Members of Parliament on the Public Accounts Committee (Central) have tasked the interdicted Mulago National Referral Hospital Executive Director, Dr Byarugaba Baterana, to explain the hospital’s failure to absorb Shs4 billion meant for salaries of new staff.
The Auditor General’s report for the Financial Year 2020/2021 shows that a total of Shs4,193,961,930 meant for salaries was sent back to the Consolidated Fund amidst an outcry of low staffing at the hospital.
Legislators said the hospital acted irresponsibly when it failed to push the recruiting bodies; the Health Service Commission and Ministry of Public Service to ensure the staff budgeted for are recruited.
“I want to know – didn’t you foresee that you have this money coming? Did you know that you needed so much staff such that you get in touch with Health Service Commission early enough to begin on the recruitment process?” asked Sarah Opendi (NRM, Tororo district Woman MP).
Opendi said there were many jobless health workers who are in need of jobs and wondered how Mulago would hoard such an amount of money only to return it to the centre.
“This Shs4 billion is not small money. There are so many people out there looking for jobs but they cannot find them, yet an institution is having money but cannot recruit,” said Opendi.
She noted that hospitals across the country are in dire need to health workers, saying she was shocked to learn of such ‘negligence’ at Mulago Hospital.
Baterana who was flanked by the hospital accountants and the Ag. Deputy Executive Director, Dr John Ssekabira, said they had made attempts at recruitment but only a few staff were hired.
“Funds that were sent back to the Consolidated Fund were ring fenced for salaries but we had not recruited staff to work and consume the salaries. But as we speak, we are in touch with the Health Service Commission and they have recruited a number of people,” revealed Baterana.
The hospital’s Principal Accountant, Abdul Kiiza, in justifying the failed recruitment said the process of recruitment in the public service was largely the reason Mulago failed to absorb money for salaries.
“At the beginning of each financial year we make recruitment plans and submit them to the Health Service Commission but we get challenges along the way, because they recruit based on attrition,” said Kiiza.
He added: “Even when we submit requests for recruitment in July, by December we will still have staff resigning, others being transferred, and by the time you go through the process of getting approvals for recruitment again, you find there is no time for absorption of money for salaries within the same year.”
Kiiza asked Parliament to review the recruitment process in the public service and make the process flexible.
Opendi, citing her previous experience with Mulago Hospital while she served as the State Minister for Health (General duties), said it was urgent for Mulago to be empowered to handle recruitments on its own if it is to function.
“For as long as Mulago remains like this, they cannot perform, you have a hospital with a board but it has to report to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Service, then to the Health Service Commission – the bureaucracy in public service cannot allow them to function. The board needs to be empowered to perform,” said Opendi.
The committee deputy chairperson, Hon. Asuman Basalirwa, said Opendi’s proposal will be studied and included in the committee report for consideration by Parliament.
Ibanda North County MP, Hon. Xavier Kyooma said he would support the proposal to make Mulago Hospital an autonomous entity but asked for evidence to show that delayed recruitment was not Mulago’s negligence but the bureaucracy at the Health Service Commission and Ministry of Public Service.
“Our national referral hospital needs to be helped. However, the help must be initiated from your side – we need to see evidence of your struggle with the Health Service Commission in recruitment so that we use it as evidence for recommendation,” Kyooma said.