Uganda: Ministers in Fresh Fight Over Global Fund Deal


Kampala — Three senior ministers are embroiled in a bitter fight over a multi-million dollar procurement deal under the Global Fund programme, our investigations show.

The divisive lucrative deal is for supply of health commodities, among them malaria Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) kits, key to Uganda’s fight to stem spread of one of the diseases with highest fatalities in the country.

Official correspondences show that Global Fund contracted Access BIO, a company with offices in Ethiopia, to supply the health commodities to Uganda for a year at $26m (Shs96b).

It is, however, alleged that the Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, attempted to block the deal, prompting the firm to petition President Museveni, with sweet promises such as relocating their head office and building a pharmaceutical factory in Uganda.

They offered that they would manufacture cancer, malaria, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis (TB) drugs and informed State House that they had at hand two memoranda of understanding signed with the Health ministry.

The commitment, which Access Bio said had already been cleared by the Solicitor General, would culminate in them investing $40m (Shs148b) and creating up to 1,000 jobs for Ugandans alongside $150m (Shs555b) worth of annual export boost.

“However, Your Excellency the President, we would like to get your support because this investment is being threatened and has met some level of frustration and sabotage from (Health minister) Honourable Aceng Jane,” they wrote, adding: “The reason for her sabotage is that she is supporting a rival company called Abbott Ltd that is only interested in selling its equipment and reagents/chemicals to Uganda, all of which are manufactured offshores.”

We were unable to speak to Abbott or independently verify the claims.

In an interview last night, Dr Aceng, however, said she has never interfered with the procurement process as alleged, but was recently informed by Global Fund official while on a visit to South Africa that the Access Bio-supplied kits were expensively priced.

“I told the officials to use the laws of Uganda for competitive bidding,” she said last night, referring to the handpicked Access Bio.

Finance minister Matia Kasaija would later write two separate letters; the first informing Global Fund not to cancel the Access Bio contract, pending outcome of an in-country evaluation, and the second to clear the deal.

It is unclear on whose instructions Mr Kasaija acted, although he hinted in one of the correspondences that the controversy had seized attention at the highest political level. The minister was unavailable for comment.

In last night’s interview, Dr Aceng said she suspected that State Health Minister (General Duties) Sarah Opendi, who is favourably mentioned by Access Bio in their letter to President Museveni, likely masterminded her woes.

Ms Opendi, however, shot back, telling her senior minister to “carry her cross” for allegedly frustrating such a huge investment that she ideally should be scouting for the country.

“My only wrong,” she said, “was to ask why someone bringing investment into the country was being frustrated by a sector minister who should be bringing such investors.”

Ms Opendi questioned why Dr Aceng organised a secret meeting with Abbott Ltd representatives and her technocrats last December if she was “innocent”.

“Let her carry her sins,” she said by telephone last night.

Dr Aceng earlier said she is a qualified medical officer and questioned the credentials of both Ms Opendi and Mr Kasaija to make professional choices on best health commodities and their supply chain for Ugandans.

The altercation, which has bubbled to the surface with the irresistible Global Fund deal, according to insiders, brings to the fore a long-running power contest by Health ministry bigwigs that has polarised technocrats and stymied effective service delivery.

It also resurrects the ghosts of Uganda’s Global Fund scandal in which fiddling of the cash by top bureaucrats in 2005 resulted in suspension of the programme in Uganda alongside arrest and prosecution of officials, including sacked ministers.

Funding

Uganda through the Country Coordinating Mechanism in 2017 secured $792m (about Shs2.8 trillion) from the Global Fund to fight HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria between January 1, 2018 and December 31, 2020.

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Publish date : 2019-04-02 10:43:21

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