Following the COVID-19 vaccine money, where is the 560BN?

By Grace Birungi

Uganda was in desperate need of vaccines at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as the number of infections soared. During the first wave in 2020, parliament allocated 18.5 billion shillings to procure 18 million doses through the covax facility. In addition, the government allocated 560 billion shillings in the fiscal year 2021/2022 budget to purchase more vaccines.

During the same financial year, parliament appropriated 80 billion shillings to National Medical Stores (NMS) to procure additional vaccines. This money was fully released by the Ministry of Finance to both NMS and Ministry of health. However, Uganda’s vaccines have been donations from development partners amounting to 1.3 trillion shillings.

The investigation focuses on the accountability of the money that was given to NMS and the Ministry of Health (MOH) from the government consolidated fund to procure vaccines during the first and second wave of the pandemic mindful that many of the vaccines have been donations.

The investigation was guided on three questions;

1. Were the vaccines bought?

2. If yes, how many vaccines were procured and at what price?

3. Why did the ministry of health takeover the procurement of vaccines from the NMS body mandated by law to procure and distribute medical supplies?

Finding answers to the questions became very difficult due to a lack of access to information from the two bodies, NMS and MOH, prompting the investigations team to turn to open source information; reviewing parliamentary proceedings, documents presented by both agencies in committees, and obtaining archive footage.

While appearing before a 40-member parliamentary taskforce on COVID-19, the National medical stores general manager, Moses Kamabale told the committee that, they had not received the 18.5 billion shillings but rather, the 80 billion shillings that was appropriated in the financial year 2021/2022

When asked about the whereabouts of the money, finance minister Matia Kasaija, who also attended the meeting, said that he came to the meeting unprepared and thus didn’t have any information. The committee was unable to obtain answers to accountability questions regarding the 18.5 billion, 80 billion, and 560 billion given to the MOH.

Later in the month of January, the Auditor General, John Muwanga, finalized with his forensic and audit into the expenditure relating to COVID-19 for the financial year 2020/2021. Indeed, the 18.5 billion was captured in his report as having been disbursed to the MOH, however the Auditor General did not go deep to discuss the expenditure, he did not speak about how many vaccines were procured and at what price.

When the Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Acheng was contacted for some answers, she stated that, the ministry could fully account for the money. According to her submission, the 18.5 billion plus the 80 billion and an additional 30 billion was all spent on vaccines.

Dr. Jane Ruth Acheng, too, did not reveal how many vaccines were procured, how much money was deposited on the UNICEF account to procure the vaccines under the covax facility, and at what rate per doze.

The investigation revealed that only 128 Billion Shillings was advanced to UNICEF to procure 3 million doses of vaccines. The Ministry of Health was not able to provide evidence of expenditure on the procurement of the vaccines for the 450 Billion shillings. Watch the investigation here.