The Select Committee on Science, Technology and Innovation has called for the disbandment of the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) following the uncovering of gross irregularities in its operations.
This recommendation is contained in the report of the committee presented to Parliament on the utilisation of COVID research funds by Hon. Xavier Kyooma for the financial years 2019/20 to 2021/22.
Kyooma said that the committee was established by the Speaker, Anita Among on 10 November 2021 to investigate the allegations of irregularities reported on utilisation of funds for the Covid-19 vaccine development by PRESIDE under the supervision of Hon. Dr Monica Musenero.
Hon. Yona Musinguzi (NRM, Ntungamo Municipality) had raised concern with PRESIDE stating that over Shs50 billion had been withdrawn by the Presidential Initiative from the state coffers but without clear expenditure.
“There was no indication of a patented candidate vaccine and there was no sign of it being patented in the pipeline casting doubt in its authentication,” added Musinguzi.
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 construction of the plant to produce the candidate vaccine was premature because the vaccine had not been authenticated by either the World Health Organisation or National Drug Authority for it to be mass-produced,” he added.
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.
“There was also no mention of the patenting of a COVID vaccine,” Kyooma said.
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 authorisation of Ministry of Finance.
The committee recommended that she should be relieved of her duties as Chairperson of PRESIDE to avoid conflict of interest and for the good governance.
The line ministry, according to the committee, failed to monitor and supervise the operations of PRESIDE project adding that, ‘it was understood that the chairperson who was also the minister had a personal understanding with scientists and they did not expect to be supervised’.
The committee also recommended that the government regularise the establishment of PRESIDE under the laws of Uganda if it is to stay operational and that presidential programmes and initiatives should all operate under the law.
PRESIDE, according to the Committee should be disbanded due to the irregularities in its operations and lack of proper structures as well as failure to meet its Memorandum of Understanding.
Musinguzi added that the Shs50 billion that had been advanced to PRESIDE in the forthcoming budget be withdrawn.
Dr Musenero replied that PRESIDE was no longer in existence and had been merged with the Ministry of Science and Innovation.
She also held that the accounts of PRESIDE were audited by the Auditor General and they did not find any misuse of resources of the institution for her personal gain.
The Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa deferred the debate providing time for the MPs internalise the report from the Select Committee.