Recently, Seith Tibenda, the head (In-charge) of Rwensande Health Centre IV in Kasese district was arrested for allegedly using the health ambulance service van for his private transport purposes and private clinic (St. Elizabeth) located in Nyamwamba division, Kasese Municipality.
The arrest follows a campaign against misuse of government vehicles run by Uganda Debt Network (UDN) in partnership with Red Pepper a year ago.
The campaign and the arrest of Tibenda have seen Kasese district administration embark on a serious campaign against the vice (misuse of government vehicles) in the area.
The arrest was coordinated by the area Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), District Health Officer (DHO) and the police.
In an interview, the Kasese district Assistant Chief Administrative Officer in charge of Health and Administration, Johnson Mutungwanda says since Red Pepper started publishing pictures of government vehicles being misused, district officials and drivers “have changed for the better in fear of being photographed”.
He however says the vice of misusing government vehicles by public and civil servants is still a challenging issue in Kasese district despite several warnings by supervisors and friendly policies in place.
Mutungwanda says they have authorized the police and sensitized the public to impound and arrest any vehicle found outside the gazetted parking premises after official working hours of 5:30 PM.
He says the official parking place for government vehicles after working hours is police posts/stations.
He revealed they have ‘planted’ spies especially in Kasese town to monitor officials with government vehicles at midnight.
“In case an officer wanted a vehicle without a driver, they are supposed to seek permission from the CAO and give reasons, though most who go without drivers, sometimes have bad behavior they are hiding from the public and fear drivers may expose them,” Mutungwanda said.
On the issue of the government vehicles seen on roads with passengers and items like charcoal, foodstuffs and firewood among others, Mutungwanda says since these officials travel to different destinations, they can be excused for carrying food for domestic consumption but if they are for markets/sale, they should be penalized.
“It only becomes an offence if an officer turns the vehicle for commercial purposes but where it is for purposes of domestic consumption, you can sympathize with a person who carried only one bunch of banana or a sack of charcoal,” he said.
Difficult to control
He however says it is difficult to control the government vehicles from carrying goods since they are sometimes used to transport both district staff and members of the public to social gatherings like weddings and burials-on request.
“You will find that a member of the public is kneeling before the CAO or LCV chairperson for transportation of the body (corpse) or that our staff has a wedding and needs a van and we officially authorize it,” he revealed.
He added, “Sometimes we release vehicles officially for private duties especially when it is our service contribution.”
To further stop misuse of government vehicles by public and civil servants, Mutungwanda, says Kasese district has locally procured a prequalified contractor for minor mechanical faults to avoid finding government vehicles in “every corner of the town under the disguise of mechanical repair.”
“They used to damage our vehicles beyond working hours and later park them in the garages around town, but since the establishment of prequalified mechanical contractors, the damages have reduced,” he said.
When asked why some of the vehicles are rotting in the district park yard, Mutungwanda said some vehicles are damaged beyond repair yet there is no budget for it (repair) at the district.
“We still appeal to whoever finds a government vehicle parked on streets or official’s residence to report to police or the CAO’s office,” he concludes.