Covid-19 relief funds mismanaged as Post Bank & telcoms take Ushs 2.854b

By Our Reporters.

Joint Parliamentary committees comprising  the Public and Local Government Accounts committees have taken to task officials from Post Bank Uganda Limited,Airtel and MTN to provide convincing accountability for Ushs 2.854b reportedly spent on administrative costs to send Covid-19 relief cash to vulnerable Ugandans.

This development comes following reports of several targeted vulnerable people crying out of missing money despite claims by Office of the Prime Minister and Gender, Labour and Social Development Ministry saying they paid almost all targeted beneficiaries.

The Parliamentary team is now tasked to review a list of beneficiaries of the Covid – 19 vulnerable  cash which was tabled before parliament by Prime Minister Hon. Robinah Nabbanja in July.

 Government through the scheme has been distributed Ushs 100,000/- to selected people who were classified as vulnerable during the 42- day lockdown.

According  to Gender, Labour and Social Development Ministry beneficiaries  were identified from groups of people that depend on daily earnings in Kampala, cities and municipalities in the country but mainly covering urban centres.

Beneficiaries included bus and taxi drivers, conductors, touts and luggage carriers , wheelbarrow pushers, Disc Jokeys (DJs), barmaids, barmen,  waiters, gyms, restaurant workers, saloon workers, boda boda riders, special hire, Spa/massage parlour workers , hawkers and teachers.

State Minister for Finance Hon. Henry Musasizi  told MPS that his Ministry had an approved covid-19 emergency funding amounting  to Ushs 53.5b to cover all the 501,107 targeted beneficiaries.

“But out of this amount a total of Ushs 2.854b was spent  on administrative costs including  mobile money transfer costs,” he said.

The Minister said the remaining  sum of Ushs 50.645b was transferred  to the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development account in Post Bank to facilitate direct transfers to the beneficiaries’ mobile phones.

Hon Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, Chairperson Local Government Accounts Committee demanded for detailed information about the transaction charges.

The officials who appeared before the joint committees included Post Bank Executive Director Andrew Kabeera, Chief Officer/Managing Director, Mr Julius Kakeeto,  the Airtel Money Acting Director , Mr Andrew Rugamba, MTN’s Mobile Money CEO,Mr Stephen Mutana, among others.

Post Bank Executive Director Mr Andrew Kabeera said they received 488,272 total transaction instructions from the Ministry of Gender and successfully processed 487,307 transactions using the platforms for MTN and Airtel. However a total of 965 transactions failed.

Mr Kabeera explained that Posts Bank sent Ushs 102,425/- to each beneficiary and out of that , Ushs 2,425 are charges that are better explained by telecoms . He said  as for the  487,307 they charged Ushs 1,000 on each  bringing the total  charge  to Ushs 487.3m.

He said as Post bank what they call  bank to wallet is where one has an account and is pushing money to his phone the charge is Ushs 3,000 but when they are engaged as a social cause they lower the charge to Ushs 1,000/- for every transaction.

When asked why government chose Post bank and not any other bank, the Chief Executive Officer Mr Julius Kakeeto said the Gender Ministry could have considered the bank;s history of paying out the Social Assistance Grants for Empowerment (SAGE).

MTN Mobile Money CEO Mr Andrew Rugamba said the charges were one of the key issues that were discussed in meeting with Prime Minister Hon. Robinah Nabbanja.

He said:” There was a logic behind the Ushs 102,425/- so that when a person withdraws the money he receives a net of Ushs 100,000/-.”

The official said government of Uganda paid  the 0.5 percent  tax on withdraws and the charge of withdrawing Ushs 100,000/- which is the same for MTN and Airtel, Ushs 1,925/-.

“We agreed in the spirit of the moment that the country was going through we both zero – rated the fee for disbursement which is ordinarily Ush 300/-.” he said.

Mr Rugamba said the withdrawal charge remained because the mobile money agents are also Ugandans in business and depend on commissions.

Disbursement process for Covid-19 relief cash to vulnerable Ugandans was full of flaws and prone to fraud, forgeries, unfair treatment of intended beneficiaries and generally mismanagement.

The cost of sending Ushs 102, 425/-  to 501,107 targeted beneficiaries is Ushs 1,215,184,475 assuming that all the people received the money. Post Bank, MTN and Airtel say they spent Ushs 2.854b on administrative costs including  mobile money transfers which leaves  a difference of about Ushs 1.639b which officials spent on other unexplained costs.

A survey conducted by the Workers Eye in central region and some upcountry areas in Northern, Eastern, Western and Central regions indicates mismanagement of the scheme.

The discretion to determine who is vulnerable was entirely dependent on the good will of Local Council officials, town clerks, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) officials, and officials from Office of the Prime Minister and Gender, Labour and Social Development Ministry.

 As a result most LCs abused their authority by selectively registering non- residents, their family members, relatives, friends, religious, tribal and even political party associates.

Records at Airtel and MTN customer services points within Kampala show several new numbers were registered a week before and included on government covid-19 vulnerable cash lists. 

The schemers were aided by the government condition that they would consider first telephone numbers that did not transmit huge mobile money transactions which meant new numbers were given green light to get on covid-19 relief cash lists.

The Office of the Prime Minister plus Gender, Labour and Social Development (GLSD) Ministry failed to put in place a transparent mechanism to detect fraudsters who were ineligible but managed to get on the lists for beneficiaries.

Kampala City and Wakiso district have several people registered  but are yet to receive Covid-19 vulnerable’ money from Gender, labour and Social Development Ministry.

As intended beneficiaries were still waiting for their money they were astonished to learn that Post Bank had sent money twice to 6,000 people across the country.

But despite the bank apologizing for the error and claiming to have reversed the transactions some quick and smart fellows withdrew the money and left the bank in a deficit.

The breakdown of the number of beneficiaries especially in Kampala leaves a lot to be desired and residents are wondering, who are the people who received covid-19 relief funds.

Some residents in Makindye, Kampala Central and Kawempe divisions have challenged the Gender, Labour and Social Development Ministry to publish lists of beneficiaries to prove that they did not wire money to ghost residents.

It has even emerged that KCCA that was allocated Ushs 4 million per division instead used Ushs 20 million which totals to Ushs 100 million for the five divisions hence shortage on disbursement to the intended beneficiaries.

Gender, Labour and Social Development Public Relations Officer Mr Frank Mugabi told the Workers Eye that despite  challenges and a few errors the whole process  of disbursing money  for  vulnerable people was a successfully.

“Despite a few errors that were made the whole process of disbursing money for vulnerable people was a success,” he said.

Mr Mugabi denied reports that there were chits from “above” which were submitted directly to their offices for inclusion on the relief cash lists without being verified by village local councils or KCCA.

But as the process of paying vulnerable people money came to a close it remains inconceivable whether the Office of the Prime Minister can publish its lists to ascertain that  they paid are the right vulnerable beneficiaries■

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