Renewal of Dr Bitekyerezo’s contract causes storm at NDA

Sunday February 16 2020

The petitioner Ms Nakachwa is seeking an order

The petitioner Ms Nakachwa is seeking an order of the court to restrain the Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, from reappointing Dr Bitekyerezo, arguing that the former Mbarara Municipality legislator is “not a fit and proper person” to chair the NDA board.  

By ISAAC MUFUMBA

The tenure of the board of National Drug Authority (NDA) expired last month and the potential reappointment of Dr Medard Bitekyerezo as board chairperson for another three years has kicked up a storm.
Ten days ago, the head of drug assessment and registration at NDA, Ms Florence Nakachwa Aboicha, filed a suit in the Civil Division of the High Court seeking to block the reappointment of Dr Bitekyerezo.

Ms Nakachwa, who is suing both the Attorney General and Dr Bitekyerezo, is also seeking an order of the court to restrain the Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, from reappointing Dr Bitekyerezo, arguing that the former Mbarara Municipality legislator is “not a fit and proper person” to chair the NDA board.

Ms Nakachwa’s case is the latest development in a series of twists, turns and fights that have plagued NDA over the last three years.

Number of suits
NDA has in that period been the subject of at least 15 different suits involving some of its employees including Ms Nakachwa, and Mr Mark Kamanzi, the head of legal affairs at the authority who is currently on interdiction.

Ms Nakachwa has brought more than 10 suits against NDA while Mr Kamanzi has filed at least six. Most of them have resulted in judgments against NDA, which have come at a cost.

For example, in November 2017, NDA paid out Shs35.4 million in legal fees for the former executive director, Ms Donna Asiimwe Kusemererwa, after she lost a suit around her recruitment and appointment by the board as executive secretary.

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The High Court and later the Court of Appeal found that the appointment was illegal and threw Ms Kusemererwa out of NDA.

Another Shs14.1m was paid in legal fees after one Kimpi Isabirye sued Mr Bitekyerezo as chairman.

Last year, NDA paid out Shs110m to Mr Kamanzi after court ruled that the authority was in contempt of court for blocking his access to his office after the court had reinstated him.

Mr Kamanzi would later be interdicted again, with the organisation accusing him of drawing his own contract and allocating himself privileges that don’t exist in their human resource manual.

Mr Kamanzi is undergoing trial in the Anti-Corruption Court and has denied the charges, saying that his detractor at NDA just sought to have him charged with any offense so that he would be interdicted and thrown out of the organisation.

About nine other suits remain pending.

Petitions
Away from the courts of law, the matters at NDA have been the subject of petitions to the Inspectorate of Government (IGG), the State House Anti-Corruption Unit, Parliament and most recently the Office of the President.

In the petitions filed by Mr Kamanzi, he accuses Dr Bitekyerezo of abuse of office and funds of NDA, including by using NDA’s resources to pay for cases brought against him in his individual capacity.

In the most recent petition to the President received by the office on February 6, Mr Kamanzi summarised his complaints against Dr Bitekyerezo and urged the President to block his reappointment as chair of NDA.

He recounted the petitions he had made earlier to the IGG, Parliament and State House’s Ant-Corruption Unit for which he had received no response.

About the same time, the IGG’s office released its response to Mr Kamanzi’s petition it received about two years ago, clearing Dr Bitekyerezo of wrongdoing.

But the IGG recommended that NDA strengthens its legal department to curb wasteful expenditure on private law firms and also adopts the recommendations of the Public Procurement and Disposal of Assets Authority (PPDA) to ensure that future procurements are within the law.

Dr Bitekyerezo now has a fresh case to defend, the one filed against him by Ms Nakachwa.

She alleges that Dr Bitekyerezo during his three-year term caused financial loss and abused his office by authorising payments which have benefitted him at the expense of the tax payer. Some of the losses Dr Bitekyerezo caused, Ms Nakacwa says, were captured by the Auditor General, who faulted the Authority for making dubious expenditures.

Mr Kamanzi, speaking to Sunday Monitor, attributed the fights to Dr Bitekyerezo’s work methods, which he claims is erratic.

“I think Dr Bitekyerezo thinks that being chairman of the board puts him above the law. He thinks that he can do anything and get away with it. I tried to have our differences resolved by involving other high ranking officials in government but he would agree on one thing in the meeting and do another outside of it,” Mr Kamanzi said.

Dr Bitekyerezo’s detractors also accuse him of acting as the chief executive of NDA and not just its chairman, allegedly hovering over the management and influencing every decision.

We were unable to speak to Dr Bitekyerezo for this story. He has in the past said he is witch-hunted by some employees of NDA and taken exception to this newspaper running stories about the fallout.

Recent comment
A week ago, Dr Bitekyerezo took to Facebook and posted: “Guys! Read something called Narcissistic behaviour disorder. I swear someone who has been soiling my name in Monitor newspaper has it. I recommend that person to seek medical advice.”

We turned to Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the minister of Health who is charged with appointing the NDA board, for her take on the turmoil that bedevils the organisation.

Dr Aceng said: “The board has been doing a great job amid lots of corrupt people who are fighting them and it along with the management. So many people want them out because they have made it a bit hard for them to steal money.”

She, however, remained tight-lipped on whether she will reappoint Dr Bitekyerezo to chair the board.

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