The minister of Health, Ruth Aceng, has the courage to insult Ugandan taxpayers. She wants parliament to approve spending Shs 2.7 billion on a dead horse,
Lubowa Specialized International Hospital. The chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on Health, Dr Charles Ayume, couldn’t have put it better; “I think the issue of Lubowa is brain-dead; we just have to plug off the life support and we escort it to the mortuary, in my opinion as the chairperson of the committee.”
But Dr Aceng still thinks Ugandans can still spend money on this stillbirth. Once, the country was saddled with heavy medical bills for the very important persons (VIPs) who were approved by the Uganda Medical Board to be flown abroad for specialized medical treatment.
Many of them used to be flown to India and Kenya. The government then mooted the idea that if they built a specialized hospital at Lubowa, they would save money since they wouldn’t need to fly people out for treatment. The country would boost its status and income in medical tourism.
This was never to be. This is a matter that seemed to be supported by both the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) and opposition legislators. One opposition legislator was very optimistic as he remarked on one of the local radio station; “We needed this hospital like yesterday. It is going to save us a lot of foreign exchange.”
But there were signs that disaster was lurking in the shadows of this highly acclaimed project. First, there were several unanswered questions about the suitability and credibility of the Italian contractor, Finasi, led by Enrica Pinetti.
Even a Google search about Pinetti couldn’t yield much about her. But President Yoweri Museveni assured the MPs and the nation that all was well and Finasi was up to the task. To further assuage the fears, a joint venture (Special purpose vehicle) between Finasi and Roko Construction Ltd. (a local, reputable company) was formed.
But this marriage of convenience between these two entities did not survive the project. The joint venture collapsed at a time when the foundation for the hospital had just been laid. And up until now, the project has stalled. In March 2019, parliament approved and the Ugandan government guaranteed a Shs 1.4 trillion loan to Finasi/Roko for the construction of the 264-bed specialized hospital.
Two months later, it emerged that Shs 240 billion of the total loan had been diverted to different things even before the project started. The cost of the hospital is $397 million, making it 16 times more expensive than the construction of other local hospitals.
A similar project would cost $25 million. In 2021, the government claimed that the project had stalled because of Covid-19 and intermittent rains. It is this project, which is riddled with inexplicable controversies, that, Dr Aceng deems fit to inject another Shs 2.7 billion. There is no accountability.
The MPs should summon the courage to tell the president to give up his project. And the Attorney General should be drafting instruments to recover the squandered money.