Developing Story: In these pages a fortnight ago, we published a story wherein the Senior Presidential Adviser on Epidemics, Dr. Monica Musenero, on behalf of the mysterious Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
The MoU was stating the roles that the two parties, PRESIDE and MOSTI, would play in an agreement reached between them regarding the funding of Covid19 research projects. The agreement involved a total of UGX.31BN. This website uncovered an imbalance in the budget appropriation of the money by PRESIDE; where the entity was purportedly set to fund projects which were already running and fully funded.
The information entailed in the piece reached the President who reportedly summoned some officials; owing to the fact that his office was uninformed about PRESIDE. However, before the meeting of 24th this month, PRESIDE got ahead of the situation and drafted a press briefing which was purportedly issued on Friday, the 18th of September.
The press briefing asserts that PRESIDE has been an existent entity which has worked with a ‘network of scientists across the country’ since March this year. Further, it states that the entity ‘identified 23 priority projects geared at locally developing vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics’.
The legitimacy of PRESIDE is sought through the Presidential directive to the ‘Prime Minister to work with the Senior Presidential Adviser (SPA) Epidemics to put modalities in place to operationalize PRESIDE’.
Although the press brief claims that PRESIDE was instigated in March and has been operational ever since, the mystery that shrouds its absence from the public, despite its operation in a field of great interest to the nation; is unexplained.
Also, it would be very unlikely that the President, as he did earlier last week, would summon the parties in the questionable agreement if he was well appraised of its existence and duties. Further, the Senior Press Secretary to the President has not changed his position regarding this entity.
The story earlier published by this website notes that PRESIDE has allocated funds to projects that are already funded and running… (Please read: COVID-19 funds grabbers unmasked: Presidential advisor Dr Musenero’s Ghost Agency sucks UGX.31BN out of national revenue pool) Predictably, the entity, given its purported existence, claims in the press brief that eight projects had already been identified and ‘received funds to start the work’.
It is to be understood that the UGX.31Bn is yet to be released pending authorisation to disburse the same. Which funds therefore, were released to the projects if the money has not been issued, remains a conundrum. These may as well be signs of fire-fighting efforts; as were seen in the August House UGX.10BN saga!
If PRESIDE did in fact identify the projects, there should be documentation attesting to the same. There should be proof of authorisation by the president and operational engagements since March. These should be availed to the public with proper accountability; in the spirit of government transparency, our insider sources opine!
That aside, the inconsistencies in the press brief cries for clarification. Either the money that was received by the eight projects was from a different source, or PRESIDE is seeking additional money the accountability of which may be challenging for whatever reasons! In any case, the money received by these projects would not be part of the UGX.31BN!
For starters, the money to be received by the projects through MOSTI has not been released yet. Authority to disburse the monies to the grantees has only been recently sought. In a letter to the Permanent Secretary, through the Director SRI, dated 9th September, 2020, the Principal Research Officer seeks to have the disbursement of the funds authorised. This questionable letter has only been ‘cleared for further consideration’; there is no authorisation of the actual release of the funds.
In the same, ten urgent projects are identified among the first batch to receive funds. Among these are projects run by teams from Makerere University, Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC), Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Busitema University and the Natural Therapeutics – Wandegeya. According the letter and its appendage, certain partnerships are expected between the institutions.
The validity of some of these projects has already been placed under scrutiny by yours truly in the previous story! This first batch of projects is to receive a total of UGX.5.3B. As stated earlier, the same monies have not been released. Therefore, what money is PRESIDE referring to as having been released to eight projects? Further, if the letter in relation to these projects identifies ten projects to be funded among the first batch, why does the narrative make reference to only eight?
In addition, the press briefing is conflicted in its title as it states that its ‘on the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) launch’. Why launch something after months of operating? Any launch of the entity ought to have been at the beginning of the national pandemic struggles.
Then would have been a good time to appraise the public of the existence of an entity that was going to be charged with managing the projects at the forefront of the Covid19 battle. This press briefing was flawed owing to its attempt to legitimize a flawed entity.
Whether PRESIDE is a legitimate entity is a question left to all to answer on the basis of what is known about it. When it was instigated and whether it was so under Presidential authorisation are questions which, with every new concealing effort, seem to attract an answer in the negative.
We talked to Dr. Musenero, after the first story and, her attempt to show a legal constitution of PRESIDE, is in what one called a ‘catch 22’ situation! There are various conflicting elements; the cure for one only reveals further infection. We are yet to see what other tool may be employed to legitimize the entity and its purported services to the country.
If there is a slim chance that all the claims of PRESIDE’s long existence and contribution to battling Covid19 are true; the only demand is for accountability. Let the proprietors of this entity bring forth documentation to support its establishment in March, its books ought to be audited, it should be acknowledged for its operational contribution (if any) in the pandemic by identifying those activities it has undertaken since its formation and, most importantly; all this should be public knowledge.
This should be done for the sake of transparency, lest the President rests his national duties for another monumental walk against corruption! Hold the line…
- Joel Kenneth Ndawula is a Student of Law at Uganda Martyrs University Nkozi. He is an inspired writer, the editor and author here; a blogger of sorts.
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