap, said the government had also decided to freeze travel, workshops and seminars to cut costs.
“Reprioritisation within the sector is also important. If they had planned to travel for World Health Organisation meetings and the rest, they have to scale down on those meetings and try to reallocate money to areas such as disease surveillance and procure more test kits,” Mr Ocailap said.
“We need to recruit more health workers so that we can increase surveillance when businesses and schools reopen,” he said.