STI Minister Dr. Musenero on the spot for ‘frustrating’ mass-employer silk project
A disagreement between the promoters of a Silk project and the Minister of Science and Innovations Dr. Monica Musenero is threatening to derail a promising silk farming, processing and export venture.
The dispute, now before courts of law, further threatens to cost taxpayers billions of shillings after the minister blocked funds to the project that had been approved by Parliament and the Ministry of Finance.
The Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI), the investors and promoters of the Sericulture project, have dragged government to courts of law to try to force it to release up to UGX42.4bn to the Silk project in accordance with its contractual obligations.
TRIDI, under the leadership of Dr. Clet Wandui Masiga, introduced the idea of reviving Uganda’s silk industry and subsequently entered into a partnership with the government. The private company would be the lead implementing agency, while the government would invest money into the project on a Build, Operate and Transfer arrangement. The arrangement, common in investment circles, ensures that after a given period, the private investor hands over all the assets of the venture to the government.
Besides supporting the government’s industrialization agenda through Silk industry development and export of silk products, TRIDI says one of the key motivating factors was to create employment for over 300,000 youth and women because the industry is labour intensive.
The Sericulture project took off pretty fast following the signing of an MOU between TRIDI and government of Uganda in March 2021. The five-year partnership would see TRIDI set up silk farms, oversee silk processing and silk garment manufacturing at different sites in the country and ensure that local Ugandans are trained on how to use the equipment as well as other technical processes of the enterprise.
TRIDI says that since the signing of the MOU, they’ve recorded numerous achievements. In a statement to the Media TRIDI say they have recorded the following achievements.
Partial establishment of three factories; in Sheema, Kween and Mukono districts for post cocoon processing. For Sheema and Kween, some of the equipment had been installed, as more advanced machines were set to be imported into the country.
“By end of FY2021/2022 the project had completed construction of two shells for two research centres in Sheema and Mukono and had supported the establishment and Management of 2000 acres of mulberry in 24 districts which will serve as sources of planting materials to serve 50 districts and as training and research sites. The project had also acquired additional 800 acres of land for establishment of silk factory and production of mulberry for silkworm rearing. Three more silk reeling and reeling machines were being manufactured and are now ready for shipping from China to Uganda.
“Installation of two modern factories was awaiting funds to be completed. Ten (10) shells for rearing of silk worm were under construction in Mukono, Nwoya, Gomba, Mubende, Kween, Kitagata, Kiruhura, Busitema/Busia, Nakaseke, and Luwero. The project employed a total of 139 full time staff and 1300 casual workers who derive their livelihoods from the project. The project has also recruited graduate trainees to be allocated different project sites to offer technical support. 140 Ugandans are undergoing different trainings to work across the different activities in the silk value chain.”
But since coming into office, Minister Musenero developed cold feet towards the project. She initially claimed she didn’t understand it, but after TRIDI pushed her to obey the contractual obligations and release money, she responded by suspending the UGX42.4bn budget allocation meant for TRIDI in 2022-2023 national budget.
Masiga told The Sunrise that since coming to office, Dr. Musenero hatched an evil plan to kill the project, the way she killed several other projects she inherited, besides sacking almost the entire staff of the ministry when she assumed office.
“You know, the Minister was not clear from the beginning. We thought that things would clear up from last year, but she kept saying she’s in a transition, until eventually she came to the field, towards the end of August.
“She called me one day and told me that she would be at the station in Kween district and by 10am the following morning, she had arrived. I found she had mobilized local politicians and had incited them against the project.
“She told them that I had paid them little money for the land. She told them that I should pay them UGX4million each as salary. She also told them that what happened in Busoga (when the people grabbed land from the Indians) can happen there as well. She made another lie that the government had paid UGX 8 billion for that place. I told her to stop making false statements, if anything; this should have been an internal discussion.
Masiga says that after the Minister incited the people against the project, he sought for a clear position from the government but in vain.
