Aiij Holds Webinar On The Role Of Investigative In Public Resource Accountability.

After confirmation of the first case of COVID 19 in Uganda Parliament Approved Supplementary Expenditure Schedule No. 2 for Financial Year 2019/2020, the Shs 284 billion Health, Security and Local Government sectors, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness and Refugees In the same regard, the World Bank Board of Directors in June similarly approved a $300 million budget support operation for Uganda to boost the Government’s capacity to prevent, detect and treat the coronavirus, protect the poor and vulnerable population, and support economic recovery.  This is not to mention the USD 491.5 million (1.9 trillion Shillings which the The International Monetary Fund approved in emergency funding for Uganda to address the impact left by the coronavirus on the economy. 

Flipping through the several newspapers in Uganda in the recent past, stories of corruption and embezzlement of public funds make headlines screaming out how public resources have been misused and stolen. History has taught us that there is always a high appetite to steal public resources whenever there is plenty. In fact, according to a report that was released by the World Bank in February, 2020, whenever the World Bank released aid funds to poor countries, a significant amount of money  was systematically channeled out of these countries to private bank accounts in tax havens. 

While everyone focuses on how to control the spread of the deadly pandemic and to treat those who tested positive, little attention has been focused on monitoring public resource expenditure for the money being given to government.

Against this background, the African Institute for Investigative Journalism held a webinar about the critical role of investigative journalism in following the COVID-19 money. The webinar tittle “COVID-19 and the Money : Is the media watching?” featured investigative journalists like Raymond Mujuni, Ivan Okuda, Allan Namu from Kenya as well a guest speaker, Anti-corruption activist Cissy Kagaba . The panel was moderated by the Executive Director African Institute for Investigative Journalism Solomon Serwanjja.

To set the stage for the discussion was the Executive Director of the Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) Cissy Kagaba who made an urgent call to investigative journalists to look into how the money is being spent. “ Journalists need to look into who how procurement contracts were given out and to who. How much was given to procure what and was it justified? Ofcourse the Auditor General’s report will come but the did will be done” Miss Kagaba said.

Investigative Journalist and the Executive Director for Africa Uncensored John Allan Namu shared the Kenyan perspective. Namu said “The corruption in Kenya is as old as the pandemic itself.  The validation for the notion being the lack of transparency in the procurement processes for some of the preventive protective equipment , and loss of some of the items donated by Jack Ma of Alibaba is an indication of the bigger problem beyond the virus its self.” Mr. Namu also noted that the access to information on the COVID-19 expenditure was also difficult especially from government agencies and ministries. This makes very difficult for journalists to follow up.

Raymond Mujuni re-echoed the need for investigative journalists to look into the issues of the supplementary budget and what the money which was being disbursed was being used for especially when doctors and other frontline health workers did not have protective gear. Mr. Mujuni emphasized that for investigative journalists to play their role, there is need for collaborative investigative journalism to manage some special investigations.

Ivan Okuda turned the tables to the ability of media houses in Uganda to support investigative journalists to conduct special reports into accountability. He also challenges the media in Uganda to do independent investigations with out any influence from the advertisers or government influence. “ Media houses are having salary cuts while other have halved their staff because of the financial challenges that have been brought about by the corona virus pandemic. Until when the media gets alternative funding modules, then investigative journalism will be at its lowest.” He said.

The panel noted that media has tried to do a good job in shading some light on to the path accountability from the government but much more can be done if the challenges in financing to have these stories told can be solved.

The Executive Director of AIIJ Solomon Serwanjja  noted that such conversations are very helpful to the growth of investigative journalism not only in Uganda but in the region. “Such tough conversations are the reasons why the African Institute for Investigative Journalism was born. So that we can grow investigative journalism by looking at every available model to support the media to play its watchdog role.” He said.

The webinar can be found here.