Uganda: Why We Don't Have Government Masks

Back — to-back negotiations with mask manufacturers ended in a deadlock after the firms rejected the government offer.

Out of 60 companies that applied to manufacture the free government masks, only 10 have been approved. But the disagreement over the price for each mask is holding back the process.

Daily Monitor understands that all the bidders that have applied for procurement of 33 million masks in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic, have quoted prices above the government offer.

Only one company has the lowest bid at Shs2,000 per piece.

Some companies, according to sources close to National Covid-19 Taskforce, have asked for Shs5,000 per mask, yet others want between Shs2500 and Shs4000 (inclusive of Value Added Tax).

Government is in the process of enforcing compulsory wearing of masks for Ugandans aged 6 years and above, but had fixed the price at Shs1,000 per mask. The bidders, with undisclosed directors, have, however, rejected this offer.

Petition to Trade ministry

In a separate joint petition to Trade minister Amelia Kyambadde, five companies have asked for 2,500 per mask.

Ex-Ken (U) Ltd, Big Concepts, Sigma Knitting Industries, Christex Industries and Winfred Fashion wrote: "We would like you to reconsider the price offered so we can be able to manufacture the required masks. We strongly feel that Shs2,500 net is a fair price per piece."

A group of 50 bidders have submitted documents to the Ministry of Health and samples to Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS) for certification.

For the last two weeks, the companies have held several meetings with Ministry of Health officials but failed to break the price ceiling.

The companies have rejected the Shs1,000 offer and made it clear to government that price offer falls below their production costs. This has enraged some members of the National Covid-19 Taskforce, who have accused the bidders of being insensitive and using the pandemic to enrich themselves. The price disparities explain the delay in the procurement of free masks.

Some mask producers have, however, accepted to negotiate but other firms have rejected the government offer and threatened to pull out of the deal.

On Monday, the Health minister, Dr Ruth Jane Aceng, tabled the matter before Cabinet and requested for guidance in order to side-step the anticipated delays.

In Cabinet, the ministers had no kind words for the mask manufacturers and some even proposed that the procurement rules be revised to allow the business women and other local manufacturers in Kiyembe area and other parts of the country to bid on a sub-contract basis.

This proposal was nipped in the bud after it emerged that circumventing the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets (PPDA) procurement rules might invite unnecessary audit queries.

Cabinet okays Shs2,500

After a long discussion in Cabinet, ministers approved Shs2,500 as the cost of each piece of mask. Cabinet asked the Ministry of Health to renegotiate with the companies before they extended the deadline for distribution of free masks to June 10. They also instructed the Health ministry to expedite the process.

On May 18, the President announced that distribution of government-provided facemasks would begin on June 2, but this was not possible due to procurement delays. The President on Monday extended the deadline to June 10 and told those without one to stay home.

Facemasks are important in the fight against the spread of Covid-19. The President, quoting advice from scientists, has consistently explained that when an infected person coughs, he or she can send tiny droplets or aerosols filled with the virus into the air. A single cough can produce up to 3,000 droplets. In this case, in absence of social distancing, a mask acts as a shield against the virus.

Due to inadequate funding to the Ministry of Heath, the government has decided to distribute free masks in phases, starting with the 40 border districts under lockdown.

Finance Minister Matia Kasaija was yesterday expected to table an initial supplementary of Shs33b out of Shs82.5b needed for the procurement of face masks.

As Ugandans wait for free government masks, some are making their own out of fabric scraps. However, the Health ministry officials have warned that some could be fake and provided the required guidelines for the right masks.

Only 10 firms accepted

Out of 60 firms, only 10 have been approved and three companies, according to a sources in the Office of the Prime Minister, have been accepted on "compassionate grounds" since they qualified on some specifications and failed on others.

Mr Daniel Birungi, the executive director Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA), however, told Daily Monitor that certification is a continuous process and that "the process involves a lot of back and forth; you fail at review stage, they tell you to go back and correct and them pass the test."

"We are not here to advocate goods that do not meet the required standards and our members are committed to manufacturing quality masks for Ugandans. The issues of quality just need constant engagement with UNBS and the problem will be solved. I don't see any issue there," Mr Birungi told Daily Monitor yesterday.

UMA's take on prices

On the price concerns, Mr Birungi said he was not aware of the companies asking for Shs5,000 per mask and explained that the role of UMA stopped at putting companies into contact with the Ministry of Health- the procuring entity.

"The Health ministry issued bid notices, which members responded to, at this stage, it becomes a commercial discussion. Determination of costs varies from individual to individual and is dependent on input costs plus a small mark-up depending on the numbers they are working with," Mr Birungi said.

UNBS spokesperson Sylvia Kirabo last evening conformed that 60 private companies had applied to supply masks but only 10 were approved.

She, however, explained that the process was still on-going. She also named the 10 companies approved by UNBS but yet to start work due to the price disagreements.

The UNBS on May 29, issued a Laboratory Test Report, clearing EX-KEN (U) Ltd to manufacture the masks. This company and a few others have not started work due to disagreements on the unit cost per mask. The company submitted three pieces of reusable non-medical facemasks of woven fabric in blue, packed in transparent bags. The samples were analysed according to UNBS and Ministry of Health guidelines.

Qualifications

Compliance issues

General good manufacturing practices to ensure that the manufacture of the facemasks is being handled in a clean environment.

The type and relevant percentage of fabric composition for the material from which the mask is made must be indicated by the manufacturer and this is confirmed through UNBS tests, either 100 per cent cotton or a mixture of cotton and polyester as confirmed through UNBS testing.

The design of the facemask should allow for proper fitting to ensure that the nose, mouth, and the chin are properly covered.

Minimum specifications

Ensure facemask is free from sharp edges that can injure the person using it.

The fabric of the mask must not lose colour when in contact with sweat or liquids, cause irritation or any health hazard when in use.

The facemask should ease breathing; it should be designed in such a way that air can pass through freely to avoid suffocation.

The mask should not easily catch fire

The facemask should be made of at least two layers

The production area and staff involved in the production of the masks must observe good hygienic practices.

Company name

Lida Packaging Products Ltd,

Evergreen Safaries ltd,

Jude Colour Solutions ltd,

Winfred Fashion Designers ltd,

Fine Spinners ltd,

Southern range Nyanza ltd,

Beier Safety & Security ltd,

Graphics system Uganda ltd,

Unique Uniform Manufacturer ltd

Sigma Knitting Industries ltd

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