Parliament approved a supplementary budget of Shs 1.087 trillion to facilitate the COVID-19 response by the ministries of Health, Trade and other government entities.
The approval followed a recommendation of parliament's budget committee chaired by Amos Lugoloobi, in line with a request which was tabled before parliament on June 16. The supplementary budget approval came just four days to the end of the financial year 2019-2020, whose total budget stood at Shs 40.48 trillion.
The ministry of Health will use Shs 89 billion of the total approval to fund requirements for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes the procurement of facemasks budgeted at Shs 33 billion as part of the response to control the spread of the pandemic as the country eases the lockdown. Each mask will cost about Shs 2,400. Government announced plans to distribute masks to all Ugandans.
The ministry of Health will also use Shs 2.3 billion for transport and allowances for the distribution of face masks, Shs 37 billion for the procurement of test kits and laboratory consumables, Shs 6 billion for tents, Shs 4 billion for support to Local Governments for district-based surveillance activities in the 48 border districts and other districts with COVID-19 cases and Shs 7.04 billion for re-modelling of Intensive Care Units (ICUs).
Lugoloobi reported that the ministry had already exhausted the 3 per cent statutory limit provided under the Public Finance Management Act. This is the second supplementary budget to the ministry after the initial allocation of Shs 119 billion which was released after the first outbreak of the disease.
Lugoloobi told parliament that because of the critical care treatment and high oxygen requirement when treating COVID-19 patients, 145 ICU beds including ventilators, patient monitors, three oxygen plants and oxygen therapy apparatus have been procured and will be installed in the regional referral hospitals.
The ministry of Health has assessed the regional hospitals and found that some have functional ICUs but with limited capacity and nine do not have ICUs but have identified space that can temporarily be converted into ICUs to manage the COVID-19 patients, Lugoloobi told parliament.
To ensure that this equipment is utilized fully even after COVID-19, Lugoloobi said there is an urgent need to remodel the existing space or construct new ICUs in some regional hospitals so that they meet the recommended standards. Lugoloobi, however, said that an additional Shs 14.44 billion will be required to construct new ICUs in the remaining regional referrals.
The Office of the Prime Minister will also take a share of Shs 45 billion to address the impact of the rising water levels and floods with support for social services infrastructure.
The ministry of Finance will have an allocation of Shs 455.18 billion as a transfer to the Uganda Development Bank (UDB) to support the private sector that has adversely been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, while the Microfinance Support Centre which will get Shs 50 billion for provision of affordable credit to mitigate the negative impacts of COVID-19 and ensure continuity of the business activities severely affected.
Meanwhile, Shs 10 billion has been approved for ministry of Agriculture to enhance households' capacity for food security including the provision of inputs, Shs 100 billion for the Uganda Development Corporation (UDC) to invest in businesses that will be adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Shs 17.18 billion for the ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to support scientists and innovators in COVID-19 interventions and Shs 45.67 billion will go to Uganda Revenue Authority to facilitate the implementation of digital tax stamps and others.
Uganda Prisons also has an allocation of Shs 10.78 billion to cater for costs arising out of the increasing numbers of prisoners and the Police Force will get Shs 41.69 billion to deal with persons who contravene measures that were put in place to control the spread of coronavirus disease. They will also have an additional Shs 223 billion for domestic arrears and others.
Despite the approval of the main the committee report, Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal contested the supplementary allocations saying that it was not possible for the ministries to absorb the funds in the remaining days of the financial year. She also demanded a comprehensive post COVID-19 stimulus package instead of piecemeal supplementary requests.
“There is a need for a comprehensive study on how Uganda Development Corporation and Uganda Development Bank can benefit the ordinary SMEs which are agro-based and can transform the lives of the ordinary farmers and the general citizenry. We have however learnt that Uganda Development Bank disburses loans through commercial banks thereby making the rate of interest more expensive and unaffordable to the ordinary Ugandan borrowers,” said Ogwal.
MP Ogwal also noted chronic budgetary and fiscal indiscipline evident in the supplementary requests.