Kampala — A team of Ugandan officials were on Monday blocked from attending a tobacco control meeting adding to a series of diplomatic embarrassments where senior government personnel have been denied entry into WHO meeting venues on the orders of their own government colleagues.
Last month, delegates from the Trade Ministry including MPs were kicked out of a World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meeting in the Algerian capital of Algiers.
A similar incident happened two years ago in Moscow, Russia where a Ugandan delegation was kicked out of similar meetings for lack of coordination.
Daily Monitor understands that officials who include MPs were blocked from registering for the India conference on the orders of Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, the Programme Manager for Mental Health and Substance Abuse in the Ministry of Health who is also the "focal person" for the meeting.
The MPs who were blocked included Jalia Bintu (Masindi District Woman MP) Lowila Oketayot (Pader District Woman MP), Isaac Etuuka (Madi Okolo) and Dan Muheirwe (Buhaguzi County, Hoima). Mr Abdul Kasule the Assistant Commissioner for Trade in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Co-operatives was also blocked.
Before departure for the meeting, Dr Ndyanabangi had told Daily Monitor in an interview that she was prohibited by law from engaging with any of the tobacco industry players and their promoters.
Only officials on a nomination list issued by outgoing Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Dr Asuman Lukwago on August 26, were allowed to access the meeting venue.
Those nominated by Dr Lukwago were drawn from the Ministry of Health, Uganda National Bureau of Standards, Ministry of Finance and NGOs fighting tobacco consumption such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation- backed Centre for Tobacco Control in Africa which had three out of the 14 officials on the Ministry of Health delegation. They were led by Dr Ndyanabangi.
According to a source at the meeting who declined to be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media, Mr Etuuka presented his credentials to the security at the meeting venue in New Delhi but as he was being registered and accredited, Dr Ndyanabangi appeared with the list and denied him access, citing the orders of the Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Health.
Mr Etuuka and his colleagues had their documents, authorising them to attend the meeting, withdrawn and they were subsequently barred from attendance.
Attempts by the politicians to meet Uganda's High Commissioner Ms Elizabeth Napeyok on Monday, were futile. One of the blocked MPs told this newspaper that Ms Napeyok informed them through Ms Deborah Kembabazi, the administrative attaché at the High Commission, that she would not meet them.
However, after consultations, the legislators yesterday met Ms Napeyok, who informed the team that it was not possible for her to assist them to make any changes to the delegation composition.
According to a source privy to the meeting, Ms Napeyok informed the legislators, that she would be writing to Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa explaining her constraints.
The MPs were also advised to write to the office of the Speaker of Parliament, the Clerk to Parliament and copy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade protesting their being blocked from the meeting.
Mr Kasule was also advised to file a report to his superiors in Kampala protesting the incident. When contacted, Chris Obore, the Parliament's Director of Communications and Public Affairs, said the House leadership was yet to be informed about the incident.
"When they (MPs) write, that is when Parliament will know and relevant action will be taken," he said.
Monday's incident was yet another in a row between officials of the Health Ministry on one hand and several other government departments and tobacco farmers on the other over Uganda's representation at meetings of that nature.
Ministry of Health officials have made it clear that their position to block the legislators or any person involved in the promotion of tobacco growing and trade is guided by Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC which stops member countries from nominating "any person employed in the tobacco industry, or entity working to further its interests, or any person benefitting from proceeds of tobacco trade."
Meanwhile, journalists too were not spared. They were also kicked out of the WHO meeting after delegates voted unanimously to ban the press from covering the conference, a move that has sparked wide condemnation from the media fraternity.