By Max Patrick Ocaido
Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng and Members of Parliament who were anxious to supervise the Lubowa Specialized Hospital construction site were on Tuesday left sweating under the sun after they were blocked from accessing the site.
The officials were blocked by security officials guarding Lubowa construction site that was contracted to Finasi/Roko PSV after parliament approved promissory notes of $379 million (over Shs1.4trn) in March 2019.
The MPs from the committee on National Economy headed by Syda Bbumba (Nakaseke North) on August 01 requested the Ministry of Health to allow them to oversee the ongoing construction works.
Indeed, on Tuesday morning, committee MPs along with officials from Health ministry led by minister Aceng and PS Dr Diana Atwine were set to visit the site and supervise the works. As part of the preparations, Health ministry on the eve of the visit (Monday night) advanced a team to erect tents and paid Keba Investments Limited, a catering service provider to sort matters of the stomach for the guests.
However, when the MPs and health officials reached the fenced-off construction site, the entrance to the site was cordoned off by security. The much anticipated pleasant reception is not what they received. They hoped for kisses, instead, they were kicked out of the site. Not even the Health minister [Aceng] who is the supervising authority on behalf of government could be allowed to peep inside the site.
While police and LDU officials at the site ensured that no ‘illegal’ person accesses the site, a drone was hovering in the air, to capture the drama as MPs repeatedly knocked on the iron sheet-made gate in a desperate attempt to access the site. Inside the gate, parked a bulldozer perhaps to ensure no car gets in.
“We are sorry. We do not have the powers to let you in. Please talk to our bosses,” a voice from a police officer inside the gate continuously roared.
For about one hour, the MPs were restless; they moved up and down like a cow on heat but to no one’s rescue. Not even minister Aceng or PS Atwine could believe the humiliation they had been subjected to.
“How can the company that is contracted by the government block government from overseeing the construction works? The Ministry of Health has the mandate to supervise and monitor and so do the MPs. We approved the promissory notes, now why are we being blocked from supervising the project yet it is our constitutional mandate,” William Nzoghu (Busongora North MP) said.
“If they know they are genuine then why are they blocking us? It is now clear that they [Finasi] are having skeletons in their closet,” Katerera County MP Hatwib Katoto said.
In her response, minister Aceng said she cannot explain why they have been blocked from accessing the site. She was however quick to give reference to a letter by the Secretary to the Treasury Keith Muhakanizi to Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah stopping MPs from visiting the site.
In a letter dated August 02, Muhakanizi says that government officials cannot visit Lubowa construction site following pending ongoing legal disputes between Finasi and Roko. Muhakanizi says that the construction site is “no longer in the hands of government and government officials cannot, therefore, move on and off the site at will.”
It should be remembered that government through the Ministry of Health officially handed over Lubowa construction site to the contractor-Finasi/Roko SPV on June 10.
“Secondly, as guided by the Deputy Attorney General when he appeared before the Committee on National Economy on August 01, issues relating to the construction site at Lubowa are the subject of pending litigation. Accordingly, government officials cannot be deliberating let alone entering upon the very site which is subject of the pending litigation,” Muhakanizi says in his letter.
However, MPs insist that Muhakanizi has no right to order Finasi to block them from playing their oversight role.
“Does Muhakanizi have powers to block us from playing our oversight role? It is impunity of the highest level from people who have powers. We appropriate funds and we must oversee works. Works are going on but there is no supervision from the government. Not even the government engineer has been allowed in,” Thomas Tayebwa (Ruhinda North).
In a recent interview, Hisham Sultan, director, Finasi International FZC said that works are ongoing at the site and that the Lubowa hospital construction project is on track and ahead of schedule. Hisham insists that they will deliver the hospital to the government in 24months as per their contractual obligation with the government.