The Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Monica Musenero struggled to provide accountability documents to Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (Central Governments)
Musenero alongside the State House Comptroller, Jane Barekye on Tuesday, 14 March 2023 appeared before the committee that is considering the Auditor General's forensic investigation report into Covid-19 funds received and expended by the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MoSTI) during financial years 2019/2020 and 2020/2021.
The forensic investigation was informed by a resolution of Parliament on a report of the Parliamentary Taskforce on the National Covid-19 response which requested the Auditor General to investigate Covid-19 funds.
The main objective of the forensic investigation was to ascertain whether all Covid-19 related spending was applied appropriately under existing laws, policies and guidelines, whether there was any loss in expenditure and clarify responsible officers and make recommendations for better use of Covid-19related funds.
In his report, the Auditor General said that his findings are specific to the procurement of the equipment, the disbursement of Covid-19 funds by the ministry and the utilization of the operational funds by the scientists approved by the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE).
PRESIDE was a presidential initiative chaired by Musenero, who was then a Senior Presidential Advisor on Epidemics.
The Auditor General reported that while conducting his investigations, Musenero failed to provide accountability documents like proof of submission of accountability by PRESIDE by MoSTI, approved adjusted budgets for the lab animal house project, PRESIDE follow-up on the uninstalled equipment for scientists and record regarding status of equipment.
"Hon. Monica Musenero did not provide the documents listed below whose existence she had disclosed during her interview with me on 05 July 2022. I could not make the conclusions I could have made; had I obtained and reviewed the documents from PRESIDE," the Auditor General reported.
Tasked by the Committee Chairperson, Hon. Medard Sseggona to explain why the listed documents had not been availed to the Auditor General, Musenero said that she did not give the documents because she had not understood what was being asked for.
Further queried, the Minister changed her statement and indicated that the ministry was in transition and that at the time of the interview, all documents had earlier been taken away by the Auditor General.
She also told the committee that it was possibly an omission not to avail the documents.
"We handed them to the Auditor General when they came the first time. We had them submitted to him before. The accountabilities are all in State House and I gave them all to the auditor General," she said.
Hon. Eddie Kwizera flashes one of the documents from PRESIDE. One his left is Hon. Nandala Mafabi
Budadiri West MP, Hon. Nathan Nandala Mafabi said that it was the responsibility of the minister to account for the money availed for different scientific investigations.
Nandala Mafabi informed Musenero that the failure to avail documents to the Auditor General attracts a 12 year prison term under the law.
Sseggona gave the minister up to 17 March 2023 to avail the documents under inquiry.
"When you go back, dig deeper for accountability-related documents because that is what the Auditor General was asking for. A budget allocation which you have presented was not an issue here, but once you are allocated budgets, then you account," he said.