MPs demand stopping of Lubowa Specialised hospital project amid fears of public debts hitting Shs100 trillion mark.

Members of Parliament sitting on the Committee on Health have asked Government to suspend funding for the construction of Lubowa Specialised Hospital due to the sky-rocketing public debt that is now stands at UGX 97 trillion.

Ayume, the MP for Koboko Municipality said that instead of spending on the construction site that has not seen any active works in the last two years, the Government should focus on smaller critical infrastructure projects in the health sector.

He made the remarks during a Committee meeting with Officials from the Ministry of Health who had appeared to defend the Sector budget for financial year 2024/25. This was after the Ministry Officials led by Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, Minister for Health listed a cocktail of unfunded priorities but still pitched for funding for the Lubowa Specialised Hospital construction project.

“You are very aware that our economy isn’t very healthy. You saw the Auditor General’s report, our national debt is about UGX 97 trillion, I am not sure where we shall get money for some of these projects. So, what would be your five prayers in all this entire wish list?” asked Ayume.

He added that; “but we also thought that can we suppress any new infrastructure projects maybe including Lubowa (Specialised Hospital) and we complete what is at stake because some of them need UGX 2 billion or UGX 3 billion,”

Auditor General, John Muwanga in a report for financial year ending June 30, 2023 indicated that Uganda’s public debt had risen to UGX 97 trillion hence a  107 percent increase in five years.

Recently, the Ministry of Finance revealed plans to inject UGX 197 billion into Lubowa Specialised Hospital and Roko Construction Company, a local firm facing bankruptcy. This bailout would be part of payment for the four promissory notes and two bills of exchange when the obligations fall due in 2024/25 financial year.

With such planned expenditure, Ayume insisted that there are other crucial projects that need urgent funding hence citing the Intensive Care Unit building in Masaka Regional Referral Hospital which requires UGX 500 million for completion, funds he described as “pocket change” to the Government.

George Otim, Commissioner Health Infrastructure in the Ministry of Health admitted that for the last two years there haven’t been any works on site, but informed the Committee that a new contractor has been acquired and is expected to resume works soon.

“The last time I presented the status report in the same Committee was a year ago when work had stalled. As I speak, work has remained at 33 percent with the main hospital block at foundation level, the training facility they completed and commissioned, the hostels have been completed, the power plant house is at foundation. Maybe the other news is, a new sub-contractor for the civil works is on ground and we expect work to resume after almost two years,” said Otim.

George Bhoka, MP for Obongi County asked why the Ministry of Health requested for UGX 2.7 billion for supervision works at Lubowa Specialised Hospital construction site in the recently approved supplementary budget yet works had stalled for two years.

“This Committee was there two years ago, work had stalled. A supplementary budget was requested for supervision of works, you don’t supervise stalled works (but) you supervise work in progress. What was the basis and rationale for requesting funds for supervision when the entity knows work stalled?” asked Bhoka.

However, Minister Dr Aceng defended the recent financial request arguing that Lubowa Specialised Hospital the consortium of engineers from the Ministry of Works and Ministry of Health will use the UGX 2.7 billion to facilitate their movement throughout the construction as the project has got a new contractor who will work without a consultant.

“Money has never been provided for supervision even when they have completed the hostels; those ones were supervised by our engineers at the Ministry of Health. This money is being provided because now, there is a contractor on the ground and that contractor is expected to start work, and I haven’t been there myself to see if they have started but the engineers have to report on the ground. For those two years when there was no work, there was no supervision, now work has to commence and there must be supervision,” said Dr Aceng

Although the Ministry didn’t give any new time lines on the completion dates for facility, in April 2023, Minister Aceng informed the Health Committee that the completion date for Lubowa Hospital had been revised to December 2024, after the proprietor and Developer, Enrica Pinetti cited heavy rains, COVID-19 pandemic, cash flow and need to review the drawings as the causes of delay.

In March 2019, Parliament approved the request by the Ministry of Finance to issue promissory notes for the construction of Lubowa hospital valued at $379.71 million (about UGX 1.442 trillion) and the facility was meant be constructed on 32 hectares and would be divided into four zones including; clinical, education, recreation and housing zones.

Pinetti had promised to construct Lubowa hospital in two years, and later run the hospital for six years before the facility reverts back to the Government, but five years after, the project has been in numerous scandals. Despite these scandals, the Government has so far injected UGX 348 billion into the project between 2021 and 2022 while another UGX 319 billion was appropriated in the 2022/2023 financial year.

The hospital was meant to carry 54 Oncology beds, 27 infectious disease beds, 27 medical beds, 16 VIP beds, eight ICU beds, as well as 60 outpatient beds, 54 surgery beds, 27 pediatrics beds, 27OBGYN beds, 16 intensive Care, 8 neo-natal ICU beds and 11 operating theatres.

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