The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) – Central Government has handed two Arua Regional Referral Hospital officials to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to help in the recovery of different COVID-19 expenditure documents from hotels and the health facility.
The documents relate to the hospital expenditure of 771.85 million Shillings on the management of COVID-19 patients and related activities. The money is Shillings 501.8 million in excess of the Shillings 270 million that the Ministry of Health separately availed to different Regional Referrals to respond to the pandemic.
The money was mainly spent on hotel bills for hospital staff, and the purchase of special meals and drinks for staff, patients, and others. “The CID is directed to retrieve the visitors’ book at the hotels for the period under review, records of visitors, invoices, internal audit report and we need this by the end of business tomorrow,” PAC- Central Government Committee Chairperson, Medard Lubega Sseggona directed.
He also directed the CID officers to hold Dr. Filbert Nyeko, the former Director of Arua Regional Refferal Hospital, and the Internal Auditor Eric Olum, and move with them to Arua to aid in the retrieval of the documents.
“Until we get these documents, you will have custody of Mr. Olum and make a report. Interview management of these hotels and suppliers. Dr. Nyeko, join Mr. Olum and help the CID retrieve these documents, you will be afforded a fair hearing by seeing the documents,” Sseggona directed.
Documents before the committee indicate that the hospital officials spent way above the Shillings 270 million provided for COVID-19 management without authorization as guided by the Public Finance Management Act. While appearing before the committee last week, Dr. Diana Atwine, the Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary, said that she declined to authorize payment of the excess funds because the rates were high.
This followed allegations that the Hospital Administrators inflated the cost of food supplied by Pacific Hotel, Heritage Courts Limited, Heritage Hotels, and Alosio General Supplies. Dr. Nyeko, the Arua Hospital Director then denied submitting a payment voucher for Shillings 700 million to the Ministry for payment, which the Permanent Secretary refused to sanction.
On this basis, PAC asked the Permanent Secretary to furnish the committee with the payment request that she allegedly turned down. Now contrary to his earlier denial, Dr. Nyeko on Tuesday confirmed that he was aware of the payment request.
“Last week I said I didn’t recall but I now recall,” said Dr. Nyeko. The payment voucher was to the Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary and was jointly signed by Dr. Nyeko, the Internal Auditor Eric Olum, and the Hospital Accountant, Augustine Omongin.
Asked whether he obtained authority to commit government, Dr. Nyeko said he had not received permission but hastened to add that food supplies were expensive during the Covid-19 lockdown and that markets outside Arua town, where they usually get supplies were closed.
This submission raised questions from Budadiri West MP, Nathan Nandala Mafabi about the involvement of the Internal Auditor in the business of the hospital management and the law, which informed his decision to be a co-author of the payment voucher.
“Internal auditors audit the institution and make personal reports…you audit the hospital management How come you signed the payment request?” he asked. Nandala also wondered why food markets in Arua were reported as closed yet markets during the country-wide COVID-19 lockdown were among the places that remained open.
‘By 30th June 2020, you had incurred Shillings 370 million in one hotel…that is Shillings 110 million per month and those are like 400 people per day. What is the bed capacity of this hotel that can accommodate 400 people per day? Why is it that in Arua Markets were closed?” Nandala asked.
In response, Olum said that he could not specify the law that informed his action. He also said that he did not confirm that processes were not followed and that it was a failure on his part. He also told the committee that he had visited the hotel and that it had a list of staff, a record of staff that had been accommodated, and the invoices.
“Your failure was negligence…criminal negligence can land you in Luzira prison. What motivated you? We want to look at your audit report and notes,” said committee Chairperson Sseggona. Sarah Opendi, the Tororo Woman MP wondered why the hospital purchased plates, cups, and folks, yet they had procured services of hotels to provide food.
“Didn’t the hotels have plates? I find this strange…buying utensils yet the hotel supplies food,” said Opendi. Dr. Nyeko told the committee that records regarding their COVID-19 expenditure are all available in Arua. PAC’s inquiry emanates from Auditor General John Muwanga’s recent forensic investigation into the Covid-19 funds expended during the two financial years of 2019/2020 and 2020/2021.
In his report, Muwanga noted that out of 4.485 billion Shillings transferred to Regional Referral Hospitals for management of covid-19 related activities, 614 million remained unaccounted for as of 30th June 2021 by various hospital management. According to the forensic report, the Regional Referrals in question were given 270 million Shillings each and Mbarara did not account for 86.7 million, Moroto 112.07 million, Arua 1.79 million, Mbale 87.29 million, Fort Portal 108.4 million and Mubende 217.98 million Shillings.