Parliament has interested the Inspectorate of Government (IGG) into investigating the operations of the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) that was supervised by the Minister of Science and Innovation, Dr Monica Musenero.
The Select Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation, last week presented its report to Parliament recommending the disbandment of PRESIDE following the uncovering of gross irregularities in its operations and asked that Musenero who was commandeering the Project to step aside for further investigations.
However, Musenero, in a spirited defence during plenary on Tuesday, 17 May 2022, denied any wrong doing in the running of PRESIDE, adding that all financial resources allocated to the entity were being coordinated by the then Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and had been accounted for.
“PRESIDE never had personal accounts with all its payments to third parties being handled by the ministry under the stewardship of the Permanent Secretary and its then minister, Hon. Elioda Tumwesigye,” she said.
However, the chairperson, Hon. Xavier Kyooma, clarified that funds indeed were lost and that it would be a misrepresentation, watering down the findings of the committee by the minister that no money was lost.
“I wish to clarify that in our report we found that; Shs491 million meant to meet operational costs was spent but unaccounted for, Shs2.06 billion went missing and, only Shs444 million out of Shs1.4 billion intended for salaries was paid,” he stated.
Kiira Municipality MP, Hon. Ibrahim Ssemujju, said that the beginning of the problem was because PRESIDE as an entity had no legal status.
“The President did not have to choose PRESIDE with no legal status to do work that could have been handled by the ministry delegated to supervise it,” said Ssemujju.
He added that Parliament should address itself to the systematic problem originating from the leadership concerning the arbitrary nature of conducting government business.
“It was an oversight as a poor country to set up an initiative that would oversee the production of vaccines when the US, a rich country is still struggling to make vaccines,” Ssemujju supplemented.
He further called upon fellow MPs to adopt the report and for Parliament to delegate a competent entity to further investigate the issues raised in the management of PRESIDE.
Hon. Henry Kibalya (NRM, Bugabula County South) stated that PRESIDE was given too much power which they eventually misused, appointing relatives irregularly and abusing funds allocated to the initiative.
“The first mistake made by the powers that be was to give powers to the minister to do whatever she wished without having to consult Parliament and she should, therefore, be made accountable,” he said.
Hon. Nathan Byanyima (NRM, Bukanga North County) expressed his disappointment in Dr Musenero for abusing funds during a time when the country’s resource envelope was narrowing, and money should be well utilised.
“The President has been appointing people who have unfortunately let down the country and should be brought to book for all their misdeeds,” he added.
On the other hand, Kimaanya-Kabonera Division MP, Dr Abed Bwanika, said that Musenero was one of the most brilliant people the country has in the field of science and therefore, her role in this should be distinguished from the incompetency of the ministries of Science and Technology and Finance.
“The report clearly points out issues of financial mismanagement and the illegality of PRESIDE. The National Council of Science and Technology did not take charge of PRESIDE and it failed us,” he added.
Hon. Loy Katali (NRM, Jinja District Woman MP) said there is an issue of corporate governance and conflict of interest because Musenero as the chairperson of PRESIDE did not resign when she was appointed a minister.
She added: “We see a common trend involving the diversion, misuse and lack of accountability of funds; something at has become apparent in almost all newly created projects”.
The Third Deputy Prime Minister, Rukia Nakadama, promised that government would scrutinise the report and take the recommended actions with the IGG before reporting back to Parliament with the Treasury Memorandum within three months.