Former Mulago boss charged cries foul
The former chief executive of Mulago Hospital has been indicted in multi-billion shilling accounting scandals, more than six months after leaving the national health benchmark.
The case against Dr. Byarugaba Baterana hinges on the failure to provide supporting evidence for a number of expenses.
In an exclusive interview with Saturday MonitorDr Baterana – who has been on lockdown since being banned in March – denies allegations in a report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The House is due to debate and vote on the “Report of the Public Accounts Committee – Central Government, on the Auditor General’s report on the health sector for the financial year 2020/2021” on Tuesday.
Dr. Baterana attributes the House committee’s findings to a failure by Parliament to access the evidence, which he says the current occupants of the offices from which he and others were removed, should have provided lawmakers.
Dr. Baterana’s name and that of Ponsiano Nyeko, the former Assistant Commissioner (Accounts), feature prominently in the House report tabled September 20 by PAC President Medard Ssegona (Busiro East). Both individuals were part of the executive team arrested and charged by the State House Health Surveillance Unit with corruption, fraud and impropriety.
PAC recommended further investigation by the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) of the police and the prosecution of the duo.
Dr Baterana’s 12-year reign as Mulago boss came to an end after his arrest in March in which the State House Health Surveillance Unit alleged more than Shs28.8b, based on preliminary findings, had not been counted.
As executive director, Dr. Baterana was also the hospital’s accountant. At the heart of the charges against the duo is the missing Shs3.8b intended for the payment of trainees and senior officials (SHO). According to the PAC report, Dr. Baterana and Mr. Nyeko did not account for the funds.
From the duo, PAC demanded TEFs that could represent the said sum. The parliamentary committee instead received those relating to different exercises outside the scope of its investigation.
Therefore, PAC concluded that Shs 3,867,161,000 was not satisfactorily accounted for and that the use of the “Mulago Infrastructure Development” account, which was opened for a specific function – receiving money for payments trainees and SHOs – was irregular and susceptible to abuse.
“The committee recommended that Dr. Baterana and Chief Accounts Officer Nyeko be investigated by the police and, if found guilty, prosecuted for the loss of funds intended for the payment of interns and SHOs,” ordered lawmakers, adding, “Furthermore, Mulago National Referral Hospital should … open a specific account through which interns and [SHOs] are paid.”
Contacted, Mr. Nyeko declined to comment as he no longer occupied the office.
Dr. Baterana says official documents that can easily elucidate the issues raised by the House Committee from the Auditor General’s report are available at Mulago. He further opined that the current office holders were part of the leadership and should have made the records available to lawmakers.
Parliament wants a forensic audit into the payment of electricity bills by Mulago Hospital after payments to electricity distributor – Umeme – were flagged.
Financial statements reported by the Auditor General and PAC show Mulago Hospital paid 3.1 billion shillings instead of the 2.3 billion shillings owed to Umeme.
Parliament noted that there was a discrepancy between the figures that Umeme had billed Mulago at the end of the 4th quarter of the 2020/2021 financial year and the figure cited as unpaid electricity arrears by Mulago officials at the end of the 2019/2020 financial year.
“This committee [PAC]therefore, found these explanations unconvincing because the entity [Mulago] could not rely on invoices from Umeme Ltd showing the invoices on the basis of which the money was paid. The committee also noted that inaccuracy of liabilities could lead to loss/embezzlement of funds and render the credibility of accounts questionable,” the PAC report states in part.
The PAC committee wants Dr Baterana to be held responsible for the 823 million shillings paid to Umeme on top of their bill. A forensic audit has been ordered to investigate the flow of these funds for the purpose and possibility of prosecuting the possible culprits. Forensic audits are often used to extract facts, which can be used in court.
Dr. Baterana has also been singled out for diverting more than 294 million shillings from the activities they were budgeted for by Mulago and spending them on other activities without seeking and obtaining the necessary approvals under Article 22 of the Public Financial Management Act 2015.
