Today Parliament sat with the Rt. Hon. Speaker Anitah Annet Among presiding. It was a long sitting which began in the morning today at 10:00 am in order to care of urgent matters of the House including the debate and passage of the Tax Bills. In her opening remarks, the Speaker congratulated Members for having completed one year of their five-year term of the 11th Parliament. “I would like to congratulate you but I ask you to account for the time you have spent in Parliament and in the constituency”. “What have you done since you were sworn in?”, she asked the members. She also said the House expected to consider the Tax Bills and the Budget this week. She also told the House that the Minister of East African Community Affairs, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga would be presenting a report on the Bills that have been passed in the East African Legislative Assembly.
The House also went on to observe a moment of silence in memory of the former President of the United Arab Emirates, President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan who died last Friday, 13 May 2022.
Raising on a matter of national importance, Kira Municipality MP, Hon. Ssemujju Nganda was concerned about the continued detention of Hon. Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West NUP) and Hon. Muhamad Ssegirinya (Kawempe North, NUP) whom he said had been in jail for eight months. “After serving 8 months in jail, one is entitled to mandatory bail or trial. Can the government tell us why when it comes to Hons. Ssewanyana and Ssegirinya government doesn’t want to follow the law”, he queried. “You asked us to account for our time but our colleagues are in jail. Can they be released?”, he asked the Speaker.
In a related matter, Hon. Asuman Basalirwa, (Bugiri Municipality, NUP) also wanted the government to explain why they continued to arrest Ugandans and then carry out investigations later. He said the honourable members and many Ugandans are arrested, put on remand, and investigations done later which was not proper. At the prompting of the Speaker and in response to the concern raised by Hon. Ssemujju Nganda over the continued detention of Hons. Ssewanyana and Ssegirinya the Attorney General, Kiryowa Kiwanuka said that the matter was before the Courts of Law and there was a need to allow the courts to handle the matter.
Later, the First Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Affairs Rebecca Kadaga presented copies of bills processed by the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) and also briefed the House on the status of protocols that have been assented to and said they will also be presented after ratification. She preceded her presentation by greeting the House in Swahili, French, and English, the three languages of the EAC, to the excitement of the members.
Later, the House moved to debate the Report of the Select Committee on Science, Technology, and Innovation on Covid-19 related research. The committee presented the report last week and the minister, Hon. Dr. Monica Musenero Masanza requested time to make a response. As part of her response, she said “All my professional life I have dedicated myself to fighting pandemics and rather a dangerous disease outbreaks in the pursuit to save lives of people I didn’t know and will never know”. She went on to say, “Never before had my integrity and commitment to duty ever been questioned or have reason to be questioned until now, and sadly here in my own country. So it is very disheartening to have to read these accusations in the media, hear comments on TV and Radio, and to have to explain to my family and friends how unfair and untrue all these statements are”.
She went on to say, that no funds were ever released to the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) directly for research purposes. She said that research grants were released directly to the grantees and the processes were managed by the predecessor Ministry of Science and Technology. “At no time was I personally responsible for the management of any financial resources that were allocated to the work of the PRESIDE as this was being coordinated by the ministry & accounted for in accordance with the Public Finance and Management Act“, she said. She apologized where she did not perform to standard as Minister and said that she had taken note of the recommendations of the Select Committee and would study them so that they can be implemented.
Debating the report further, Hon. Basalirwa said that the report fell short in mentioning who was responsible for the irregularities in PRESIDE. “This matter requires more investigation. We cannot send this report to the Auditor General because he did look at it before. The Inspector-General of Government (IGG) should handle this”, he said. Hon. Dan Atwijukire (Kazo County, NRM) on his part moved a motion proposing that Hon. Dr. Musenero should step aside as the investigations continue into the mismanagement of PRESIDE. However, Hon. Ssemujju Nganda asked the members to read the report. “I think the minister and permanent secretary to be held liable are those when PRESIDE was formed”, he said. On the legal status of PRESIDE and picking it to do the work, he asked, “Why did the president choose an entity that has no legal status to be the one to do this very wonderful work?”. He said the Committee should have invoked Article 107. Article 107 concerns the removal of the President for abuse of office and related matters. Hon. Ssemujju continued to say that the excitement that was caused when it was announced that we were going to manufacture a vaccine, he thought before the end of the pandemic, we would have a vaccine manufactured by Uganda for our consumption and the neighbouring countries, but research was still ongoing. He asked why Uganda had to venture into manufacturing a vaccine when we could have purchased the vaccines at a subsidized price on the market.