“I wrote to the Solicitor General to resolve the matter. To date the solicitor general has not written back. I have written to the accounting officers asking them to be very clear. If the government is no longer interested, we need to be informed as soon as possible, then we find a way forward.
If there are any obligations that need to be made based on the commitment, they should be made and we formally close.”
On failure to get a clear response from the government, TRIDI chose to take the dispute to courts of law.
In claims attributed to Dr. Musenero by the Daily Monitor of Monday October 31, 2022, the Minister of Science accused Dr. Masiga of failure to disclose details on ownership of the land on which the mulberry (the plants that produce leaves fed to silkworms) had been acquired.
But Dr. Masiga told The Sunrise that all the land that was bought with government funds, is registered in the names of Uganda Land Commission.
Dr. Masiga says that Dr. Museneno wants to kill the Silk project and TRIDI, because he rejected her ‘dangerous proposals’ that threatened to derail the project, apart from the fact that they ran counter to the vision and principles of the project as spelt out in the MOU.
“We disagreed with the direction of Hon. Monica Musenero on dangerous proposals she was making. The Hon. Minister embarked on a mission to frustrate, sabotage and destroy the project, and the staff and the implementing institution, Tropical Institute of Development Innovations (TRIDI). “
The development of Uganda’s silk industry had progressed pretty rapidly with the establishment of over 1500 acres of mulberry farms, establishment of two factory infrastructures and importation of some equipment for processing the silk cocoons into silk yarn, all in a period of less than four years since its inception.
Since the disagreement, a dark cloud of uncertainty, loss of jobs and incomes to farmers and loss of foreign exchange revenue now hangs over the Uganda Sericulture project.
The project’s promoters, the Tropical Institute for Development Innovations (TRIDI) who signed an MOU with the Government of Uganda to implement the project, say they have since the beginning of 2022 not received a penny from the government, despite the fact that Parliament approved and Ministry of Finance made available UGX43bn to be channeled towards helping government meet its contractual obligations.
The halt in funding, according to Masiga, comes at a critical stage of the project when farmers had abandoned their various other enterprises like coffee farming, to engage in the ‘lucrative’ silk industry including production of mulberry leaves and cocoons. The halt is also particularly testing for the company because they had placed orders for modern silk-making machines in some East Asian countries such as Japan and China.
He added: “To risk this investment is to cause an enormous cost to the tax payer. So far, the total value of the investment is UGX73bn. Added to that is the income that would be earned over a period of 4 years from harvesting mulberry leaves, cocoons, as well as expenses incurred in ordering for machines. We are roughly talking about a potential loss of UGX300bn.”
Musenero a confidant of President Museveni
Minister Musenero is not new to controversy especially when it comes to managing public funds.
Last year, the Minister was exposed to a Parliamentary investigation after one the MP for Ntungamo Municipality Yona Musinguzi, with support from whistle blowers, alleged that Minister Musenero had mismanaged funds meant for producing a vaccine against COVID-19. Musinguzi and other scientists disputed the claim that Uganda had the technical or even logistical capacity to produce a vaccine, when other more advanced countries such as South Africa are still struggling with the idea.
Dr. Musenero allegedly spent more than UGX59bn in the venture. Following the fire from MPs and the general public, President Museveni came out very strongly and defended Musenero – a veterinary doctor, by saying no one should dare intimidate a decorated hero. The parliamentary investigation died a natural death.
Since then, however, Musenero has highlighted the fact that researchers at Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) have made progress along the path to making a COVID vaccine.
Musenero’s woes with former staff
When she was appointed to the portfolio of Minister of Science, Technology and Innovations, the President also transferred the functions of the Ministry from a stand-alone Ministry and put them directly under the Office of the President.
The move however came at a huge cost to more than 100 staff members of the Ministry who were sent away without pay for several months. There are reports that some died from the psychological effects of the sudden loss of income.