Ex Minister Dr Elioda Tumwesigye refutes role in Presidential Initiative on Epidemics

Former Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye, has distanced himself from the financing of and activities of the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE).

According to Tumwesigye, PRESIDE activities have been overseen by the current Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr Monica Musenero.

The Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics that was launched on 18 September 2020, was put under the stewardship of then Presidential Advisor on Epidemics, Dr Musenero, to develop innovative solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“PRESIDE was not put under the ministry at the time, but the finance ministry decided that finances to support scientists carrying out COVID-19 vaccine research would go through the ministry,” Dr Tumwesigye revealed.

Tumwesigye said while appearing before a Select Committee of Parliament on Science, Technology and Innovation, to clarify on the relationship between PRESIDE and the ministry.

The select committee was instituted by Deputy Speaker Anita Among in November 2021, to investigate allegations by Ntungamo Municipality MP Yona Musinguzi, that Dr Musenero misused Shs50 billion meant for COVID-19 vaccine development.

MPs on the Select Committee chaired by Xavier Kyooma, expressed concern that Dr Musenero in 2020 bypassed the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and directed the finance ministry to pay certain innovators and entities.

Paul Omara (Otuke County) said the committee had seen letters written by Dr Musenero to the finance ministry, instructing it to pay money to specific recipients chosen under PRESIDE.

“A Senior Presidential Advisor has no mandate in terms of how money is authorised within government. The mandate sits squarely on the back of the Minister and Permanent Secretary. Where did Dr Musenero get this mandate?” queried Omara.

He also wondered why there was no proper accountability of funds to date, which were disbursed through the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to scientists under PRESIDE; at the time when Dr Tumwesigye was minister.

“We know that there were 17 researchers or entities that were funded under PRESIDE. Was your ministry involved in the selection of these agencies?” Omara added.

Dr Tumwesigye said the ministry had picked out scientists to support, however, there were some scientists being supported by the President who had intentions in developing COVID-19 interventions, who were later led by Dr Musenero in 2020.

“The ministry requested for supplementary funding to carry out research efforts on a COVID-19 vaccine but the process lapsed before the next financial year. In the new financial year, the finance ministry was under pressure to give money to projects chosen by PRESIDE,” he added.

Committee Member, Tony Awany (NRM, Nwoya County), said that when asked why as minister she blocked the sector budget, Dr Musenero said there were plans to misuse the money.

“Dr Musenero said on the record, that the former minister and permanent secretary were in a conspiracy to misappropriate the funds,” said Awany.

The ex-minister dismissed the allegations, and described the claims as intellectual dishonesty.

He added that among the COVID-19 vaccine researchers that were funded by the ministry but did not benefit from PRESIDE, include Prof. Patrick Ogwang, who received Shs360 million to develop his COVIDEX herbal medicine for the management of viral infections.

The committee, on 25 November 2021, interacted with the former Permanent Secretary in the ministry, David Obong, who said Dr Musenero did not provide accountability for funds disbursed under PRESIDE, which affected comprehensive accountability by the ministry.

However, Dr Musenero told the committee that she is not mandated to account to the ministry because the ministry did not give them money directly, adding that responses had been provided to the Auditor General and that there was an ongoing forensic audit.

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