However, Hon. Sarah Opendi (DWR Tororo, NRM, and UWOPA Chair) said, Hon. Dr. Musenero was Senior Presidential Advisor and Chairperson of PRESIDE and therefore should be held responsible for the mismanagement of the project. She said that as a leader, Dr. Musenero should have acted in accordance with the Leadership Code Act in executing her work as Minister and therefore, should be held responsible for the gaps identified. She also said that the matter should be sent to the IGG for investigation and that they should do so and report back in 3 months. On her part, Hon. Laura Kanushu (PWD Representative, NRM) said, “We should amend this report but we must always demand accountability. The minister should be held responsible because she was the accounting officer at the time”.
The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Mathias Mpuuga said the members of the Select Committee should be applauded for their work. “If their findings are watered down, we shall have empowered a culture of impunity”, he said. He further said that this particular project shouldn’t be given funds until the House gets to know how the previous funds were used. “We can send this money to universities where research priorities are unfunded”, he said. He was also of the view that the vote for the PRESIDE should not be housed in the State House. He also said that he was aware a lot of people had been claiming to be researching using public funds. He asked the Ministry of Finance to release the list of patents in their custody on account of public funds voted on research.
On his part, Hon. Geoffrey Ekanya (Tororo North, FDC) said there was a need for a thorough investigation into the matter. He agreed that the matter should be taken to the IGG with clear instructions on how to investigate. While Hon. Macho Geoffrey (Busia Municipality MP, Indp.) said indeed Dr. Musenero was a brilliant and intelligent person and that brilliant people know how to craft things sometimes. He said when the Minister was the Nutrition Officer in Mbale, there were issues of lack of clarity in expenditure when handling finances.
The House finally adopted the report of the Select Committee on Science, Technology, and Innovation on covid-19 related research. One of the recommendations was that PRESIDE should be disbanded and also the minister responsible be held liable for its mismanagement.
The House later went on to consider the Traffic and Road Safety (Amendment) Bill, 2022. The bill sought to streamline the current law with the structural changes at the Ministry of Finance making the Department of Transport regulation a competent authority.
The House also, later went on to process the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2022. The bill sought to clarify the VAT exemption regime applicable to imported services of Value Added Tax on imported services used by businesses in making exempt supplies; to provide for the repeal of the exemption on seed cake, to exempt assistive devices for persons with disabilities, to provide for an exemption for supply of airport user services charge by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to a passenger among others.
Hon. Muhammad Nsereko (Kampala Central, Indp.) in a minority report was opposed to the 18% VAT exemption on hotels and lodges arguing that going to lodges and hotels is more luxurious. He says that this cannot hurt the tourism sector as it cannot deter tourists who really want to make Uganda a tourism destination. He proposed that the exemption be put on bread and laptops. He said that this exemption would promote digital transformation as computers become affordable. He further said that it had become a requirement for every student to have a laptop before joining University.
Hon. Keefa Kiwanuka (Chair Finance Committee) told the house that the 18% VAT exemption on hotels and lodges was only intended to cushion hotel owners who spent a long time without working because of Covid-19 as a result of the lockdown. Later the House went on to consider the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2022 at Bills Committee Stage, where it is reviewed clause by clause. It later passed the Value Added Tax (Amendment) Bill, 2022 without amendments. Hon. Mohammed Nsereko’s proposals in the minority report were rejected by the house. The House had also earlier considered and passed the Tax Appeals Tribunal (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Vinci Coffee Deal report that was scheduled today was pushed to tomorrow.
The House was adjourned to tomorrow the 18th May 2022 at 10:00 am.