Although the president came out guns blazing to defend his minister Dr Monica Musenero after Ntungamo municipality member of parliament Yona Musinguzi had accused her of misappropriation of funds meant for development of a locally invented vaccine against the dreaded COVID-19 disease, the permanent Secretary (Mr. David O. O Obong), while appearing the parliamentary probe select committee, unequivocally said the minister should answer.
Days after Yona Musinguzi had tabled his motion that was adapted by parliament to set a select committee to probe the minister, president Tibuhaburwa threatened to “go for all those labeling his minister a corrupt person”. “How can you accuse a decorated government officer of corruption?”. The president angrily asked.
While appearing before the parliamentary select committee, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology, David Obong told legislators that Minister Dr. Monica Musenero, should provide all accountability regarding the utilization of funds meant to facilitate the Covid-19 vaccine development.
Obong on Thursday appeared before the Select Committee probing the Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, Dr. Monica Musenero on the status of the ongoing Covid-19 vaccine research and mismanagement of 31 billion Shillings so far disbursed for the work.
He appeared together with the Undersecretary in the Ministry Alfred Oyo Andima, and the Principal Research Officer in the Ministry Dianah Katiti.
During the meeting, the acting chairperson of the Select Committee Tony Awany, representing Nwoya County asked the Permanent Secretary to present accountability for the 31 billion Shillings appropriated for the vaccine development saying that the public needs to know how the funds were utilized.
Awany informed Obong that Minister Musenero had earlier told the Select Committee that it was the Permanent Secretary to provide accountability for the funds and not her.
Otuke North MP, Paul Omara also said that Dr. Musenero had in an earlier meeting with the Select Committee pushed the accountability responsibility for the funds onto the Permanent Secretary saying that she had not touched any of the Covid-19 vaccine development funds.
In response, Obong said that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the ministry and the minister in regard to the utilization of funds and accountability is clear and requires Musenero to account for all funds released to her.
The money in question was released to Musenero who was previously serving as a Presidential Advisor on Epidemics, and the in-charge of Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics-PRESIDE, a brainchild of President Yoweri Museveni on the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Obong said that the MoU with Musenero specifically requires the minister to account to the ministry for all monies advanced by the Ministry of Science. Obong says that these funds have to date not been accounted for by PRESIDE despite different letters from Dr. Musenero requesting for the funds to be advanced to different scientists.
A copy of the MoU before the Select Committee highlights responsibilities for PRESIDE, and some of these include; provision of technical and administrative oversight at operational or execution level of the research projects relating to COVID-19, to vet and approve applications for funding, verify project specifications, technical requirements and research appropriateness, and core competence of research teams before selecting projects for funding, execute grant agreements with each approved team, and to ensure that each project team delivers on their commitment to the project and products set out in their proposal and grant agreement and others.
The other responsibilities are to document and track the execution of research projects and implementation of each agreed milestone on a project by project basis, vet and ensure that each project has in place the pre-funding requirements as set out that will facilitate proper accountability for funding provided, issue all clearance certificates for funding at each phase and to require accountability for funding at each stage of any approved project and others.
The other responsibilities of PRESIDE are to undertake project appraisals and review project performance or progress reports at each stage of funding and evaluation, submit to the Ministry of Science and Technology consolidated cumulative project progress reports on quarterly basis, and to account to the Ministry for all the monies advanced by the Ministry as required by the relevant laws of Uganda.
Obong emphasized that Dr. Musenero who signed the MoU together with him, needs to provide all accountability of the funds and not him as she claimed.
Deputy Speaker Anita Among recently named the Select Committee to establish the progress in the development of a locally manufactured COVID-19 vaccine, establish the amount of money released for the research and others.
The other terms of reference are establishing the innovation and COVID-19 vaccine development, establishing how effective such funds have been utilized, and establishing challenges faced in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and medicines.
The investigation stems from documentary evidence tabled before Parliament by Ntungamo Municipality MP Yona Musinguzi, seeking Musenero’s explanation regarding the utilization of funds meant to facilitate the COVID-19 vaccine development.
Musinguzi who claimed to done independent investigations revealed to parliament that even the laboratory purported to be located in Ntinda, a city suburb was non existent, the premises were only manned by a single guard.
Musinguzi demanded accountability for funds so far released towards the development of a vaccine under the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics-PRESIDE, a brainchild of President Yoweri Museveni led by Dr. Musenero, who was a Presidential Advisor on Epidemics at the time it was unveiled.
Among documents tabled before parliament by Musinguzi is the budget of 31 billion Shillings that was appropriated to PRESIDE. According to Musinguzi, this money was then channeled to different individual scientists who have allegedly denied receiving the funds.
Musinguzi told parliament that amidst this questionable expenditure, PRESIDE is now seeking an additional budget of 50 billion Shillings towards the same cause.
It should be noted that while appearing before the parliamentary select committee, Dr. Musenero in an air raising statement said that she procured 200 test mice at an astronomic cost of UGX 8,000,000/= each.
To the amazement of the committee, Dr. Musenero revealed the accountability on the cost of rats but distanced herself from the rest of accountability in general.