Dr. Monica Musenero who is accused of misappropriating about Shs30bn given to her line ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to develop and manufacture Covid-19 vaccines, said she spent Shs8m on each mouse they were using for experimenting.
The minister was facing a parliamentary investigation launched after Ntungamo Municipality MP Yona Musinguzi accused the minister on the floor of parliament of misappropriating the money.
Last week, she and her accuser appeared before the select probe committee to defend herself.
She was accompanied by a team of scientists; Prof Pontiono Kaleebu, the executive director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Dr. Jennifer Sserwanga, Dr. Sheilla Balinda (UVRI), Dr. Cissy Kityo (Joint Clinical Research Council), Prof. Charles Ibingira (Makerere University) and Dr. Enock Matovu from Busitema University.
Committee Chairperson Xavier Kyooma said the probe committee and Parliament had letters to the effect that the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) was at the urging of President Museveni given Shs17bn to procure equipment for research and research operations but that the funds were abused through the purchase of idle equipment.
Here are the excerpts published by The Observer
Kyooma: The issue of accountability for Covid-19 funding was squarely under the ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (Mosti), and not PRESIDE. This would mean we don’t demand accountability from you. The MOU between PRESIDE and the ministry says to account to Mosti all the money advanced by Mosti as by relevant laws…It implies that actually, you have some accountability to make and we are basing on this to request for accountability.
I hope you have noted that. So, it’s not true that accountability was squarely with Mosti. You also had accountability to make. PRESIDE was housed in State House with seven employees and State House hired the offices. Where exactly is PRESIDE housed? Your presentation is contrary to the previous MOU…
Musenero: Chair, I have not provided you with a copy of the MOU; so, I cannot say that one is authentic. I am not aware of that document. I promised to bring an authentic copy.
Kyooma: Okay…would that imply that we will have different sets of MOU? This one is well signed and even stamped.
Musenero: I am not aware of that one.
Kabanda: It was laid on the table.
Kyooma: Yes, it is even stamped.
Musenero: Chair, I would request that I am availed that document to study it but I will also bring an authentic copy of the MOU, which was approved.
Kyooma: OK. Can I keep these ones for now?
Musenero: Yeah, but I would appreciate if you give me that copy because I don’t have it.
Kyooma: I think we shall go with the one you will provide.
Kabanda: Chair, does it presuppose that what you are saying is foreign to the minister? The issues in the MOU that the chairman is holding; are they foreign when you hear them?
Musenero: Chair, I have requested that I will avail a copy, which is authentic, and I will own it, then we can discuss based on that.
Kyooma: OK…But I can raise other issues. You are mentioning 23 projects, then the four, which you are advancing but you are not giving us all these projects. We would be interested in knowing all the 23 projects. We appreciate the four you mentioned and the level they have reached but what about the 19, and what are they? What level are they at? Who is responsible for those projects?
Kabanda: Chair, we had the same understanding; which file are you talking about?
Kyooma: Minister’s presentation page 11.
Kabanda: I thought she was simply talking about the titles of vaccines.
Kyooma: Page 11(d), for the financial year 2020/21, PRESIDE has worked on 23 projects in the same area of vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics, and support facilities. Out of these 23, four projects are working on the development of a local Covid-19 vaccine and they are stated Covid-19 subunit vaccine, inactivated Covid-19 vaccine development, self-amplifying RNA, and Novel Adenovector Covid-19 vaccine.
So, the question is what are the other 19 and maybe the level they have reached? We appreciate the urgent need for funds to set up a mini vaccine plant. What is this mini plant? From our analysis, some scientists are working on several projects yet the development of these vaccines was an emergency… Some allocation was made for four quarters but the money was used in one quarter. What happened to the work plan and what changed? Have you spent the money for FY2021/22 already?
Musenero: No. I have not received it.
Awany: What will happen to the procured equipment when the projects are completed?
Kyooma: Can we have a look at them and are they also organized like the mini plant? And since some equipment are in kaveera, that’s why we want to look at them.
Kabanda: What would be the rationale for asking for a supplementary budget while you have not actually utilized your resources?
Kyooma: Hon Minister, over to you.
Musenero: Thank you, Hon. members. I would request that I respond to some questions and others, we need to go back and write. I never handled funds. Shs 31.032b was released to the ministry. Those funds were spent by the ministry
on the procurement of equipment.
I participated as a scientist. They called us in meetings when they were reviewing bids but the funds were directly utilized by the ministry. The funds for operational costs for the scientists were directly dispatched by the ministry to the institutions hosting the scientists.
I was never in receipt. However, as per MOU, I had to work with the scientists to come up with the budget. I had to be satisfied that the scientists had come up with a work plan, budget and that the science was going to lead us where we want to go and when that was done I had to write to the permanent secretaries to say the project has reached the level where it has to receive funds and the PSs dispatched the funds directly through EFT on the system of ministry of finance.
Kyooma: you haven’t utilized the funds appropriated to you for this financial year, if you haven’t utilized those funds, why would you want more funds to be appropriated in the supplementary?
Musenero: Chair we will respond in writing. But as we mentioned, one of the vaccines is at stage 7. You cannot stop some steps because some of the things we use are very delicate. We have small mice we buy; one mouse costs Shs 8 million because they are very special.
Now once you start an experiment on them you can’t pause because you don’t have funds. I don’t know how Prof. Matovu has worked but he has kept the work going. Soon we will need to enter clinical trials for that particular vaccine and in between now and the time when it’s going to be ready we need to have those funds and set up that unit, which takes a bit of time and it has to go through the approvals by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Credit: The Observer