The House has adopted the report of the Select Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation on Covid-19 related research.
One of the recommendations is that PRESIDE should be disbanded and also the minister responsible be held liable for its mismanagement.
Last week, the Select Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation called for the disbandment of the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) following the uncovering of gross irregularities in its operations under the supervision of Hon. Dr Monica Musenero.
The report of the committee on the utilisation of COVID research funds for the financial years 2019/20 to 2021/22 was presented to Parliament Hon. Xavier Kyooma.
Hon. Yona Musinguzi (NRM, Ntungamo Municipality) raised concern with PRESIDE stating that over Shs50 billion had been withdrawn by the Presidential Initiative from the state coffers but without clear expenditure.
Kyooma said that Dr Musenero had revealed that clinical trials were complete and satisfactory yet the committee noticed that they had not been patented and subjected to empirical testing.
They had also not been approved by the National Drug Authority.
The committee could not also ascertain using the evidence presented to it whether a candidate vaccine had been developed because the scientific information was non-committal.
Kyooma held that PRESIDE operational funds to the tune of Shs2.6 billion were not accounted for because of poor operational management of the initiative.
He said that there were no guidelines for reporting lines and therefore, ‘there should be accounting officers who can be held responsible for any financial loses’.
The committee in its report held that Musenero who doubles as the Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, as well as Chairperson of PRESIDE, irregularly issued additional funding to the project of over 10 per cent against the law and without the authorization of Ministry of Finance.
Dr Musenero defends herself
Appearing before parliament during Tuesday’s plenary, Dr Musenero said no funds were ever released to PRESIDE directly for research purposes.
“All my professional life I have dedicated myself to fighting pandemics and other dangerous disease outbreaks in the pursuit to save lives of people I didn’t know and will never know.”
“Never before has my integrity and commitment to duty ever been questioned or have reason to be questioned until now and sadly here in my own country, so it is very disheartening to have to read these accusations in the media…hear comments on TV and Radio and to have to explain to my family and friends on how unfair and untrue all these statements are,” she stated.
Research grants were released directly to the grantees and the processes were managed by the predecessor Ministry of Science and Technology, she told plenary.
“At no time was I personally responsible for the management of any financial resources that was allocated to the work of the PRESIDE as this was being coordinated by the ministry and accounted for in accordance with the Public Finance and Management Act,” she went on.
MPs demand punishment
However, MP Basalirwa Asuman said the report falls short in mentioning who was responsible for the irregularities in PRESIDE.
“This matter requires more investigation. We cannot send this report to the Auditor General because he did look at it before. The IGG should handle this,” Basalirwa noted.
It was Hon Dan Kimosho who moved the motion proposing that Dr Musenero should step aside as the investigations continue into the mismanagement of PRESIDE.
“I asked the members to read the report. I think the minister and permanent secretary to be held liable are those when PRESIDE was formed,” said Hon. Ssemujju Nganda.
Hon Sarah Opendi insisted that Dr Musenero was a senior presidential advisor and chairperson of PRESIDE and “therefore, she should be held responsible for the mismanagement of the project”.
Hon. Laura Kanushu stated: “We should amend this report but we must always demand for accountability. The minister should be held responsible because she was the accounting officer at the time.”
The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Mathias Mpuuga, said the members of the select committee should be applauded for their work.
“If their findings are watered down, we should have empowered a culture of impunity. This particular project shouldn’t be given funds. Until we get to know how the previous funds were used. We can send this money to universities where research priorities are unfunded.”
The Leader of the Opposition was also of the view that the vote for the PRESIDE should not be housed in State House.