Graft claims hit Uganda medic export scheme

Saturday February 7 2015

Medical staff at the Butabika National Referral

Medical staff at the Butabika National Referral Hospital in Uganda. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By Julius Barigaba

Even as Ugandans await a ruling on the temporary injunction to stop the government exporting over 250 health workers to Trinidad and Tobago, it has emerged that the recruitment was riddled with corruption.

Amid reports that unqualified people paid up to Ush7 million ($2,456) to be shortlisted, Kampala became wary of a backlash from the Trinidad and Tobago government. It placed advertisements in the media to isolate people cited in bribery claims ahead of a thorough screening of the shortlisted workers.

Last August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shortlisted 450 doctors, nurses and midwives drawn mainly from public health institutions to be exported to Trinidad and Tobago on three-year contracts. Sources say officials from the Caribbean island nation will travel to Kampala “anytime soon” to help with the selection of the final 263 health workers who have the required skills. 

A source familiar with the recruitment told The EastAfrican that, among this number, there are unqualified people who bribed their way into the shortlist. 

“People who are not qualified doctors or health workers paid to get shortlisted,” the source claimed. “Are you surprised? This is Uganda.”

‘No bribery’

But Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Fred Opolot said if indeed the claims are true, the victims should come forward and name the perpetrators of the fraud.

“We ran adverts and said that people making these allegations should come to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the police and file official complaints but no one has come forward,” said Mr Opolot. “As far as we are concerned, we don’t know of any bribery in this exercise.”

In November last year, The EastAfrican reported that the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) had sued the Attorney-General, seeking to block medical worker exports to the Caribbeans by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The High Court will rule on March 2 on the case, in which IRRP’s lawyer, Justinian Kateera, argues that “besides being contrary to public health policy it is also unethical, irrational and unconstitutional for Uganda to deny its own citizens the much-needed health workers.”

On February 5, a coalition of about 40 civil society organisations also issued a statement questioning the logic of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Health to export medics to a country whose health indicators and patient-to-health worker ratios are way higher than Uganda’s.

“The government should be ashamed,” said Sam Senfuka of White Ribbons Alliance Uganda. “They are supporting the export of our most prized resource — our health workers, who are in scarce supply in the health system.

“Export should only be considered if a country has a surplus; this is basic economics. We have thoroughly analysed this plan; it is wrong-headed and must be stopped.”