Report: Institutional Oversight in Crisis – the Management of Uganda’s COVID 19 Funds




As the battle against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) ranges on, some
countries are grappling with human rights concerns arising from the lack
of transparency accountability and anti-corruption audits. This is partly
because in times of crisis, human rights are often trampled upon. Parliament
and civil society being defenders of people’s interest have tried to ensure that
human rights are safeguarded, transparency is encouraged and accountability
is realized during COVID-19 pandemic. The stringent restrictions imposed
during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic particularly lockdown measures
did not only curtail freedoms but also constrained the work of several
human rights organizations. Thus, displacing accountability and threatening
to roll back the already achieved democratic gains. Since the COVID-19
outbreak, government of Uganda established structures and committed over
UGX.4.361trillion in addition to human resources in battling it. This report
therefore highlights an analysis of Uganda’s COVID-19 crisis management
structure(s), funding modalities, operational elements of the response plan
and recommendations for better management of future crisis.

COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, at the end
of 2019 and later declared a global public health concern. An estimated 530
million cases were reported worldwide, resulting in over 6.3 million deaths
in about 30 months. As soon as the World Health Organisation (WHO)
declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in 2020, state machineries and
other relevant government agencies redirected their efforts into fighting and
containing COVID-19. In Uganda, the battle against COVID-19 was further
decentralized to local governments, with Central government making nearly
all decisions regarding the response framework and financing. Therefore,
both state and non-state actors have played an important role in tackling the
crisis caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

The outbreak of COVID-19 in Uganda ushered in unprecedented lockdowns
with all its consequences. Public and private offices, including schools, were
shut down and usual business came to a standstill. Parliament, however, was
among the few public institutions that remained operational amidst the surge
in COVID-9 cases. Parliament, whose major roles are to make laws, budget,
oversight and representation, from the onset, constituted different adhoc
committees to monitor and evaluate Government’s response to COVID-19.
It was considered essential that it remains operational as a way of ensuring
value for money and proper accountability of the public funds.

This report is an outcome of a one-year research initiative featuring
transparency and accountability concerns over the management and oversight of COVID-19 funds in Uganda. The research was conducted by the Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC), a department of the School of Law at Makerere under the auspices of the Transparency and Accountability
of COVID-19 Resources (TACOR) project. This academic-led research
initiative aimed to bolster citizen engagement in promoting transparency
as well as accountability, and to stimulate Parliament to oversee the use of
public resources in times of crisis.

Transparency is defined as the obligation on State actors to operate in an
open manner; and accountability is defined as the ability to hold State actors
responsible for their actions. These two are seen as mutually reinforcing, and
fundamentally underpinning Uganda’s democracy. Indeed, without them,
even an essential aspect of democracy – emergency response frameworks –
cannot deliver its intended results or attract community ownership.

The report focuses on the institutional oversight of both state and nonstate actors in management of COVID-19 funds, with special focus on the
importance of transparency and accountability in realizing all-inclusive and
sustainable measures in countering health emergencies such as COVID-19
pandemic. The findings in this report reveal that COVID-19 response
structures are critical in ensuring a transparent and accountable response
framework. While Uganda has fairly elaborate statutory instruments for
oversight, the COVID-19 national response framework has to deal with
a series of challenges ranging from lack of transparency, ambiguities in
procurement to accountability deficits. The rising need for transparency
and accountability initiatives for COVID-19 funds reflects limitations of
institutional mechanisms to make governments accountable for the use and
management of funds, and all other resources meant for health emergencies.

Efforts by HURIPEC in engaging Parliament and citizens has stimulated
public and corporate oversight, thereby prompting audits at both political
and social levels. As a result, Parliament has attempted to hold both state
and non-state actors accountable. However, our findings reveal that the
Uganda governments response to COVID-19 has been overshadowed by
instances of waste, mismanagement, and blatant corruption. Issues like
delayed disbursements, unlawful procurement, political use of monetary
and other reliefs, diversion of funds, and the information deficits have led
many districts to deal with the pandemic in their own ways in spite of the
many guidelines. This has further hindered citizens’ trust in government,
undermined decentralization, and diminished public oversight, leaving local
governments in a poor position to promote rule of law in situations of a

Our conclusion is that the success of a government’s COVID-19 control
strategy relies on public trust and broad acceptance of response measures. As
such, empowerment measures focused on equipping Parliamentarians with
skills needed to conduct COVID-19 related audits is of outmost importance.
And in some cases, naming and shaming of the corrupt officials, including
state actors can become an effective deterrent to careless and wasteful expenditures, and bribes during an emergency. Also, performance audits
and litigation measures encourage citizens to report corrupt tendencies as
part of public oversight. This complements parliamentary oversight, which
facilitates public accountability.

The lessons from COVID-19 pandemic should be viewed as a golden
opportunity to learn and adopt concrete as well as sustainable measures
for dealing with health and other related emergencies. This also provides
an opportunity to build, strengthen and promote parliament as a vehicle
for democratic transformation, particularly in improving how government
responds to emergencies, knowing that failures in transparency and
accountability impacts on the effectiveness of the response and access
to proper healthcare during emergencies. Below are some of the critical
recommendation highlighted in this report


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