LUBOWA HOSPITAL: The white elephant project haunting parliament

It is on record that the Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, was opposed to the plan of handing colossal sums of taxpayer's money to Italian investor Enrica Pinetti instead of aiding the ailing health sector to improve public facilities.

The decision to hurriedly approve the government’s request to issue promissory notes worth US$379.71 million to finance the construction of the International Specialised Hospital of Uganda in Lubowa has come to Parliament almost five years later.

It is on record that the Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, was opposed to the plan of handing colossal sums of taxpayer’s money to Italian investor Enrica Pinetti instead of aiding the ailing health sector to improve public facilities.

Parliament presided over by then Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, fell to the sweet talking of the then State Minister of Finance (Planning), David Bahati, to approve the request on grounds that the International Specialised Hospital at Lubowa would save Ugandans the cost of flying out to treat non-communicable diseases.

Diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, self-harm, interpersonal violence and road injuries are some of the problems the facility promised to handle.

Butambala County MP Muwanga Kivumbi had led a section of MPs that unsuccessfully challenged the approval of the promissory note because, to him, it was a disguised loan that was going to cost the country a lot to pay back.

“The construction of this hospital is $249 million (UGX 984 billion), but when you look at the cost of financing this project in detail, it is $116 million (about UGX 454.4 billion) which makes the project very expensive because it will have to be paid back,” he said then.

To date, no legislator has ever gained access to the site where construction was supposed to be undertaken by Roko Construction Limited, a company that has also benefited from the government’s financial support at the time it was limping nearly two years ago.

Even Minister, Dr Aceng, Health Ministry Permanent Secretary Dr Diana Atwine and some of the legislators on the Committee on National Economy were openly denied access to the site during a visit in 2019. The Ministry is supposed to supervise the project, while the Parliament is constitutionally mandated to carry out oversight.

On Monday, February 26,2024, Leader of Opposition in Parliament, Joel Ssenyonyi, together with his team, was only treated to peeping through a small opening on the gate at the site to engage with a police officer on guard. Access was denied despite getting an introductory letter from Minister Aceng. The situation was so dire that the new LOP would only be fielding reports of different orders from police bosses who had directed those onsite not to open for the MPs.

However, this fiasco comes months after the 11th Parliament, despite a challenge from a minority report, approved a supplementary budget worth UGX 3.5 trillion, part of which was an appropriation of UGX 2.7 billion for the supervision of the Lubowa Hospital project. The supervision of the construction site is supposed to be undertaken by engineers from the Ministry of Health.

Now, after the LOP and his members hit a snag at the site, Speaker Anita Among has decided to assign her deputy, Thomas Tayebwa, to lead a team of legislators to the site on Wednesday to inspect the works. Tayebwa, while still serving as a member of the Committee on National Economy, was among the MPs who got stranded at the gate of the construction site together with Health Minister Dr Aceng in 2019.

“I am going to assign my Deputy Speaker and the team to go to Lubowa on Wednesday, and they will give us a report. I want to see how the Deputy Speaker will be denied access,” ruled Among.

This was after MPs expressed bitterness over deliberate moves by the investor to deny them access to the construction site even when the project continued to receive allocations of Billions of Shillings every financial year since 2019.

In her communication at the start of the Tuesday plenary sitting, the speaker raised concern over the decision by the site managers to deny the LOP access while on oversight of the progress of the construction site.

Ssenyonyi, on his side, raised a lot of questions about the motive behind the continued denial of access to the site, adding that it is time for Parliament to fight back rather than being rubber-stamped by the Executive to approve funds for misappropriation.

He wondered how a project under the supervision of the Ministry of Health could not be accessible by him and legislators, even with an introductory letter from the Minister of Health.

“It is important to tell this Parliament exactly who is in charge of this project. The Minister of Health, as far as I am concerned, is in charge of this project. The Minister of Internal Affairs should also explain to this Parliament why MPs have been denied access by security because, as Parliament, we appropriate billions of Shillings annually.

The Minister of Health and Minister of Finance should give a status update to this Parliament and account for the money so far spent because denying us access means there is something going on. The tax papers are now blaming Parliament, so it is important they come and account to us and, by extension, to the general public,” said Ssenyonyi.

Having realised that the contractor (Roko Construction Limited) abandoned the site way back in 2019, Ssenyonyi informed Parliament that there is a need to stop appropriating funds to the Lubowa project until accountability for the previous Billions of Shillings is done.

Kira Municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda alleged that the controversial project is no longer supervised by the Ministry of Health because the Ministry’s Budget Framework Paper does not mention Lubowa Specialised Hospital.

Ssemujju also revealed that the government has already paid an excess of $70 million (about UGX 276.1 billion) in uncertified work on the site while there is no chance for the resident Engineer deployed by the government to secure the interests of Ugandans because he chased away by Pinetti.

“During the processing of the Budget Framework Paper, I asked the Chairperson of the Committee on Health (Dr. Charles Ayume) why they were not reporting on Lubowa. He told the Budget Committee that Lubowa has been shifted to the Office of the Prime Minister. If you read the report of the Auditor General, it indicates that while the government is supposed to have a resident Engineer, that angel called Pinneti has chased the Engineer, and her own engineer has been making requisitions for money,” stated Ssemujju.

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