Former permanent secretary at the ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation, David OO Obong has told legislators that minister Dr Monica Musenero should and must provide all accountability regarding the utilization of funds meant to facilitate Covid-19 vaccine development.
Obong on Thursday appeared before the select committee probing the minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, Musenero on the status of the ongoing Covid-19 vaccine research and (mis)management of Shs 31 billion so far disbursed for the work.
Obong appeared together with the undersecretary in the ministry Alfred Oyo Andima and the principal research officer in the ministry Dianah Katiti.
During the meeting, the acting chairperson of the select committee Tony Awany (Nwoya County) asked the former permanent secretary to present accountability for Shs 31 billion appropriated for the vaccine development saying that the public needs to know how the funds were utilized.
Awany informed Obong that Musenero had earlier told the select committee that it was the permanent secretary to provide accountability for the funds and not her.
"The honourable minister in her presentation passed the buck to you [PS]. It appears she said let the PS carry the cross. So who is to carry this heavy cross Mr PS? Is it you or Dr Musenero? And then just to ask this bluntly, was there gross mismanagement of these funds that were appropriated for the vaccine development because the public is really waiting to get to the real facts in the use of these funds - Shs 31bn rolled out for this emergency intervention. And it appears apart from the outcries and the concerns, the public doesn't seem to be very satisfied with the explanations that have been given for these funds. So in a nutshell, was there misappropriation at all for these funds?" said Awany.
Otuke North MP, Paul Omara also said that Musenero had in an earlier meeting with the select committee, pushed the accountability responsibility to the permanent secretary saying that she never touched any of the Covid-19 vaccine development funds.
"She actually said I never touched any money, and I remember we asked a second question, are you really sure? In fact, she threw out the gauntlet back to the PS and said the PS should be the one to be accountable for all monies because for her she actually said we're not an organisation or company. For her, she was not paid from PRESIDE, didn't take any money, she never applied for any money. Her responsibility was basically to recommend these entities to the ministry of Science and Technology. That for her, she did not touch any money, neither could she account for any monies. That was her opening statement and I think chairman, it would be appropriate to give the PS a copy of her presentation so that he can ably respond. And so from where we're seated now in other words; she's saying; for me, I'm not responsible for any monies, it is the PS. She has actually moved the mantle back to the PS," said Omara.
In response, Obong said that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the ministry and Musenero in regard to the utilization of funds and accountability is clear and requires Musenero to account for all funds released to her.
The money in question was released to Musenero who was previously serving as a presidential advisor on epidemics and the in charge of the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE), a brainchild of President Yoweri Museveni on the development of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Obong said that the MoU with Musenero specifically requires the minister to account to the ministry all monies advanced by the ministry of Science. Obong says that these funds have to date not been accounted by PRESIDE despite several letters from Musenero requesting for the funds to be advanced to different scientists.
A copy of the MoU before the select committee highlights responsibilities for PRESIDE and some of these include the provision of technical and administrative oversight at operational or execution level of the research projects relating to Covid-19, to vet and approve applications for funding, verify project specifications, technical requirements and research appropriateness and core competence of research teams before selecting projects for funding, execute grant agreements with each approved team and to ensure that each project team delivers on their commitment to the project and products set out in their proposal and grant agreement and others.
The other responsibilities are to document and track the execution of research projects and implementation of each agreed milestone on a project by project basis, vet and ensure that each project has in place the pre-funding requirements as set out that will facilitate proper accountability for funding provided, issue all clearance certificates for funding at each phase and to require accountability for funding at each stage of any approved project and others.
The other responsibilities of PRESIDE are to undertake project appraisals and review project performance or progress reports at each stage of funding and evaluation, submit to the ministry of Science and Technology consolidated cumulative project progress reports on quarterly basis, and to account to the ministry for all the monies advanced by the ministry as required by the relevant laws of Uganda.
Obong emphasized that Musenero who signed the MoU together with him needs to provide all accountability of the funds and not him as she claimed.
"A querry cannot only be with one side. It has both sides. The one side - giving no objection of that money to the scientists, the other side is giving back accountability because overall means that the Covid funds for scientists plus the Covid funds for the equipment. Would that be accounted for in the consolidated fund? So I don't see any laxity on the side of MoST [ministry of Science]. We'd have accounted for the money if we'd been given all the other accountabilities that we need...it is RTS return to sender," Obong added.
Deputy speaker Anita Among recently named the select committee to establish the progress in the development of a locally manufactured Covid-19 vaccine, establish the amount of money released for research and others.
The other terms of reference are establishing the innovation and Covid-19 vaccine development, establishing how effective such funds have been utilized, and establishing challenges faced in the development of Covid-19 vaccines and medicines.
The investigation stems from documentary evidence tabled before parliament by Ntungamo Municipality MP Yona Musinguzi seeking to implicate Musenero regarding the utilization of funds meant to facilitate the Covid-19 vaccine development.
Musinguzi demanded accountability for funds so far released towards the development of a vaccine under PRESIDE. Among documents tabled before parliament by Musinguzi is a budget of Shs 31 billion that was appropriated to PRESIDE. According to Musinguzi, this money was then channeled to different individual scientists who have since allegedly denied receiving the funds.
Musinguzi told parliament that amidst this questionable expenditure, PRESIDE is now seeking an additional budget of Shs 50 billion towards vaccine manufacturing.
Also tabled by Musinguzi is a letter dated March 15, 2021, authored by PS Obongo writing to Musenero, to give accountability for Shs 31 billion. Musenero is expected to appear before the select committee again on Friday morning to respond to accountability queries from the MPs.