New graft war should start with Covid-19 probe
The 2020 report of the Auditor General (AG) has disturbing findings. From mischarge payments to unaccounted for billions; and from abuse of Covid-19 response funds to unexplained domestic arrears. The latest report to Parliament is a cocktail of financial indiscipline and persistent violation of the commitment control systems.
The AG did not audit all the planned 2,724 ministries, departments and agencies due to lack of funds and Covid-19 restrictions. About 1,204 entities were audited, leaving out 1,520 institutions.
The ramifications of the extent of the backlog, however, point to a creeping culture of corruption and poor service delivery in the country.
Unaudited institutions received public funds but authorities cannot confirm whether money went to planned activities or were misappropriated. All public institutions must be audited to establish the extent of abuse, and all the perpetrators brought to book.
Those implicated in audit queries and matters that have derailed public accountability and service delivery in the country must be investigated with a view of recovering public funds abused through mischarge of expenditure (Shs314.8b); unaccounted for funds (Shs6.3b) including Shs758.7m meant for Covid-19 activities but remained unaccounted for; expenditures on undisclosed domestic arrears (Shs641.3m); unsupported domestic arrears (Shs9.4b) and classified expenditures to a tune of Shs608.2b.
Although these audit queries will eventually go to Parliament’s accountability committees, our view is that the President should use his powers and direct police to probe AG queries on the funds given to Ministry of Health (Shs25b), Parliamentary Commission (Shs10b), Prime Minister’s office (Shs2b), Embassy of Beijing (Shs233m) and Shs7.46 spent on classified items. The other bigger queries can be handled by Parliament committees.
The probe into Covid-19 funds should also include the quality of relief beans and maize floor, cash and in-kind donations towards government response.
We also understand that the quality checks were not done for items procured by the Ministry of Health, including intensive care equipment (Shs26b), face masks (Shs26b), and lab testing kits for Covid-19.
The President’s renewed determination to stamp out corruption must start with officials who had a hand in the abuse of Covid-19 money. The suspects, including MPs who took Shs10b from the health supplementary Budget, should be probed to understand how they hatched the deal.
Each MP got Shs20m to fight coronavirus. Some members complied with the High Court ruling and returned Covid-19 money. It’s not clear whether all MPs returned taxpayers money.
Every single penny released in the name of fighting Covid-19 must be accounted for and the culprits in the abuse of funds be brought to book.