Is Lubowa a scene of financial crime?
The controversy surrounding the Lubowa hospital/ Pinetti project has continued to unravel in the media for weeks and counting. As a matter of fact, Italian firm Finasi owned by Enrica Pinetti was not subjected to a competitive bid process on top of being issued a promissory note of $397 million by the government of Uganda in 2019.
This makes it by far the most expensive hospital to be built in Uganda in comparison to Kiruddu hospital which cost Uganda government $25 million making the Lubowa hospital project approximately 16 times more expensive than Kiruddu and sustainably more.
The two contentious issues that stand out in this procurement are first, the issuance of a promissory note to Finasi Company in the absence of any tangible work and second, there being No procurement or open contracting / competitive bidding process done for the construction of the hospital hence denying other companies the opportunity to submit a bid.
The lack of transparency around this procurement exposes the process to abuse, and this is what is unraveling with the Lubowa hospital case which makes it subject to financial crime. In August 2019, a couple of health officials from the government were denied access to the construction site of the Hospital upon reservations that it was for their safety.
The secret known is that this, like any other scheme, could have been an attempt to prevent officials from carrying out their duty in seeing the successful implementation of a major contract but also ensuring public money is being spent as it should.
These ongoing issues at the Lubowa hospital serve as an outstanding example of why open Contracting, especially for health, is the preferred mechanism to reduce corruption risks. Had Open Contracting been implemented, this case could have been avoided and the risks to corruption would have been reduced.
Finally, the role of the Media in bringing this issue to light within the public domain is laudable and commendable because it has opened the eyes of many Ugandans to what lies behind the scenes concerning multibillion-dollar procurements and investments such as these. It can only be hoped that this will compel the authorities to act as they should concerning this case and many other cases of a similar nature.