Minister Musenero faces censure over Covid-19 funds

The committee that was established to investigate the utilization of funds meant to facilitate the COVID-19 vaccine development by the Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, Dr. Monica Musenero has pinned the Minister saying that the process was marred with irregularities.

Xavier Kyooma, the Chairperson of the Committee on Science, technology, and Innovation presented the findings to the House on Wednesday during the plenary sitting.

The committee was set up in November 2021 to investigate allegations of irregularities regarding the utilization of funds for Covid-19 vaccine development by the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE).

PRESIDE, a brainchild of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is supervised by Dr. Monica Musenero, who was a Presidential Advisor on Epidemics at the time it was unveiled.

The investigation followed a report by Ntungamo Municipality MP Yona Musinguzi who noted that following the Covid-19 pandemic, a group of scientists 2020 convinced the President that they could produce a vaccine for COVID-19 and they went ahead and drew big sums of money. 

He said that in 2020, they drew USD 20 billion under PRESIDE.

Musinguzi added that Musenero had received another Sh50 billion  after convincing the President that she would ensure the production of a vaccine.

According to the committee report, MPs established that President Museveni on 6th May 2020 directed that PRESIDE be established and Sh2 billion  be released to the State House Comptroller to facilitate the operations of the initiative including supporting the operations of the PRESIDE Secretariat and initial research activities.

The committee also notes that Sh5.3 billion  were provided in the financial year 2019/2020, and another Sh31.03 billion was provided in 2020/2021 for scientists under PRESIDE for procurement of equipment and project operational costs.

An additional Sh25 billion  was released for project operations, a supplementary request of Sh50.4 billion for a manufacturing plant, and Sh27 billion for additional operational funds for PRESIDE projects in the financial year 2021/2022.

“The Committee observed that poor financial management resulted in up to at least Sh2.06 billion not being accounted for under operational funds. A lack of guidelines on reporting resulted in discrepancies in reporting and allowances paid to scientists. Further, failure to harmonize allowance rates also led to wastage,” Kyooma said.

The committee observed that despite the commitment by PRESIDE in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Science to account for the money advanced, the initiative did not.

“Several reminders were sent by the Permanent Secretary to the Chairperson PRESIDE to provide the accountability for funds disbursed, but all in vain. The individual scientists eventually accounted for the funds disbursed, but not all were accounted for as was observed in the Auditor General’s report on Covid- 19 funds,” reads part of the committee report.

The Auditor-General, John Muwanga noted that 491 million shillings were not accounted for. Further, there were no clearance certificates issued for funding prior to the completion of each stage.

Parliament also learned that the Ministry of Science also released funds without receiving proof of supporting documents as required in the MOU.

Kyooma said that at the inception of PRESIDE, the government failed to define its legality, analyze and optimize the structures that were already in place, and build on these as a way of driving the pathogen economy forward.

He recommended that PRESIDE be disbanded and its funding channeled through the National Research and Innovative Programme (NRIP).

 Kyooma said that PRESIDE is a duplication of the already existing structures but without funds.

Musinguzi suggested that the Inspectorate of Government investigates the matter further and take action. 

He also appealed to MPs to support his planned motion seeking to censure Minister Musenero.

Musenero said that she had not had the privilege of reading the report earlier and appealed for more time to study the report and respond to parliament.

“I beg that at an appropriate time, I should be given an opportunity to respond to the issues and also to update the House, on where we are,” said Musenero.

She also noted that PRESIDE does not exist anymore since it merged into the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation.

She also said that she is relieved that the report does not mention anything about the alleged misappropriation of Sh79 billion as alleged by Musinguzi.

The Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa deferred debate on the report to Tuesday next week.

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