Did the Lubowa Hospital contractor bite off more than they could chew?

Lubowa Hospital, Uganda’s first specialized medical facility, has cast a long shadow over the hopes and expectations of its citizens. Since an Italian investor Enrica Pinetti’s firm, Finasi/Roko Construction Ltd was awarded the contract for its construction back in 2019, the people have been left wondering if progress will ever see the light of day.

The story of Lubowa Hospital is not just one of delay; it’s a tale riddled with controversies and suspicions of financial impropriety. While we don’t want to jump to conclusions, it’s hard to ignore the nagging question of whether corruption or misappropriation of funds might be at play here. Did the contractor bite off more than they could chew when they accepted this contract? As concerned citizens, we find ourselves with more questions than answers.

In March 2023, the Ministry of Health approved an additional Shs2.7 billion, supplementing the already substantial $379 million (about 1.4 trillion). Unfortunately, as taxpayers watch their hard-earned money seemingly go to waste, hope is dwindling, and skepticism is on the rise.

Could it be that officials within the Ministry are somehow involved in these delays, perhaps through the acceptance of monetary incentives? It’s baffling to think that a construction project could consume such vast amounts of funds without tangible results. Why haven’t representatives from the Ministry and the contractor come forward to update the public on the progress or future plans? The Inspectorate of Government (IGG), led by Hon Betty Kamya, should step in swiftly to investigate, as taxpayers’ money is being consumed without any visible returns.

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What’s even more alarming is the suppression of journalists who attempt to uncover the dark secrets surrounding the Lubowa Hospital project. The arrest of journalists speaks volumes; it suggests that hidden truths are being unearthed. In today’s world, journalists have evolved into investigators, often going beyond the call of duty to bring issues to light, albeit without the authority to enforce laws. If the project were progressing smoothly and nothing was awry, why would the contractor resort to arresting journalists?

On the 6th of August, health officials from the Ugandan government were denied access to the construction site. The purpose of the visit was to satisfy the Ugandan parliament’s oversight function and ensure public money is being spent as it should. The contractor explained security turned away the officials for their own safety and because they had not given prior warning. This is raises concern, as it could be seen as an attempt to prevent officials from carrying out their duty in seeing the successful implementation of a major contract.

The fact that the IGG and her team have not taken immediate action to investigate is cause for concern. We hope that if wrongdoing is found on the part of the contractor, they will face criminal charges. Five consecutive years of minimal progress is an outrage, and it appears that those involved are determined to keep the truth in the shadows.

Another troubling aspect of this saga is the process of selecting the contractor. Was there a competitive bidding process, or did the current contractor secure the project without any competition? If the latter is true, it raises serious questions about the selection process. Those responsible for approving this contractor as the sole bidder must be held accountable. If there was no competition and no financial facilitation or corruption played a role in their selection, then the truth must be uncovered.

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Arresting journalists investigating this matter was a grave mistake. It has drawn even more attention to the issue and ignited demands for immediate investigations, which should send shivers down the spines of those involved. It’s time for transparency and accountability to prevail, and for the people of Uganda to finally see the results they’ve been waiting for in the Lubowa Hospital project

Busiinge Aggrey is a Ugandan journalist, researcher, filmmaker and CEO at The Black Examiner, Uganda’s first reader-funded opinion newspaper. busiinge@abjinemedia.africa

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