The Ministry of Education and Sports is under the spotlight to explain where it obtained the funds used to print and distribute the first batch of study materials in 2020 following the nationwide closure of schools.
The government sent home about 15million learners as part of the COVID-19 containment measures. Since the majority of the learners in Uganda do not have access to online learning platforms, the Ministry decided to provide self-study materials to help them learn at home.
Although the ministry printed and distributed the self-study materials to learners, the Auditor General’s report notes that there is no evidence to show how this activity was financed because this wasn’t planned for and the authorities did not request a supplementary budget for it.
“The Ministry spent UGX.5.3Bn on COVID-19 impacted expenditure to cater for the printing and distribution of home learning materials, content writing for home learning materials, which was not in the approved budget and there was no evidence of a supplementary request,” the report reads in part.
In an interview with our reporter at the Ministry Headquarters, Ketty Lamaro, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Education and Sports confirmed that the funds were not in their budget, adding that they could have moved funds from another item to satisfy the urgent demand for the learning materials.
“When the COVID-19 epidemic struck, schools were closed, and we had to make sure that students could continue to learn. I wasn’t the accounting officer at the time, but I’m sure the ministry could have obtained approval from the finance ministry,” she noted. She, however, said that since she was new in the office she needed time lookup up the documentation.
A similar argument was made by one of the top ministry officials who was a member of the education COVID-19 response team, which mooted the idea of printing and distributing the self-study materials. The source was, however, not sure whether the Finance Ministry approved the re-allocation of funds.
According to the Public Finance Management Act, diverting government cash to unauthorized expenditure is a crime. There is, however, a provision in the law that allows the accounting officer to request approval to shift funds from one budget line to another. Before any action is conducted, this consent should be written down and authorized by the Ministry of Finance’s Permanent Secretary/Secretary to the Treasury.
Some sources interviewed by URN confirmed that this money was paid to The New Vision Printing and Publishing company Limited, which printed and distributed the self-study materials to be help learners from primary one to senior six to continue learning during the unprecedented school closure.
The materials in question were dispatched to communities. They later became a source of controversy given the fact that the copies supplied were fewer compared to the number of learners who needed them. Some districts received as low as 35 copies, which were not even enough to satisfy the number of learners in just one classroom.
With the ministry noting that funds were moved from one line of their budget to another for the purpose of funding the first batch of learning materials, more questions arise on the funds provided by development partners to help to print the self-study materials.
The available documents indicate that UNICEF Uganda and other development partners including the governments of Denmark, Ireland, and Norway, and UNICEF UK contributed Shillings 2.82 billion to support the printing of self-study materials around the same time.
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