The Arrest of a Journalist Tonny Abet Exposes the Dark Secrets of the Lubowa Hospital Project

The stalled Lubowa hospital project. The Members of the Parliament Committee on Finance and the line ministers were dismayed after they discovered that there was no contractor on their visit to the site on April 21. PHOTO/FILE.

A journalist from the Nation Media Group (NMG)-Uganda, Mr. Tonny Abet, was arrested while covering the controversial International Specialised Hospital, Lubowa project. This incident sheds light on the deep-seated issues surrounding the project, which has been marred by allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and lack of transparency since its inception in 2019.

The Lubowa hospital project, initially approved with a budget of $379 million, was intended to provide a 264-bed capacity hospital along the Kampala-Entebbe highway. However, since Italian investor Enrica Pinetti’s firm, Finasi/Roko Construction Ltd, took over the project in June 2019, it has been plagued by controversies and delays.

One of the major concerns surrounding the project is the allocation of funds. The Ministry of Health tabled a supplementary budget of Shs2.7 billion in March 2023, purportedly for the supervision of construction works. However, members of the budget committee raised questions about the justification for such an allocation, given the stalled progress on the project. The committee chairperson, Dr. Charles Ayume, even went as far as suggesting that the project should be abandoned altogether.

What adds to the intrigue is the lack of transparency and accountability in the project’s financial transactions. The project’s budget allocation has raised eyebrows, especially considering the fact that $101 million (Shs359 billion) was reportedly issued in certificates by the Ministry of Health, without clear documentation or a bidding process to support such disbursements.

Furthermore, a promissory note purchase agreement involving multiple banks and totaling over $259 million (Shs917 billion) has left many questioning the financial arrangements behind the project. The lack of clarity regarding the awarding of contracts, the absence of competitive bidding, and the involvement of an Italian investor handpicked by President Museveni only adds to the suspicion surrounding the Lubowa project.

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The arrest of a journalist merely for seeking information and clarification is a troubling sign of the obstacles faced by those trying to hold the project’s stakeholders accountable.

In light of these developments, it is imperative that a comprehensive and independent investigation is conducted into the Lubowa hospital project. Ugandan citizens deserve to know the truth about the utilization of their tax money, the legality of the financial arrangements, and the transparency of the contracting process.

The Lubowa hospital project should serve as a reminder of the importance of transparency, accountability, and the role of investigative journalism in safeguarding the interests of the public. It is time for the government to address the concerns raised by citizens and journalists and ensure that the project is conducted in a manner that is above board and in the best interest of the Ugandan people.

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