My life is in danger - Musenero

The Science, Innovations and Technology minister, Dr Monica Musenero .  Photo / David Lubowa

What you need to know:

  • Then a senior presidential advisor on epidemics, Dr Musenero clearly had the ear of the President. While there is every indication that she still does, the beleaguered Science, Innovations and Technology minister has recently found herself running into strong headwinds.

During President Museveni’s national addresses as Uganda battled a couple of coronavirus waves, Dr Monica Musenero’s 1970s afro wig was hard to miss.

Then a senior presidential advisor on epidemics, Dr Musenero clearly had the ear of the President. While there is every indication that she still does, the beleaguered Science, Innovations and Technology minister has recently found herself running into strong headwinds.

A parliamentary select committee recently asked her to step aside as allegations around financial mismanagement of pandemic funds continue to be investigated.

Before giving the ombudsman three months to get to the bottom of the controversy, House Speaker Anita Among revealed that “some burning issues such as abuse of office [and] money that has been lost” had been unearthed.

The select committee’s report illuminated “gross irregularities” such as Shs2.6b it claims was unaccounted for, and recommended that Dr Musenero be “held liable for alleged mismanagement.”

The Science, Innovations and Technology minister has been fairly consistent in describing herself as a fall guy.

In an interview with Saturday Monitor, she went one notch further by claiming she has since been the recipient of “multiple threats [that] put my life at stake.”

Dr Musenero particularly singled out Mr Naboth Namanya—the Rubabo County lawmaker—for being “part of the syndicate intended to blackmail and misinform Parliament to think that I am a thief.”

Mr Namanya recently accosted Dr Musenero outside the precincts of the House, warning thus: “How can you connive with the government to steal taxpayers money? That’s not acceptable and we shall not allow that. Even if Parliament exonerates you, we shall continue following you.”

Ms Among took exception to the unsolicited attack, wondering “how…a colleague [can] attack and humiliate a colleague before TV cameras over a matter that is being handled in the House.”

 Political leaders from Bukedi Sub-region where Dr Musenero hails from were also outraged. Mr James Okurut, the Butebo LC5 Chairperson for instance described Mr Namanya’s actions as “totally barbaric.”

Detractors?

Saturday Monitor was unsuccessful in getting a response from the FDC legislator. But in our interview with Dr Musenero, the Science, Innovations and Technology minister was not in doubt about the source of her current problems.

“I have learnt that the move is co-funded purposely to fight me until they see that I have been removed from that position,” Dr Musenero said, adding that former staff of the Science and Technology ministry “are working tooth and nail” to engineer her downfall.

Mr Yona Musinguzi (Ntungamo Municipality), who last November tabled a string of documents he claimed implicated Dr Musenero, once worked at the Ministry as an assistant commissioner.

 In a no holds barred interview, the Science, Innovations and Technology minister alleged that she has found herself having to ward off extortionists.

One of them whom she identified as a former ISO operative—reportedly demanded for a Shs100m bribe. Saturday Monitor could not independently verify the claim, but Dr Musenero says she “has substantial evidence to prove my case.”

The minister also claims she was ambushed and even survived an assassination in Kaderuna Sub-county, Budaka District.

“This matter of assassination was reported to police and Internal Security Organisation took over the investigations,” she revealed, adding that her “security has been raised to level three.”

Among the recommendations of the select committee report is the disbandment of the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE). Dr Musenero—who says she has “dedicated myself to fighting pandemics and other dangerous disease outbreaks”—believes such a recommendation is “unfortunate.”

The embattled minister says President Museveni directed then prime minister Ruhakana Rugunda to establish the think tank to fast track research and development of essential response tools. The initiative was to create an environment for scientists and researchers that would ultimately lead to the containment of the pandemic.

A memorandum of understanding between PRESIDE and the Science, Innovations and Technology ministry was submitted to the solicitor General for clearance on August 24, 2020. Clearance came on September 1, 2020.

Preside accountability

Dr Musenero further explained that Shs31.03b in the FY 2020/21 for scientists under PRESIDE was earmarked. Of this, Shs15.787b was ring-fenced for procurement of equipment. Shs15.245b was for project operational costs.

The support for the PRESIDE secretariat was budgeted under State House at the tune of Shs3.35 billion, she adds.

Dr Musenero also says the Science, Innovations and Technology ministry released Shs13.1b out of Shs15.2b to scientists. This, she goes on to reveal, left a balance of Shs2b.

“The money was never released to PRESIDE, but was wired directly to the host institutions through Electronic Fund transfers and all the Shs13.1b has been accounted for,” she claims.

She adds: “The balance of Shs2b has never been released to the scientists and neither was it authorised to be released. This could imply that the Shs2b was never released by the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Science and Technology or it could have been returned at the end of the Financial Year 2020/2021.”

Saturday Monitor understands that 23 projects were approved for funding under PRESIDE in Financial Year 2020/2021.

Some of the institutions that received funds include: Uganda Virus Research Institute (Shs467.9m), Busitema University (Shs120m), Makerere University College of Veterinary Medicine (Shs80m), Makerere University College of Health Sciences (Shs159.9m), Makerere College of Engineering (Shs111.4m), Makerere University School of Biomedical Sciences (Shs688.1m), College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biodiversity (Shs320.6m), Natural Chemotherapeutics and Research Institute (Shs630m), among others.

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