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Managing COVID-19 Funds: Are we getting it right?

Robinah Nabbanja(centre) launching the first batch of tthe COVID-19 cash relief last week. (Photo courtesy of the Independent)

On June 18th, the president announced that a Covid-19 relief fund would be put in place to support vulnerable Ugandans. 

The COVID task team headed by the Prime minister, Hon. Nabanjja Robinah confirmed that UGX 100,000 ($28) would be given to each beneficiary as opposed to the first COVID relief fund where physical food items were given instead. 

However, almost halfway through the lockdown, Uganda only last week had the first beneficiary, a boda-boda rider from Gulu district receive this cash. As of today, only 154,702 beneficiaries (39%) of the targeted 501,107 have benefited so far.

The COVID relief fund that has now been nicknamed “Nabanjja” money raised a lot of questions beginning with the scope, approach, amount, and whether the lists of the beneficiaries were indeed exhaustive because some of the requirements have limited some categories of Ugandans from benefiting. 

Government’s approach of collection of beneficiary data was preferentially through technocrats (municipal mayors and town clerks) rather than the Local council structures. There have however been challenges in the verification and reconciliation of the lists which are derailing the process.

Hon. Namazzi Olive, LCV woman councilor Nakawa a guest on last week’s episode of ACFIM Talks shared the same fears many Ugandans have that the initiative may face the same challenges the first relief fund faced despite it being a noble cause.

Kampala city, a business hub that contributes largely to the country’s GDP has become a COVID hotspot with almost half of the cumulative cases and about 31% of the deaths. According to Hon. Namazzi, the city has so many vulnerable people and the UGX100,000 is ridiculous and a mockery to the taxpayers. She questioned how the Office of the Prime minister came up with the figure.  

An average family in Uganda has at least 5 members translating into UGX 2,300 ($0.6) for each family and UGX 476 ($0.13) for each individual per day for the 42 days which doesn’t make sense. The opposition proposed that every family receives at least UGX 10,000 ($2.8) per day, unfortunately, the advice was disregarded.

Hon. Namazzi lamented that her house is flooded every morning with people within the community begging for money to feed themselves. 

She has had to part with almost UGX 300,000 ($84) every day to give them. Hon.Boniface Okot, Youth MP, Northern Uganda who featured on the show as well mentioned that he has also had to support health workers in all the health centers in his district Kole (Northern Uganda) with protective equipment such as masks and foodstuff. 

The government learned from the first COVID relief fund that was grossly mismanaged with poor quality food that did not reach many” Hon. Okot stated.

He then commended the mobile money transfer mode because it would cater for not only food, but beneficiaries will have the liberty to address other needs.  

He however described the process as a shambled-up exercise with a probability of majority of the real beneficiaries missing out on the cash. In Nakawa, Hon. Namazi’s area of jurisdiction, she revealed that her Local Council chairperson received a list of 300 people from the National Information Technology Authority (NITA) yet only knew 20 labeling the rest as ghost beneficiaries.

According to the guests, they received many complaints from their constituents for example the religious leaders, sportsmen, and women who claimed that they felt left out. They agreeably argued that the relief is also only targeting urban centers for now and yet quite a number of people who support town economies are residents of rural areas and therefore support should be extended to rural areas as well. 

Hon. Okot mentioned that the youth leaders under the national youth structure should have been engaged in the process because youth constitute 78% of the population hence the push for government to integrate youth councils in emergency interventions. 

He conclusively emphasized government’s need to forge how best the country can operate along with COVID and have standard operating protocols for future pandemics of this kind in the future. He concluded by recommending that government should relax stringent taxes on businesses, expand the relief fund and revise the figure being given.  

The panelists recommended that government solicits support for homegrown scientists and additionally fund the health sector because some health workers lack personal protective equipment which is disheartening. Uganda has been struck naked especially in regard to data compilation. The country must draw lessons out of his and put in place an efficient database and stimulus policies for businesses keeping void of bureaucracies

Uganda has placed a lockdown with no feasible solution on how to take care of the citizens. In order to get people’s lives back on track and get the economy up and running, mass vaccination is extremely important because coverage is pretty low. 

Even though Ugandans lost trust in their government because of how poorly the first COVID relief funds were handled, SecretsKnown is still hopeful and will continuously advocate for transparency and accountability by government in managing this second relief fund. Hopefully, we get it right this time! 

If you missed this episode of ACFIM Talks, watch the full video here.

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