Investigation Exclusive: Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, government agencies have invented genius ways to splash taxpayer’ bills. Many a time neither accountability nor follow-up reports have been given after money is released.
How exactly the UGX21Bn was expended on locusts is still a mystery. Oh! The UGX10Bn supplementary budget for parliamentarians pay-out; how did that end? This has been the norm in the country. Complacency of the resigned public has created state leeway to operate without consequence.
Perhaps not shockingly, we have authoritatively learned that a ghost agency is claiming UGX31Bn from the consolidated fund. The Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) has liaised with an unknown entity called the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) instigated by the Senior Presidential Adviser on epidemics, Dr Monica Musenero, to finance ‘research’ projects related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
MOSTI, acting as the legal accounting entity in the agreement, has earmarked the handsome sums to allegedly be utilized for projects that will be approved by PRESIDE for developing vaccines, diagnostics and drugs for Covid19. It can be seen from the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the two parties that this ghost entity will monitor and evaluate the projects it approves.
Oddly, PRESIDE will essentially be overseeing projects that are already running and fully funded! In our possession is an MoU between the Ministry and PRESIDE. Under para 2.3 of the same, the latter has allegedly been constituted and authorized for operational implementation, supervision and management of the projects related to the pandemic.
Yet, the president has not made any public mention of this entity. When we reached out to the MOSTI Permanent Secretary, Mr. David O. O Obong, he promised to get back to us. However, our relentless reminders passed in vain. The Senior Press Secretary to His Excellency, Mr. Don Innocent Wanyama, laughed off the possible existence of any such entity; noting that we sounded like ‘civil society guys.’
This stands out especially because the son of Kaguta has made it habitual to brief the country about any developments regarding the virus and entities entrusted to curb it. The absence of press coverage for a non-military initiative that will cost government a staggering UGX.31Bn is diametrically opposed to the government policies of transparency.
Perusing the MoU, we observe that whereas PRESIDE has been awarded UGX.15.7Bn for equipment costs as well as UGX.15BN for operational costs, the ministry too, retained UGX.3Bn and UGX.5Bn for equipment and operational costs for the same Covid-19 related research. A further UGX.7.9Bn was allotted for a textile manufacturing unit.
Among the projects to be ‘handled’ by PRESIDE is a self-amplifying NRA by Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) which was slated to get UGX.700M. Yet, there is already an ongoing research project by the Imperial College London at UVRI doing exactly the same.
In addition, a research project for Immune Therapy Convalescent Plasma at Makerere University is already underway and funded by the university innovation fund. However, the PRESIDE budget shows that it will grant UGX.700M for the same research project to be run by Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC) at the same premises – Makerere.
Also, JCRC is to get an additional UGX.500M to conduct an antiviral Covid -19 therapeutic intervention research which is included in a bigger research project that is also already funded.
Despite the budget allocation discrepancies by this ghost agency, the Solicitor General has, questionably of course, approved an application to clear the MoU between PRESIDE and the ministry.
One’s curiosity is peaked! There are billions of taxpayer monies at stake. What justification can be given for the existence of this mystery entity? Why are astounding billions being allocated to projects that are already running and well-funded? Why is there a lack of press coverage for this entity?
It is quite likely that we may get a remake of the UGX.10BN saga; wherein the perpetrators fire-fight as they grapple for justification of creating the ghost agency! The official in charge of PRESIDE, is a Presidential Adviser whose influence over how the President proceeds with the situation in Uganda cannot be overlooked.
Dr Musenero is one of President Museveni’s oversized list of ‘advisors’ on whether to protract the lockdown or not. They are the same that may influence the factors considered to evaluate the Covid19 infection graph. It is noteworthy that numerous sums will be thrown at Covid-19 research as long as the virus poses a threat to the public. Simply, it is the new lake in which to dip the net!
Seeing as this is not information that is protected by law from public knowledge as having national sensitivity, the public would be entitled to know of it. This entitlement is made more definite by the fact that a great deal of money is being fraudulently issued. There is a need to maintain transparency in government operations considering the developing trend of wasteful expenditure.
In a not so dissimilar manner from corrupt operations, the gradual release of the UGX.31BN would result in unaccounted for funds. Their expenditure will be shadowed behind the projects that are already financed while the actual money is consumed by the mafias’ wallets!
Shakespeare wittily noted in King Lear, ‘Like flies to the wanton boys we are to the gods; they kill us for sport!’ It often seems like the wanton Ugandan government makes us, the citizens, Shakespeare’s flies. We are helpless creatures at their mercies! 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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