Dr Baterana, the committee reports, admitted to only reallocating 59.7 million shillings from other budget items such as advertising and public relations. He attributed this to disruptions to operations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing them to incur inappropriate costs for transporting medical personnel and accommodating those working in shifts. Acknowledging the “special circumstances” under which Mulago operated, the committee still blames Dr. Baterana and his team for reallocating funds without following statutory procedure in violation of the law and established accounting principles “It is a distortion of plans and budgets and this leads to unauthorized expenditure thus exposing the funds to misuse, especially since Covid-19 could not prevent the accountant from seeking authorization which was merely an exchange of letters and couriers,” the report states in part. It adds: “The committee recommends that Parliament consider that, subject to liability, the transfer of Shs 59,725,897 is excusable in light of the unique circumstances in which the entities were operating at the time, but that the accountant of the time be strongly warned against the transfer without following the established legal procedure.
PAC also recommends that “the accountant be held responsible for the sum of 234,910,636 shillings, which has still not been accounted for and that this be reimbursed to the Treasury and that a criminal investigation be opened by the police against the accountant with the possibility of prosecution. .”
As an accountant, Dr Baterana is also accused of causing a financial loss to the government of over 474.4 million shillings through the refurbishment of the MRI machine despite it not working since it was acquired and his installation in 2018. He denies the accusation.
Dr. Baterana explains that the funds were spent on refilling helium gas that had leaked due to extended periods of non-use and power outages during that time. He adds that any failure to perform said maintenance would result in further collateral damage and the possible loss of the entire machine.
“The Committee agrees with the accountant on the need to maintain the machine to avoid the possibility of a total loss. Furthermore, the accountant’s explanation for the non-use of the machine is credible and plausible,” the report states, adding, “The committee, however, has not received any evidence in the form of liability for the sum of 414,479,100 Shs. despite a request from the Committee. The Committee recommends that in the future, the Ministry of Health always ensure adequate planning before undertaking any purchase of medical equipment and supplies in order to avoid locking up huge sums in redundant equipment.
Dr. Baterana responds
On the payment of trainees and SHOs
“When interns are assigned to Mulago, the executive director, through their deputy and the department heads where these people are intern, identifies the numbers and compiles a list, which is sent to the Ministry of Health. The ministry releases funds specifically for those who intern at Mulago and the money goes to individuals.
The accountant has nothing to change on who should be paid. He just pays. If you don’t pay, these interns usually go on strike. In the year in question (2020/2021), there was no strike in Mulago… the question PAC is asking is not the one the Auditor General was asking. The Auditor General asked why we did not record the money in the financial statements. We said we did. Then he said ‘you put [it] in the wrong place”. When we reached PAC they asked us to present evidence that we had paid, we agreed with PAC that the people running Mulago now will bring this payment schedule from the Ministry of Health and also print out the beneficiary lists, the interns and SHO, but unfortunately they did not bring them.
On the Umeme case
“Mulago normally receives about 1.9 billion shillings for Umeme each fiscal year. Unfortunately, this money is not enough. In one quarter we receive about Shs 447 million and yet in one month we need about Shs 300 million. Every year there is an accumulation of arrears. What we did was just prepay Umeme. All the money we received went to Umeme and Umeme acknowledged that we had indeed paid the money. These people say we shouldn’t have paid it all…if we hadn’t paid that money it would have been paid back and yet in the next fiscal year there will be another debt. Invoices are available. Ask Umeme how much we paid… we have an office administrator in charge and we have all these documents. We have already shown them to the Auditor General. That is why the Auditor General does not say that there is money lost. These utility bills are isolated and even if you go to the financial year, which ended in June which I was not part of, you will probably find that the hospital has something to pay Umeme.
On the Shs294m
“The problem with this money is what we call a payment error, which basically means that if you received money to buy beans and you [instead] use this money for peas; even if you bought it, you loaded wrong. I agree with PAC and they agree with me that in 2021 we are working in difficult circumstances. There was a lockdown. Part of the money we bought fuel, we bought food for some of the patients who were inside. They asked us for supporting documents and we said that there was a lot of documents in Mulago and we agreed that the people on the ground bring these documents. There are accountants in Mulago who are not suspended. I really don’t know why people from Mulago can’t bring these documents.