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COVID-19 Donations Amount To Public Resources, Should Be Handled Within The Law

The Centre for Budget and Tax Policy (CBTP) has said the money and relief items being collected amount to public resources and that being the case, the same can only be appropriated or expended in line with statutory requirements under the Public Finance Management Act.

CBTP is an independent not-for-profit think-tank on budget and tax policy with a core focus on advocating for prudent public finance management, efficiency of public institutions and inclusive public policy development.

In a statement dated April20, 2020, Patrick Kiconco Katabaazi (pictured), the Executive Director at CBTP that the national committee that was set up to handle COVID-19 donations, albeit in good faith, is not clothed with statutory authority to appropriate or expend and account for public resources.

It should be noted that at the 4th  Presidential briefing on COVID-19, President Yoweri Museveni  informed the nation that he had received $150,000 from Nigerian businessman Tony Elumelu and that the same was going to be committed to buying cars to support the government COVID-19 response.

He also encouraged Ugandans particularly companies to donate cars. At the same time the President banned distribution of relief items reasoning that if not managed well, these could present opportunities for the spread of corona virus.

He directed all those who have relief items to hand them over to the Office of the Prime Minister(OPM) which is charged with coordination of government response. Since then companies and people from all walks of life have given in contributions in cash and in kind. The president appointed a 15 member committee headed by Eng. Emmanuel Katongole and politically supervised by  Minister Mary Karoro Okurut to manage funds and resources collected.

However, CBTP says the situation at hand qualifies as natural disaster and no wonder the supplementary budget processed for food support to targeted vulnerable groups is under the management of the department of disaster preparedness under OPM.

To that extent, Katabazi says all donations in respect to COVID-19 response should be handled in accordance with the law. For avoidance of doubt, section 27 (2) of Public Finance Management Act 2015 provides thus: “a financial donation or a donation in kind made to a vote towards responding to a disaster shall be declared by the minister within 30 days of receipt and the financial donation or donation in kind shall form part of the report made under section 18 (1)’’

“Should Government have reasons not to consider these donations as part of the contingency fund, the bottom line is that these are public resources supposed to be put under the consolidated fund and can only be dealt with within the confines of the Public Finance ManagementAct,2015,” CBTP says.

The organization says the account that was reported to have been opened in Stanbic Bank LTD is in utter disregard of the law considering that an account for custody of public funds can only be opened with the approval of the Accountant General.

“We are of the opinion that the manner in which the committee was set up and the terms of reference is at variance with public finance and assets management practices and may be subject to abuse,” Katabazi says.

He recommends that an account is rendered for all funds collected for government COVID-19 response and an inventory of items collected is made. The Auditor General or Chief Internal Auditor should be called upon in this process.

“All funds collected should be transferred to either the Consolidated Fund or Contingency Fund,” he recommends, adding: “All items collected should be brought at the disposal of the Office of the Prime Minister and dealt with in accordance with the steering committee composed of relevant Government Departments.”

He adds that the committee should be disbanded and if the Government desires to retain some of the members, it should change its terms of reference and remain with a limited role of fund-raising.

“We call for such a committee to be composed of people with integrity, reflect national character and should have representation of civil society, private sector, Faith Based organizations (Inter Religious Council) and Professional Bodies,” Katabazi says, adding: “Government should renew its commitment to fight corruption and should use this opportunity to prosecute all persons who have been reported to have misused public resources meant for COVID-19 response.”

Taddewo William Senyonyi
William is a seasoned business and finance journalist. He is also an agripreneur and a coffee enthusiast.

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